Wingfields: Champions of the Thames 2013

An impromptu pre-race gathering of Wingfields Champions from each of the last six decades outside London Rowing Club. From left to right: Bill Barry (1963-66), Alan Campbell (2006, 09, 10, 12, 13), Guy Pooley (1991, 92), Wade Hall-Craggs (1993), Graeme Mulcahy (1976) and Chris Baillieu (1981-84). Mulcahy was this year’s umpire.

Here is Tim Koch’s report from this year’s Wingfield Sculls:

The 173rd Wingfield Sculls and the 7th Women’s Wingfields (previewed by HTBS here) took place on Putney to Mortlake course on 8 October in deference to the founder’s wishes that the prize silver sculls be held ‘by the best’ and that the event should continue ‘for ever’.

In the men’s race, Jamie Kirkwood of Leander drew the Surrey station. The 24-year-old lightweight spent much of 2012 recovering from glandular fever. At the 2013 World Rowing Championships he was 8th in the lightweight single and in the World Cup he was 5th in Sydney, 7th at Dorney and 4th in Lucerne.

Jonny Walton of Leander drew the Middlesex station. During the 2013 World Cup season he was 4th in the single in Sydney and 7th at Dorney. At Lucerne he was 4th in the quad.

Alan Campbell of Tideway Scullers got the centre station. He is Britain’s best heavyweight sculler in many years, a fact proven by his bronze in the single at the London Olympics. A four-times Wingfields Champion, Campbell is a great advocate for the race. His race biography says that ‘he sees the Wingfields as a test of his strength, determination and watermanship which 2000m racing lakes cannot provide’.

Campbell tries a new hat. A boater?

Going off at around 40, Campbell took a very early lead and within the first minute he was able to move into the Surrey station while Kirkwood sculled very wide of the other two, missing the fastest water. Campbell passed Thames Rowing Club two to three lengths up on Kirkwood who was under a length up on Walton. Along Putney Embankment the leader pulled way from the others and gained a three to four length lead. Between the Black Buoy and Harrods, Walton, despite a higher rate and better water, battled to move up on Kirkwood but managed to move into second place in the fifth minute.

At Hammersmith Bridge, Campbell leads followed by Walton and then Kirkwood.

Going through Hammersmith Bridge, Alan Campbell led Jonny Walton by four lengths and Walton in turn led Jamie Kirkwood by the same distance. These positions were maintained until just before Chiswick Steps when Kirkwood fell back and Campbell increased his lead.

At Chiswick. The launches to the left of the umpire’s boat carry the ‘steerers’ for each competitor (though some scullers seem to forget that they are there).

Between Barnes and the finish at Chiswick Bridge the scullers were fairly widely spaced out across the river, Kirkwood often in the slower water.

Going through Barnes Bridge – less than four minutes to the finish.

At the finish at the finish downstream of Chiswick Bridge, the times were Campbell 21.15, Walton 21.32 and Kirkwood 21.44. It was Campbell’s fifth Wingfields win.

The Finish.

Kirkwood recovers.

There was an impressive six entries in the women’s race. Counting from Surrey, the stations were taken by:

Louisa Reeve (Leander). The only sweep rower and a veteran of the last two Olympic games.
Imogen Walsh (London). ‘Imo’ was 4th in the lightweight double at the 2013 Worlds and won gold in the lightweight quad at the 2011 Worlds.
Beth Rodford (Gloucester). Wingfields Champion last year, Beth won gold in the quad in the 2010 Worlds.
Francis Houghton (Leander). A competitor in the last four Olympics, Francis won silver in the quad in the 2004 and 2008 Games.
Vicky Thornley (Leander). Vicky was 7th in the single at the 2013 Worlds and in this year’s World Cup was 4th at Dorney and 10th in Lucerne.
Vicki Meyer-Laker (Leander). Racing in the double scull in 2013, Vicki was 4th at the Worlds and won Gold at Dorney in the World Cup.

The competitors in the women’s race, left to right: Beth Rodford, Imogen Walsh, Vicky Thornley, Louisa Reeve, Vicki Meyer-Laker and Francis Houghton. A clue as to the winner – she is the one whose feet do not properly reach the floor.

Racing six abreast on a river that was not closed to other users had the potential for problems especially as the scullers were widely spread across the river at the start. While this may have initially made the umpire’s life a little easier, it disadvantaged Houghton, Thornley and Meyer-Laker on Middlesex who were in the slower water (though Houghton and Thornley made the move to Surrey very soon off the start). By the end of Putney Embankment only Reeve and Meyer-Laker were on their original stations and Meyer-Laker led with Thornley second, Walsh third, Houghton fourth, Reeve fifth and Rodford sixth.

Entering Barn Elms reach, left to right: Reeve, Houghton, Thornley, Rodford, Walsh and Meyer-Laker.

In the next two minutes along Barn Elms reach, Houghton and Thornley swapped their second and fourth places. The following two minutes took the scullers to the Harrods buoy by which time Meyer-Laker had lost the lead and dropped to fourth place making the leading pack Houghton followed by Walsh, Thornley and then Meyer-Laker. By Harrod’s Wall, Walsh had overtaken Houghton for first place. In less then two minutes the now second place Houghton was out of the race when her stroke side blade clipped the buoy 300m downstream of Hammersmith Bridge and she overturned.

Houghton has buoy trouble.

The first three positions going through the bridge were to remain unchanged for the rest of the race, that is Walsh in front, several lengths ahead of Thornley who was several lengths ahead of Meyer-Laker.

And then there were five. Going through Hammersmith Bridge, Walsh is followed by Thornley, Meyer-Laker, Reeve and then Rodford.

On the big Hammersmith bend, Reeve and Rodford did not help themselves by staying in the slow water over to Surrey. At Barnes Bridge the leaders remained unchanged with Rodford now fourth and Reeve fifth and all the boats were well strung out with clear water between each.

At the finish.

The final times were Imogen Walsh 21.44, Vicky Thornley 21.53, Victoria Meyer-Laker 21.57, Beth Rodford 22.01, Louisa Reeve 22.09 and a wet Francis Houghton 26.32. It was a splendid win for the lightweight Walsh against considerably taller and heavier opposition (she is 162 cm/5 ft 4 ins tall and weighs 57 k/125 lbs). She wrote on Twitter:

Holy shmoly. I just won Wingfields! Very surprised, very happy, and feeling a little bit sick…

Later she added: Thanks everyone for your messages! Had to get up twice last night to eat something… Defiantly worked hard yesterday!

The 2013 Champion Imogen Walsh at the finish –  ‘surprised, happy and a little bit sick…’

Both Walsh and Campbell steered the best course in their respective races. This was not the deciding factor in either win this year but it is an annual frustration to me that so many top competitors do not know how get the best out of the Championship Course. This frustration is compounded by the fact that in the Wingfields it is perfectly legal to have ‘steerers’ signalling to their competitor from a following launch.

This year’s entry (especially in the Women’s Wingfields) illustrates the increasing strength of British sculling, a discipline that the country has not excelled in for many years. However, the true mark of improvement will come when the outcome of both events is not decided by Hammersmith and the race is fought through to the finish at Mortlake.

Champions of the Thames: Walsh and Campbell.

My apologies for taking so long to post this. Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. T.K.

Wingfields Postscript
The British Rowing Facebook page has some nice pictures of this year’s Wingfield Sculls taken from their headquarters at 6 Lower Mall overlooking Hammersmith Bridge. The best photograph is reproduced below and shows Imogen Walsh going under the bridge.

Imogen Walsh at Hammersmith Bridge. Picture: British Rowing.

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