31 July 2022
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch on an historic event that keeps making history.
In my report on the Doggett’s Coat and Badge for 2021 (eventually won by Max Carter-Miller), I wrote that:
The race soon developed into one of two parts with the athletic Carter-Miller, 6ft 4in and 91kg, rating 30 and hotly pursued by the smaller man on his immediate right, George Gilbert, striking 27 strokes per minute. It was quickly apparent that Gilbert had been training hard and was much improved from his last (Doggett’s race). This left Lucas Britton and Coran Cherry to race each other for third place.
In my concluding remarks on the 2021 race, I noted that:
In his first race in 2019, George Gilbert “froze” on the start and was immediately passed by the umpire, understandably fazed by the conditions which were described as “brutal”.
In the next Doggett’s (June 2021), Gilbert finished the course and came third out of four, defeated by two bigger and more able opponents.
In (September 2021), his third attempt, Gilbert was much better prepared, and put up a very creditable performance. He was perhaps two-and-a-half minutes behind Max Carter-Miller at the finish, but this does not truly reflect his form as he was passed and washed down by the umpire and the following flotilla in the last 1000 metres.
Competitors are nowadays allowed to race four times. After his third race, George told me about his plans for his final attempt at Doggett’s in 2022:
“I’m going to train my bollocks off… (This year) I was at Poplar (Blackwall and District Rowing Club) at 5am every morning with Max (Carter-Miller). No matter what the tide was, we went out and I’m going to do it all again for another year. Obviously, I’m upset that I got second but I’m happy with the course that I did, I know it well, I work in that stretch all the time, I know where to be… I went inside at Coin Street and I always stuck to the shores, keeping in the tide but making the shortest line possible… cut the bends, stay with the tide, that was the plan!”
Recently, George was quoted on the Watermen’s Company website as saying:
I’m getting out in a boat as much as I can… I feel like my sculling is better than last year, and I’ve competed at a couple of other regattas too now, which has given me some great experience. And I’ve got great support from my coach Gary Anness as well as some of the other rowers and winners at Poplar.
I finished my September 2021 report by saying:
If George Gilbert does win (in 2022), it will be a great story and one in the best traditions of the unique event that is the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager.
Well, George Gilbert did win the 308th Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager on 28 July 2022. Sadly, he had to “row over” as the two other competitors were unable to race. Pascal Papis was injured and Mathew Brookes was unable to make the revised date that was chosen when the planned 19 July race was cancelled due to a heatwave.
The hastily revised date also meant that the usual rolling river close was not in place – although the Port of London Authority was still managing the river and providing safety cover. Despite this, Gilbert was sculling on a busier river than has been seen in the race for many years.
Gilbert, who crossed the line at 26.07, is a great competitor who, while perhaps not a natural athlete or an obvious contender, trained and raced well out of his comfort zone, inspired by the history and heritage of the world’s oldest existing rowing race, spurred on by his coach, Gary Anness. This, I suggest, validates the 2022 Doggett’s; had there been a one-man-race by someone who was not so inspired, the 308th Coat and Badge would not have been as credible as it actually was.
I spoke to George and Gary after the finish.
George: It’s been a long journey. When I started I was 100kg, now I’m 73kg… Before Doggett’s, I was not an athlete at all. After my first race, I was working at Hammersmith and saw the scullers from London Rowing Club and elsewhere and had an epiphany. I got inspired, contacted Poplar (Blackwall and District Rowing Club), Gary took me under his wing. I went from not being able to do a pull-up to be able to do… nineteen-and-a-half (laughs).
Gary: He was an excellent student, he deserved a better race. The hardest person that you can ever race is yourself. So, he had to race this with dignity and style… I told him to attack it, attack it, exactly as if there were six people racing… He’s had to earn his place at the table and he did… the hard way.
Had he the chance, Gilbert could have beaten some who were, in theory, faster than him. This was the case in the 2016 race when Ben Folkard beat Alfie Anderson into second place. Anderson was bigger, potentially stronger and more experienced but Folkard had trained harder than his opponent, inspired not by any love of sculling or racing but by the heritage of Doggett’s. After winning in 2016, Folkard was quoted as saying:
In my first year, I came fourth because I didn’t know how to row the race…. I was back in training from the next day onwards. Last year I trained really hard but Louis (Pettipher, the 2015 winner) was so fit and I came second. Today was the product of three years’ hard work….
George Gilbert has the same mindset as Ben Folkard had. In years to come, people will not ask Gilbert how many people he raced against when he won his Coat and Badge, they will simply, and rightly, just recognise him as a “Doggett’s Man”, one who is as entitled as any of his other brothers-in-scarlet to be part of a very exclusive group.