The 2020 Wingfield Sculls: Following the Rule of Six

The 2015 Wingfield Sculls in Fulham Reach.

29 October 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch previews the Championship of the Thames.

Providing that the technology can survive the heavy rain and ‘moderate’ 12 – 14 mph headwinds forecast for the Wingfield Sculls today, on 29 October, the 10.30am women’s race and the 11.45am men’s race were live on the event’s YouTube Channel, showcasing what promises to be two exciting and hard-fought events. The organisers ask that no spectators attend the race in person.

The qualifiers for the 2020 Wingfields. Seventeen men and nine women originally entered; they were reduced to six each by a time trial on 18 October. [Editor’s note: For the women’s competitors Mathilda and Charlotte, their last name is Byrne, not Bryne!]
A press release sets the scene:

First raced in 1830, the Wingfield Sculls has remained a favourite race for the UK’s top scullers and this year’s race is no different as the entry is packed with Tokyo Olympic hopefuls. Previous winners have included Olympic Champions such as Sophie Hosking (Great Britain), Anna Watkins (Great Britain) and Mahé Drysdale (New Zealand) along with well-known rowers such as Sir Steve Redgrave, Alan Campbell and Greg Searle. 

Originally contested along a strip of water between Westminster and Putney, the modern race runs along the Championship course – that of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race – between Putney and Mortlake. The scullers race six-abreast to be crowned ‘British Amateur Sculling Champion’ and ‘Champion of the Thames’ with the accompanying pair of silver sculls, as devised by the race’s founder Henry Colsell Wingfield, awarded to the champion to symbolise the achievement. The race committee is composed of previous Wingfield Champions, meaning the true colours of this unique race have remained strong throughout its fascinating history.

First-time winners (or ‘Champions’) receive a medal and a bar which is engraved with the appropriate year – such as this example won by Wally Kinnear in 1910. Any subsequent win or wins (such as Kinnear achieved in 1911 and 1912) is marked by a new bar engraved with the appropriate year.

This year, the closure of Hammersmith Bridge has, once again, forced the race to change its location. 2020 will see Wingfield challengers’ race between Hammersmith and Kew along a river open to traffic, meaning – more than ever – scullers will rely on the guidance of their coach in the following safety launches for steering direction.

Restored as part of the Wingfield’s in 2007, the women’s race has remained a fiercely contested battle between highly skilled single scullers for over a decade. 2020 sees Under 23 World medallist Saskia Budgett, from London, start the race on the south side of the Thames (Surrey bank), whilst 2015 Champion Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne returns to reclaim her title, with sister and fellow GB athlete Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne, both from Hereford, making her first Wingfield’s appearance.

At just 21 years of age, Leander Club’s Hannah Scott, from Coleraine Northern Ireland, is also making her debut in the Wingfield’s, having proved her worth with multiple medals from the 2018 and 2019 Under 23 World Championships; domestic heavyweight Katie Wilkinson-Feller, from London and Georgina Brayshaw, from Leeds, round-off this year’s entry.

Vicky Thornley and Mel Wilson, two of the women who raced in 2014.

Every athlete on Thursday’s start-line has represented their country on the world stage, and whilst some may have more Tideway experience under their belt, this year’s champion will no doubt claim her title through grit and courage in the face of adversity, a race not to be missed. 

In its 190th year, the men’s rendition of this historic race is set to be just as exciting as their female counterparts’ contest. The most notable entrant this year, Sam Meijer returns to defend his 2019 victory but will face intense competition from a field of experienced scullers. Tideway Scullers School dominates the start list with three scullers: George Bourne, Calvin Tarczy and Sam Meijer, all from London. All three have raced under the British flag, with George securing a gold medal at the 2019 Under 23 World Championships, whilst Calvin enters the race after two consecutive years as Junior World Champion in the Men’s Four.

The start of the 2019 men’s race.

Leander Club has produced more Olympic champions than any other sports club in the world, and it seems that legacy will stand them in good stead come race day. Angus Groom, Rio Olympian from Glasgow, has held on to his seat in the national squad for over ten years since first appearing at the Junior World Championships in 2010, whilst his Leader contemporary, Victor Kleshnev, from Maidenhead, has taken a gold and silver medal off of World Rowing’s hands as a sculler in the junior men’s quad in 2018 and 2019. Nottingham Rowing Club is the only club outside of the Thames area to present a competitor, with the double Under 23 World Champion in the quadruple scull, Matt Haywood, from Nottingham, taking up the flag.

As with the women’s race, all those battling to be crowned Champion have international experience, setting the stage for one of the most exciting races of the year.

Alan Campbell sculling to victory in 2010.

Social Media has also been active:

On the website, Junior Rowing News, Ed Evans had produced this very nice Wingfield preview piece.

On Twitter, each competitor has produced a 30-second biography with their thoughts about the race.

YouTube has Martin Cross’s recent chat with Champions Sam Meijer and Matilda Hodgkins-Byrne  about this historic race and how they feel about defending or reclaiming their titles.

Finally, if the live technology fails on today, Thursday, there is always my short 2011 YouTube video which looks at why this undeservedly obscure event is so special.

Update: Winners of the 2020 Wingfield Sculls were Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne and Matt Haywood. Congratulations!

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