The Umpire Strikes Back and a Boom Time for Cal
9 July 2016
Here is Tim Koch’s second report from Henley’s Finals Day:
Writing on “Rowing Related”, a website well informed about rowing on both sides of the Atlantic, editor Bryan Kitch said:
There is something so special about Henley. Or rather, many things. It’s unique in the rowing world in terms of both its format as well as its bringing together of virtually every level of the sport. It’s among the world’s most historic and historically significant sporting events. And this year was certainly one for the ages.
The Ladies Challenge Plate (Men’s Intermediate Eights)
Leander Club beat Amsterdamsche Studenten Roeivereeniging Nereus, Holland. Verdict: Disqualified for unsportsmanlike behaviour. No time taken.
Not since the 1989 re-row between Notts County and Harvard has a Ladies’ Plate race generated such excitement. Sadly, while no one can deny the validity of the final verdict 27 years ago, the outcome of this year’s race will be debated for many years to come, assisted by technologies that did not exist in the days when computers were not personal and phones were neither mobile nor smart.
To make a long story not so long, in a great race by two top class crews, Nereus took the lead from the start, held off a furious last minute sprint by Leander and passed the finish line three feet ahead, seemingly getting revenge for their double defeat by the boys in cerise at the recent Holland Beker. Umpire Boris Rankov then halted Dutch celebrations by holding up a red flag indicating that the race may not have been fair.
Most people’s initial thoughts were that Rankov was considering a disqualification or a re-row as, earlier in the race, he had warned Nereus constantly for a minute, ordering them to return to their station, but without any response. For the next two hours Rankov, Redgrave and various Stewards went into Conclave, seeking guidance not from the Almighty but from video replays. The ‘white smoke’ came from the public address system which made the unexpected announcement that ‘Nereus have been disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct’.
The Daily Telegraph rowing correspondent Rachel Quarrell, writing on row2k.com:
We hadn’t seen that one coming. Not, let’s be clear, for unsportsmanlike washing down of the opposition – the distance between the boats was agreed to be big enough. But because their coach, the eminent Dutch rowing legend Diederik Simon….. had been gesturing to them from the umpire’s launch. If you want to watch the relevant bit, go to 10:55 on the video clip of the final. He’s the one nearest Rankov, on the left as you look at the picture.
Henley Rule 41 states: (A crew shall not) be given any advice, assistance or steering aid during a race. A crew which receives any extraneous assistance during a race may be disqualified by the Umpire. Rankov clearly decided on a strict application of this rule.
My reaction is to give respect to Boris Ravkov, congratulations to Leander and commiserations to Diederik Simon and Nereus. This is what some other people say:
Nereus coach, Diederik Simon: My crew didn’t respond to the umpire’s flag….. At one point the umpire reached for the red flag which is used to disqualify. Then I started waving to my crew. I wish I hadn’t done anything, then we now would have had a victory. In addition, my rowers didn’t see all my hand gestures.
Henley Chairman, Steve Redgrave: Guests are [on the launch] at the discretion of the umpire, and are not to interfere with the race in any way….. It’s a really sad result, but there are standards and procedures that all crews need to abide by, and A.S.R. Nereus stepped over the mark. The Umpire is the only person who is in charge of the race and needs to be adhered by.
‘Fatsculler’, blogger Daniel Spring: …..because the margin of victory was so narrow there was cause to believe that the signalling from the coach, regardless of whether the crew saw it or acted on it, could have influenced the outcome. In that case a disqualification was the only option…… I think Rankov made the right decision in very difficult circumstances.
Martin Cross, Olympian and journalist, speaking on camera on “The Blogging Oarsman”: I didn’t agree with the verdict but I’m very glad I didn’t have to make it.
Bryan Kitch of “Rowing Related” seems to disagree with the verdict but gives his criticism an interesting slant: ……Henley needs to update their procedures…. to reflect the importance of (video) replay. If every aspect of a race is to be subject to scrutiny based on available video, then the rules and regulations should include that….. Henley is truly global now. The event had more foreign crews than ever this year. More people are interested, more are watching, and the results have been that Henley has become arguably the premier rowing event in the world. That means there’s no room for vague, bureaucratic musings anymore – the thought process behind the decision…. should be clearly laid out in an official statement.
Rachel Quarrell did not express an opinion on the verdict as such but she did write: And for those remaining skeptical, it’s wise never to forget the unwritten Rule Zero: the Stewards make the rules and can do what they like.
HTBS, of course, is happier in the past than in the present (a much safer place). In the days before videos, drones and tweets, this sort of thing was dealt with differently. The legendary G.O. ‘Gully’ Nickalls once confronted a Soviet coach who had been blatantly signalling to his pair from the Umpire’s launch to assist their steering during a race. Gully recalled the occasion in his autobiography, A Rainbow in the Sky (1974):
I happen to be one of those fools who believe that, even if you do not speak the language, your meaning will get through if you speak your own tongue sufficiently slowly and with the correct emphasis and intonation…… I pointed at him and said very deliberately, ‘YOU – MUST – LEARN – NOT – TO – CHEAT – AT – GAMES’. ‘But, Mr Neekalls’, he replied, ‘our men did not know the course.’
In telling this story, I am not suggesting that the Dutch coach set out to cheat, if cheat is what he did.
Last word to Diederik Simon: I think it’s terrible for the rowers, I could cry….. Will we boycott Henley? No, we won’t. It’s a beautiful event. But I do not agree with this decision. This is a story with a tragic twist.
The Visitors’ Challenge Cup (Men’s Intermediate Coxless Fours)
Thames Rowing Club beat University of California, Berkeley, USA. Verdict: Not rowed out.
Drama (though arguably less tragic) also occurred in the men’s intermediate coxless fours. There was an Englishman, an Irishman, a New Zealander and a South African – and they won the Visitors’ in the last few strokes. No joke. The defending champions, Cal Berkley, had a strong start and built up a good lead. However, the Thames crew, three of whom were in the TRC boat that won the Thames Cup last year, did not give up and pushed at the Stewards’ Enclosure and, in responding, the Californians’ rowing became increasingly ragged, causing them to hit the booms and stop rowing about three strokes before the line. A view from the floating grandstand is on YouTube.
Head Coach Ben Lewis said: It’s not how you’d like to win a Henley final, but they never gave up and never made a mistake. We pushed Cal to the point that they made a mistake (but they) were very sportsmanlike about it.
The Prince of Wales Challenge Cup (Men’s Intermediate Quads)
Schuylkill Navy High Performance Center, USA, beat Leander Club ‘A’ by 4 ft, time 6 minutes 43 seconds.
Leander had won the previous six finals of the Prince of Wales but a poor first half denied them victory this year. They came together in the final few minutes and clawed their way back into the race but too late, losing to Schuykill (pronounced ‘Scoolkill’) by just four feet.
The Temple Challenge Cup (Men’s Student Eights)
Oxford Brookes University ‘A’ beat Harvard University, USA, by 3 1/4 lengths, time 6 minutes 32 seconds.
This much anticipated contest between two previous winners saw the Oxford Brookes First Boat take on the Harvard Second Boat, the Junior Varsity, the home crew still apparently junior enough not to have to do the higher status Ladies’ Plate. However, the race was not as close as expected, the Brookes boys were in control from the start with their winning margin greater than many had predicted.
The Prince Albert Challenge Cup (Men’s Student Coxed Fours)
Edinburgh University ‘A’ beat Newcastle University by 1 length, time 7 minutes 22 seconds.
The last race of Henley 2016 was a great one to finish on, particularly for those who like to support apparent underdogs or who simply enjoy a well executed race. On the start, Newcastle looked to have the advantage as the boat club was a twice previous winner of the event and the crew weighed in at an average of 14 stone 12 pounds/94.3 kgs/208 lbs. Edinburgh, on the other hand, had never won at Henley and averaged only 12 stone 12 pounds/81.6 kgs/180 lbs. Edinburgh took the initial lead but Newcastle were in front by around half a length for most of the first half. The latter part of the race saw the lighter crew grind down the big boys in the opposing boat and, in a perfectly timed race, Edinburgh finished a length up on Newcastle.
Part I covered the finals of the Open Events and Part III will look at the results for the Club and Junior contests.
© Photography: Tim Koch