This Sunday the first of the major Tideway Head races kicks off with Pair’s Head, a gruelling 4.5km down the Championship Course, finishing early at Harrods Wall. Last year’s 417 entries have been increased, with 458 pairs and doubles from as far afield as Southampton Coalporters and Durham Amateur Rowing Club. With the only available boats to race in being doubles and pairs the large number of categories allows healthy competition to be had by all. The 3 Junior Categories – J16 doubles, J18 doubles and J18 pairs – are split into Championship, Senior, Intermediate and Club and then again by gender, resulting in 18 individual junior categories. The open and senior events have been split similarly, with the titles of fastest pair and fastest double still the goal on every championships crews' mind.
Last year as their name might suggest it was Tideway Scullers who came away with the fastest time, and dominated the women’s racing with wins in J18 2x, J16 2x, Lwt W2x and Open W2x, and this left Cantabs and Lea RC to clean up the rest of the senior women’s wins. The men’s results showed a bit more variety with Imperial College cleaning up championship pairs and lightweight doubles as the fastest of the day. The junior wins were shared between Eton, St Pauls, Norwich, Shiplake and Lea RC with the men, and with Putney High School, Walton RC, Ardingly RC and Emmanuel School to chase after Tideway’s landslide.
Imperial College were the only university among 38 different clubs to win a category, and Reading University are looking keen to add themselves to that list this year. Famous for their sculling programme, their win at fours head in championship quads begged the question of why they didn’t enter pairs head. The uni sent 12 athletes to EUSA over the summer to claim a gold in the men’s and women’s quads. George Lawton and Rory Harris’ double won’t just be competing against the other half of their EUSA quad, Eduardo Marshall of Maidenhead and Sean O’Mahony, as coming into this as one of other crews to beat are Tideway Scullers’ double with fresh U23 gold medallist Sam Meijer. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on Thames RC winning the championship pairs title, an opinion slightly helped by the fact that they are 7 of the 8 entries, the last going to King’s College School. A sea of red and black, but despite Callum Betteley and George Thompson’s skills and performance in the eight and coxed four at Coupe, they’ll have an extremely hard time overturning Thames. Open women’s pairs are a fairly local derby with Thames, Vesta and Tideway Scullers joined by Lea RC – all of them powerhouses in women’s rowing. Vicky Brock returns to the pair with a different crewmate from last year’s win, likely keen to add another medal to her collection.
The junior categories are at least more varied than the open ones. The usual offenders of Eton, Shiplake and Radley are looking to take the junior title from St Pauls. Dom Valt and Joe Middleton are likely considered St Paul’s top pair, with their coupe and worlds experience between them, and Shiplake’s crew of Rhys Ash and Ben Brockway should be their closest rivals. A dark horse in the shape of Norwich School could provide an upset as Huck Hempsall and Matty Tremelling both have the experience, GB lycras and underdog status to make some unhappy coaches over at the Thames Valley schools. Kingston Rowing Club are favourites to take the junior women’s pairs over last year’s winners Putney High School. An absent Henley RC, LEH and Headington mean the spotlight could shine on someone else for a change, and St Paul’s will be hot on Kingston’s heels especially with Avery Louis’ coupe medal.
Last year the J18 doubles were won by Louis Powell and Jasper den Dulk, and Izzy Lack and Ruby O’Keefe. Lea RC are this year starting at the front of a highly competitive band, with Luca Ferraro of coupe notoriety paired with Sam O’Connor, a younger athlete with a GB France win under his belt. Shiplake are traditionally a sweep institution but seeing some of their top J16’s from last year entered in doubles raises a few eyebrows. Eton’s double contains PE-winning James Watson-Gandy, and paired with Cosmo van Steenis they should be a formidable crew, perhaps even the one to beat. LEH’s absence in J18 pairs is evident as they 6 doubles entered in J18 W 2x. Tideway Scullers are the ones to beat with Izzy Lack and Zoe Scheske looking like the strongest crew in the category. Kingston RC, Sir William Perkin’s and Kingston Grammar fill up the event with the vast majority of entries but despite their size and talent, Tideway really shouldn’t be losing out on their own turf.