21 October 2016
Tim Koch writes:
The 176th single sculling race held in 186 years for the pair of silver sculls presented in 1830 by Henry C. Wingfield ‘to be held by the best’ took place on the River Thames’ Putney to Mortlake course on 13 October. The single sculling race is organised, run and umpired by former winners (or ’Champions’ as they are called in Wingfield’s speak) and it also carries the titles of ‘The British Amateur Sculling Championship and The Championship of the Thames’. The day was also the occasion of the 10th Women’s Wingfields, a revival of the Women’s Amateur Rowing Championship first raced in 1927 and reactivated under the Wingfield’s banner in 2007 with the support of the Wingfield Family Society. Historically, winning the Wingfield Sculls carried great prestige and it was part of the ‘triple crown’ of British amateur sculling. Today, of course, ‘the best’ are usually part of the national squad and their commitments to this may mean that they are unable to take part. The top women have managed a better turnout than their male counterparts but, even so, in recent times Olympic bronze medalist, Alan Campbell, and double Olympic and five times Worlds winner, Mahé Drysdale, have taken part and become ‘Champions’.
‘Hear The Boat Sing’ has covered the Wingfields since 2010 and its previous reports and the history of the races can be read here.
Race day came with ‘near perfect’ conditions, probably to the relief of the lightweight entrants. The Women’s Wingfields attracted four entrants, each with a different story behind them. The 21-year-old Jess Leyden of Leander is one of the rising hopes of British women’s single sculling, not least because in 2013 she became the first-ever GB rower to win an international women’s single scull title (gold at the Junior Worlds) and her aim is selection for the 2020 Olympics. Putney based Imperial College put out two contenders, Georgina Francis, the only returning competitor and who come second last year, and Pippa Whittaker, who won gold in both the single and the double at the 2014 Commonwealth Regatta. The other ‘local’ was lightweight Amelia Carlton of Chiswick’s Tideway Scullers who joined the club twelve years ago at the age of ten and has since had a full career on the Tideway and at Durham.
Jess Leyden became the eighth Women’s Wingfield’s Champion and after the race she said:
My plan was to stick with the group until Harrods when the river came into my favour….. and (then) see what I could do with my advantage before we got to the (Chiswick) crossover…… I saw that (Francis) had over a length on me at one point (but) I was quite comfortable (with this)….. I have not really rowed on the Tideway or any rivers (so) just getting used to the river yesterday and today was a big learning curve…..
An hour after the women’s race had gone off, the men lined up on slightly more unsettled water for the Wingfields start – as had been done 175 times before. The five hopefuls were:
Dan Boddington, Griffen Boat Club (aka Abingdon School old boys). A finalist in Henley’s Princess Elizabeth in 2010, Boddington is currently boat club Captain at Durham University and raced for Leander in the Prince of Wales at Henley in 2016.
Nick Middleton, Leander. The 28-year-old is LC’s vice-captain, a multiple Henley winner and a highly experienced international oarsman who is aiming for Tokyo 2020.
Tim Richards, Imperial College. Wingfields Champion in 2014 and 2015, lightweight Richards is a big fan of the race. A winner of Henley’s Prince Albert in 2013 and a silver medalist in the lightweight four at the 2013 and 2014 U23 Worlds.
Frazier Christie, Leander. A discovery of the World Class Start Programme, Christie was a Henley finalist in the Prince of Wales in 2016 and is another Leander man looking towards the next Olympics.
Jamie Kirkwood, Leander. A veteran of the 2013 Wingfields, Kirkwood retired from International rowing this year to become assistant coach at Oxford University Women’s Boat Club. Another highly experienced competitor (though unlucky with injuries), in the three years before his retirement, he finished first or second in the GB lightweight trials.
Kirkwood’s large margin of victory may distract from what a fine race it was by all concerned. The new Champion claimed to have had only ten training outings since retiring from international rowing last month and, though the earlier stoppage assured him of victory while already the leader, no one disputed that the lightweight sculler deserved his win. The following pack of Boddington, Richards and Christie all finished within five seconds of each other, all showing great sporting spirit by effectively making a race within a race. Middleton was simply unlucky, a random victim of racing on a ‘living river’, his result not a reflection on his skill or ability. If the spirits of previous Champions no longer with us were looking on, they would have approved of a race in the finest traditions of the Wingfield Sculls and perhaps would have concluded that the competitors were all in fact ‘Champions of the Thames’.
Later, Kirkwood gave his view of the race:
I knew that technically I was on the slower side at the beginning so I needed to have a pretty fast start…. I was in the bunch, never more than half a length down…. Coming into Barn Elms I thought I’m in second place now, half a length off, I going to put a good push in and try and drop everyone early on and get the best water. I did that, got clear, moved across, got the good water and it was nice to be ahead of all the palaver…. I saw (the clash) and thought that I am really glad that I have broken this race early on and I am just going to move away and take advantage…. (but) I still pushed hard…. knowing that there was still a slight headwind and I am not the biggest person…….
Former BBC journalist, Martin Gough has a nice take on the race (plus a little video) in the online ‘West London Sport’. Where necessary, Martin achieves the clever trick of writing about rowing in a manner that can be enjoyed both by those who follow the sport and by those who may have no special interest in it. Some video by Niall Kenny of the men’s race passing St Paul’s School is on YouTube and my 2011 edit on the Wingfields and its significance is also online.