The 2014 Wingfield Sculls: ‘Held By The Best’

Pic 1
The glittering prizes. The original Wingfield’s Trophy awarded to the winner of the men’s race is bottom left. Top right is the trophy for the Women’s Race. Both winners receive a medal like the one in the bottom right of the picture.

Tim Koch writes from London:

The 174th single sculling race for the pair of silver sculls presented in 1830 by Henry C. Wingfield ‘to be held by the best’ as long as they agreed to race on his birthday ‘for ever’ took place on the Putney to Mortlake course on 6 November. Henry’s birthday was actually on 10 August but, thanks to the organising committee of former winners, at least the ‘for ever’ part looks like it will be adhered to. It was also the occasion of the 8th Women’s Wingfields, a revival of the Women’s Amateur Rowing Championship first raced in 1927 and revived under the Wingfield’s banner in 2007 with the support of the Wingfield Family Society. Hear The Boat Sing first covered the race in 2010 and that report gives full coverage of the history of this unique event. The links to the last three races are here for 2013, 2012 and 2011.

The Wingfields is extremely lucky in that Paul Thompson, Chief Coach for the Women’s and Lightweights Squads, continues to support event by releasing his top athletes to compete in the race.

In the Women’s Race, last year’s winner, Imogen Walsh (London) returned to defend her title. The remarkable Walsh is only 162 cm / 5 ft 4 ins tall and weighs just 57 k / 125 lbs but in the 2013 race she defeated heavyweight scullers who have meals bigger than she is. Also in that year, she was the fastest female lightweight single sculler at the GB Trails. This season she raced in the lightweight double with Kat Copeland and they won at the World Cups in Aiguebelette and Lucerne. The three challengers to her title were:

Emily Craig (University of London) was third in the lightweight quad at the 2013 Under-23 World Championships and this year won in the lightweight single at this year’s World University Rowing Championships and was a finalist in the same event at the U23 Worlds. Of racing the Wingfields, she says that she ‘would love to be able to make the most of this incredibly exciting (and slightly terrifying) opportunity’.

Vicky Thornley is a veteran of four World Championships and of the 2012 Olympics. She spent most of the 2014 season in a double with Frances Houghton where they made the finals of both the European Championships and of the Second World Cup. Towards the end of the season she raced her single at the Third World Cup and in the World Championships.

Mel Wilson (Imperial College) raced in the World Championships of 2009, 2011 and 2013 and was in the quad scull for the Olympics. In this October’s British Championships she won in the double scull together with Emma Twigg. She has been juggling her medical studies with international competition and took last season out from the squad to concentrate on her degree. She is using the Wingfields to motivate her training as she prepares for upcoming national squad trials.

As I have often said, when following a race to report on it, you can either be a photographer or a writer but it is very difficult to be both. If you view a race through a camera lens, you are only certain what happened after viewing the pictures. Thus, I trust that the following photographs (plus a little text) will adequately illustrate how the races unfolded. For those unfamiliar with the course, a map is here.

Pic 2
The start of the Woman’s Race at Putney. From left to right: Vicky Thornley, Mel Wilson, Imogen Walsh, Emily Craig.
Pic 3
At Fulham Football Ground (Craven Cottage). The race soon settled down to Thornley 2nd, Wilson 1st, Walsh 3rd and Craig 4th.
Pic 4
Crabtree Reach – Thornley and Wilson. At the Mile Post, all four scullers broke the old record of 4.44. Wilson did the first mile in 4.28, Thornley in 4.33, Walsh in 4.37 and Craig in 4.40.
Pic 5
Approaching Hammersmith Bridge, it remained Craig (out of the picture) 4th in 8.12, Walsh 3rd in 8.08, Thornley 2nd in 8.04 and Wilson 1st in 7.58. The old record was 8.03.
Pic 6
Thornley and Wilson at Chiswick Eyot.
Pic 7
At Chiswick a large work barge threatened to disrupt things but it passed without incident.
Pic 8
Approaching Chiswick Pier Crossing. Times to Chiswick Steps were Walsh 13.02, Thornley 12.58, Craig 13.05, Wilson 12.48. Wilson equalled the old record.
Pic 9
In Corney Reach, second place Thornley unexpectedly ‘blew’ and dropped out of the race.
Pic 10
Wilson goes through Barnes Bridge alone in a time of 17.51. Walsh followed in 18.04 and Craig in 18.08. The banner was not a general acclimation of all those who scull but was support for the Tideway Scullers club at the recent Fours Head.
Pic 11
Steaming. Wilson has a comfortable lead over the now second place Walsh.
Pic 12
The finish at Chiswick Bridge. Wilson’s time was 21.31, Walsh 21.47 and Craig 21.49. Thornley did not finish. It was a splendid result for Wilson – particularly as she was returning from a season off.

In the men’s race, Alan Campbell, the title holder (or ‘Champion’ in Wingfields speak) had resigned his title. His Wingfield’s medal has five bars marking his wins in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 and it was entirely in the traditions of the race for such a successful competitor to step down. Unfortunately, the training commitments of the British heavyweight men’s squad did not allow any of them to enter but there were four new contenders for the impressive title of the 89th ‘British Amateur Sculling Champion and Champion of the Thames’:

Matt Bedford (University of London) In 2013, Matt stroked the UL Eight to 5th in the Head of the River and won silver in the lightweight pair at the Under-23 World Rowing Championship and at the Eton World Cup. He said of his Wingfield’s entry: ‘doing a side by side race on the Tideway is special and I wanted to experience that’.

Wilf Kimberley (Imperial College) learned his sculling at Westminster School but claims that he was not ‘especially competitive’ until he was coached by Bill Mason and subsequently won a Henley Medal. Wilf has raced in the last four U23 World’s, winning silver in the lightweight pair in 2013 and 2014. On entering the race he said: ‘It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I am very honoured to be competing in it’.

Tim Richards (Imperial Collage) won Henley’s Prince Albert in 2013 and got silver in the lightweight coxless fours in the U23 World’s in 2013 and 2014. He recently won gold in the lightweight quad at the British Championships. He was inspired to race by former coach and Wingfield’s Champion, Peter Haining. ‘I still can’t believe that I’ve been given the opportunity to race in such a prestigious and uniquely British race, I’m absolutely buzzing’.

Mike Ewing (Quintin Boat Club) holds that long distance racing is his favourite. He was in the winning Wyfolds crew at Henley in 2010, came second in the Scullers Head in 2012 and this year was in the fastest pair in the Pairs Head. ‘It is an honour to race in the Wingfield Sculls, a race that has been won by so many legends in the sport and is steeped in history’.

Pic 13
The men’s race had much worse conditions than the women had an hour before. At the start, left to right: Mike Bedford, Wilf Kimberley, Tim Richards and Mike Ewing.
Pic 14
All four scullers soon moved in close to the line of moored boats along Putney Embankment. Approaching the end of the first minute, while umpire Sophie Hosking was repeatedly warning Ewing, Bedford and Kimberley touched blades. Bedford came off worst and crabbed. While he recovered his stroke very quickly, the incident seemed to have a great effect on him and he rapidly dropped back from the rest of the field.
Pic 15
At the Mile Post, Bedford was 4th in a time of 4.38, Kimberley 3rd with 4.36, Ewing 2nd with 4.33 and Richards 1st with 4.32.
Pic 16
Just before the Mile Post, 4th placed Bedford found a lot of speed and started to move up on the 3rd placed Kimberley.
Pic 17
In the short distance between Harrods and Hammersmith Bridge, Bedford had passed Kimberley and was challenging 2nd placed Ewing.
Pic 18
By the time the race had reached the bridge it was Richards 1st (7.58), Bedford now in 2nd place (8.03), Ewing 3rd (8.04) and Kimberley 4th (8.06).
Pic 19
This picture may seem to indicate otherwise but Richards led all the way, sculling his own race and always apparently in control of the situation.
Pic 20
Along Corney Reach. At Chiswick Steps times were Richards 12.40, Bedford 12.46, Ewing 12.51 and Kimberley 12.53.
Pic 21
By Barnes Bridge Richards had increased his lead substantially, leaving the others to race each other. The times were Richards 17.28, Bedford 17.42, Ewing 17.46 and Kimberley 17.47.
Pic 22
At Barnes Bridge it looked as if Kimberley would take third from Ewing but the Quintin sculler held onto his place.
Pic 23
At the finish it was Richards a long way in front with a time of 21.06, then, close together, were Bedford (21.20), Ewing (21.22) and Kimberley (21.23). Richards was a worthy winner.

In an interview that I had some time ago with Guy Pooley, Champion in 1991 and 1992, he said this of the Wingfields: It’s a fantastic race because it’s a great test of physical ability…. of fitness and strength, and also of technique. The Tideway can throw all sorts of things at you in terms of conditions, wind, stream and so on, so it’s is a real test of watermanship… It’s not a short sprint, you’ve got to get it right and keep getting it right… As an oarsman it’s fantastic to have your name on the Wingfield Sculls Trophy. You look back over the years of racing and you can see that you have joined a rather impressive list of scullers… I quite like the fact that it’s not a world renowned race…. it’s a peculiarly English thing really… It’s great race to take part in and a great race to win of course.

Pic 24
Imperial College medics, Mel Wilson and Tim Richards showing a Wingfield’s medal which is, in the words of Henry Wingfield, ‘held by the best’.

Photographs © Tim Koch

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