STRATFORD Boat Club’s young guns were given a stern examination at the British Rowing Junior National Championships which are the culmination of the junior season.
Held annually on the 2,000m purpose-built lake at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham, the three-day event represents the last opportunity for junior athletes to compete on the national stage after a year of training hard.
Day one of the championships saw the J14s take to the water in their first chance to compete at this prestigious event. The J14s event is different to all of the other age groups because, in order to race the quads, they have to do the omnium event in singles or doubles.
The omnium is made up of seven different skills to decide the best scullers in the country. In the WJ14 singles sculls event, Stratford had four entries – Harriet Holmes, Fleur Griffiths, Freya Watts and Lucy Browne – who finished 13th, 17th, 19th and 31st respectively from 87 entries.
Toby Sartain competed in the equivalent open event and was 25th out of 63.
In the WJ14 double sculls, of which there were 67, Ruby Howells teamed up with Hermione Brewster and, despite an unfortunate capsize, they managed to get themselves back in to complete the event in 24th place. Honour Keil and Bella Chappelhow also competed in the same event, beating several crews to finish in 56th place.
The boys’ double of Tomi Wilcock and Will Beattie were the last Stratford crew to take part in the omnium, competing in a very competitive field. Even though they managed a very impressive fourth place in the 500m race, they finished 14th overall.
Then the quads then took to the water. The WJ14 crew of Watts, Browne, Griffiths and Keil, expertly coxed by Toby Sartain, put in a strong performance in the time trial to finish 13th and take their place in the C final in which they went out strongly and led out of the start.
They settled into their rhythm and were just not quite quick enough to stay in front, finishing with a big push to take third place.
The mixed crew racing in the open event finished the time trial in 20th place. The crew of Beattie, Wilcock, Chappelhow and Holmes, coxed by Amelie Sartain, raced well in the D final to push through and take third place.
J14 coach Abi Terry said: “There were some really great results for the J14s at their first British Championships. They will look to build on these next season.”
Day two saw athletes from J15, J16 and J17/J18 squads take to the water. Time trial events in the morning were dogged by high winds and waves on the usually calm waters of Holme Pierrepont but the J16 squad rose to the challenge with gritty performances from Fred Tyler in the single scull (seventh) and Alice Baines / Mya Kenny in the double scull (ninth) taking both crews forward into the multi-lane regatta format on day three.
The first J15 representatives on Saturday to face the choppy open lake were Abbey Meggeson and Emma Harrison in a double and despite a valiant row against the clock in most hostile conditions were unable to gain a finals place in one of the largest fields of the day.
The remaining J15 time trial events for the squad were all singles. In boats weighing less than 15kgs, the athletes faced the increasingly windy and choppy conditions. First up were Conar Aitchison and Will Clarke who, despite not being quick enough to gain finals places, finished not too far out of the running.
The girls’ singles were next with Amelie Sartain, Elisabeth Edwards, Harriet Hodgson and Sophie Elstone taking to the water. Following the 2km row to the start, the conditions began to worsen.
After a slight halt to proceedings, racing eventually continued in terrible conditions and Hodgson’s boat was swamped by the waves after 500m – filling the boat with so much water she was unable to continue.
At times it appeared as if the remaining girls were rowing backwards due to the winds, however perseverance saw them cross the finish line soaked and exhausted with Edwards and Elstone both less than a minute from a finals place.
Sartain gained a place in the C final to take place in the afternoon, missing out on an A/B semi-finals place on the Sunday by only 12 seconds.
The early evening saw Sartain lining up for the C final against girls from Maidenhead, Reading, Runcorn, St Andrews and local rivals Ross. A good start had Sartain pushing for an initial lead from the Maidenhead boat and once settled the two boats began drawing steadily away from the others.
Maidenhead gained a slight lead by halfway and a late push from Reading in the closing quarter made for an exciting finish, resulting in Sartain second to Maidenhead and eighth overall.
On day three, the top 12 crews nationally in each event gathered at the lake once more to do battle. Conditions were significantly improved and excellent racing from all ensued.
A fifth place in the semi-final saw Fred Tyler well placed for the B final in his single scull. What followed was one of the closest races of the day as he led the B final from the start but was tested to the maximum by Tideway Scullers School in the last 500m. A win for Stratford resulted by just 0.4 seconds.
Mya Kenny and Alice Baines also progressed to the B final in the J16 double sculls event. J16 coach and junior co-ordinator Steve Wellstead said: “Racing hard to the end, the girls ended the day tenth overall – a great result from the J16 squad on the national stage.”
The Junior National Rowing Championships are the culmination of nine months of hard training. It was thus for the junior 17 girls – Katie Wellstead, Khloe Curnock, Emily Browne and Molly Gill-Swift – rowing competitively in a coxless four for the first time as they took on some of the best crews in the UK, two of which go on to represent England and Scotland this weekend.
Finishing seventh in the time trials put them into the semi-finals against five other crews. After racing over 2,000m they missed qualification to the A final by four seconds. Their performance in the B final was outstanding.
They and the heavier Henley Rowing Club raced neck and neck over the first 1,200m, leaving the rest of the field in their wake. The race ended with Stratford coming second and three lengths behind the Henley winning crew.
The double scull partnership of Jessica Wiesheu and Talei Dunn raced in another highly competitive event. By the time of their time trial the weather had deteriorated and the girls were left to race into a strong headwind and a substantial swell.
They finished just 30 seconds behind the winner and secured a place in the C final. Due to the bad weather, their race was very delayed and not rowed out.
J17/18 coach Dr Graham Collier commented: “Now it is time for the group to have fun at local regattas before they embark on their final year of junior rowing and our own rescheduled regatta on Saturday, September 21.”