26 October 2020
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch on some antiviral rowing events.
In Britain, it is popularly supposed that marriage in the remote county of Norfolk is often a family affair between close relatives. From this idea has grown the joke that doctors covering this rural area mark the records of certain patients with the initialism ‘NFN’, standing for ‘Normal For Norfolk’. As most readers will have noticed, 2020 has been a slightly unusual year and any annual current event that even remotely resembles those that took place in the halcyon days of ten months or more ago is to be welcomed as ‘NF20’ i.e. ‘Normal For 2020’. Rowing competitions are no exception.
In times not blighted by war or pandemic or bridge closures, the Mortlake – Putney ‘Championship Course’ on the River Thames (most famously used – in the other direction – by the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race) will host major head races for all classes of boat throughout the year. For eights, March usually sees the Head of the River Race, the Veterans’ Head, the Women’s Head and the multi boat class Schools’ Head. Naturally, these were lost to the start of lockdown but in the latter part of the year there is normally the Pairs Head in October, the Fours Head and the Veteran Fours Head in November and the (single) Scullers Head in December. Presently, there is no news online about the race for singles but the time trial for pairs and doubles took place recently and both Fours Heads are – currently – ‘on’. Further, another ‘Championship Course’ race, the Wingfield Sculls, should also be going ahead at the end of this month.
The first of the Tideway head races organised under the ‘new normal’, the Pairs Head, went off successfully on 11 October with open, women, junior and masters categories for pairs and doubles. The race is run by Barnes Bridge Ladies Rowing Club, the only women’s rowing club on the Tideway. The special 2020 ‘twists’ included the fact that entries were limited to Tideway Clubs upstream of the closed Hammersmith Bridge, the total number of boats participating was capped at 99, the course was from the University of London boathouse at Kew/Chiswick to Sons of the Thames RC at Hammersmith and all participants had to complete an online self-assessment health declaration 24 hours before taking part in the race.
The final results put the Tideway Scullers Open 2x Championship double of Bourne and O’Mahony as the fastest men, with a time of 14m 17s, and had Craig and Grant of University of London as the fastest women, their double recording 14m 50s.
The Veteran Fours Head Committee has posted:
(We) remain hopeful that (we) will be able to run some form of race on 21 November… Reviewing entry numbers from the past five years, the committee are aware that a race with entries from ‘upper Tideway’ clubs only (i.e. from clubs upriver of Hammersmith Bridge to downriver of Teddington Lock inclusive) would not be financially viable, even without a river closure. A further update will be made on… 25 October.
Given the complexities caused by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, the Fours Head this year will run at a very significantly reduced capacity compared with previous years. The main constraint is the number of ‘self-contained groups’ (loosely referred to as ‘bubbles’) which can be safely accommodated at host clubs (i.e. clubs above Hammersmith Bridge). This means that there is no exact maximum number of crews, although we expect that it will be around 175.
Generally, entries will be accepted from crews able to boat and race directly from their home club but also from crews from clubs sited between Hammersmith and Putney Bridges. As to clubs that do not fit these criteria, the Fours Head committee says:
To maximise the number of visiting crews that can boat from host clubs in a COVID-19 secure manner, we will favour entries from clubs bringing multiple boats on a single trailer from a single club ‘bubble’ and from those clubs with a shorter travelling distance between their home club and the Fours Head… Given the overall capacity limit, this is likely to mean no more than 15-20 miles in practice.
The pictures below from the 2019 Fours Head illustrate some of the differences that the 2020 race will have.
The lack of opportunities to race this year has meant that there has been an unprecedented number of entries for the Wingfield Sculls and this has resulted in the need for qualifying time trials. Earlier this month, Wade Hall-Craggs, the tireless secretary of the Wingfield Sculls Committee, wrote on the event’s website:
The 179th Wingfield Sculls will be a little different due to the progressing global situation with COVID-19 and the closing of Hammersmith Bridge. There will be a time trial on 18th October with 13 women and 17 men vying for 6 places in both the Women’s and Men’s Championship. The Championship races will be on 29th October at 10.30 (women) and 11.45 (men). Unfortunately, we cannot run the races… between Putney and Mortlake this year. Instead, it will take place between Hammersmith (St Paul’s School) and Kew (University of London boathouse).
The 2020 Wingfields should see two exciting and hard-fought races, each between six high-class competitors – one of the good things to result from the pandemic.
Despite these encouraging developments, vigilance is still needed. The website Inside The Games reported on 17 October that three national teams reported a total of six positive Covid-19 tests after the 2020 European Rowing Championships. There were 570 rowers from 31 nations at the Championships, so it may be arguable how significant this number is — but it is still six too many.