The 171st Wingfield Sculls (‘The British Amateur Sculling Championship and Championship of the Thames’) in 181 years took place on Thursday, 27 October 2011, over the ‘Championship Course’, Putney to Mortlake in London. It was also the fifth year of the Women’s Wingfield Sculls race. My report on last year’s challenge gives the history of this special event and my preview posted last week gives a brief biography of the competitors who had entered. On the day, however, two things happened to make both races notable.
Firstly, mild weather with little or no wind and a strong tide coincided to make a potentially fast race (though times on a tidal river are, of course, no real reflection of ability). Secondly, Alan Campbell, indisputably the fastest British single sculler and a Wingfield’s winner in 2006, 2009, and 2010, had to withdrew due to injury. This left the men’s race wide open. Leander’s Tom Solesbury (98 kg, 200 cm) was the biggest man in the race but with little sculling and Tideway experience. London’s Henry Pelly was a little smaller (92 kg and 188 cm) but had spent a reasonable amount of time in a sculling boat and on the tidal Thames. Adam Freeman-Pask of Imperial College was a lightweight (70 kg and 185 cm) but he knew the course and was a sculler first and foremost.
At the start it was Pelly on Surry, Solesbury on centre and Freeman-Pask on Middlesex. They were not to stay on their stations for long and umpire Elise Sherwell had to do a lot of flag waving in the first few minutes. The water between Putney and Hammersmith had started to get a little rough and the less experienced Solesbury was clearly uncomfortable and started to fall back. Freeman-Pask was always in front but in the first mile he had little clear water between himself and Pelly. Solesbury had gone wide by the end of Putney Embankment but when he started to move back into fast water he began to catch the other two up and this was reflected in the times to the Mile Post (AFP 4’24”, HP 4’25”, TS 4’27”). All three went very close to the large buoy just down from the Post and Pelly missed a few strokes as he had to let his bowside scull pass over it. Solesbury tried to take advantage of this but his efforts caused him to move out of the fast water again. His tragedy (and also to some extent that of Pelly) is that either his steerers were not communicating with him or he had forgotten that, uniquely, this race allows competitors to receive steering signals from someone following in a launch. Had Solesbury remained in the stream it may have been a different race. In contrast, Freeman-Pask steered a very good course throughout. Just before Harrods the river was much calmer and Solesbury found the fast water again and started to overtake Pelly for the first time. Both were about two lengths down on the leader. As soon as the Leander man passed into second place he put on the power and quickly pulled away in pursuit of Freeman-Pask.
At Hammersmith Bridge the official times were AFP 7’33”, TS 7’34”, HP 7’37”. Unfortunately from here Solesbury hugged the Surrey shore on a flood tide, denying himself the advantage of the deepest part of the river. He corrected this just before Chiswick Eyot and reduced the IC man’s lead considerably. The times to Chiswick Steps were a new record for all three scullers, AFP 12’06”, TS 12’07”, HP 12’20”. The old record was 12’21”. From the top of the Chiswick bend to just before Barnes Bridge, the two leading scullers were almost level and there was some fine side by side racing but this was due to great efforts from Solesbury while Freeman-Pask always looked as if he was in command of the race. Near the band stand umpire Sherwell took the decision to overtake Pelly. Approaching Barnes Bridge, Solesbury suddenly dropped behind, beaten either physically or mentally, with the result that he reached the bridge in 16’34”, seven seconds behind the leader (though both beating the old record of 16’45”). From here the race was really over and Adam Freeman-Pask reached Chiswick Bridge in 19’21”, while Tom Solesbury followed in 19’52”. Both were inside Peter Haining’s 1994 record of 19’58”. It was a fine race and a very good illustration of the various skills need to win the Wingfields, an event were you need more than just a 28 kg weight advantage.
In the Women’s Race, Rosamund Bradbury withdrew so it was a contest between last year’s winner, Anna Watkins of Leander (79 kg, 183 cm), and Beth Rodford of Gloucester (77 kg, 178 cm). In conditions promising a fast time, Watkins went off at 40 (to Rodford’s 35) and took an early lead. They settled to 32 and 28 respectively and Watkins had a three length lead by the end of Putney Embankment. At the Mile Post both had gone down to 28 and the Leander sculler recorded 4’44” (beating the old record of 4’46”), her opponent got there in 4’49”. All the other times were record beaters for both women. The timings at Hammersmith Bridge were: AW 8’03”, BR 8’10” (old record 8’29”). After Hammersmith Watkin’s lead opened up to five lengths. The other times were: Chiswick Steps, AW 12’48”, BR 12’58” (old record 13’30”). Barnes Bridge, AW 17’28”, BR 17’37” (old record 18’11”). Finish, AW 20’55” and BR 21’06” (old record 21’53”).
Guy Pooley (Wingfield’s Treasurer and Champion in 1991 and 1992) said of the women’s race:
“(It) was a powerful display from last year’s Champion. She went off the start meaning to get ahead and stay ahead and sculled very well indeed….. She had it all, technique, endurance, power….. a worthy winner.”
At the prizegiving at the Tideway Scullers School boathouse, Bill Barry (Champion 1963-1966) praised the efforts of Wade Hall-Craggs (the Wingfield’s Secretary and Champion in 1993) and Guy Pooley in keep the event running and relevant. When Henry Wingfield started the event in 1830, he said that he wished it to continue ‘forever’. Wade and Guy are both working on some innovative ideas to ensure that this will be the case – watch this space.