Déjà vu in the battle of the boats
Olympic rowers contribute to wins in the Australian Boat Race as the University of Sydney men’s and University of Melbourne women’s crews dominate, with results matching the past two years of the competition.
Battling strong winds and waves, the University of Sydney men’s crew held a decisive lead over Melbourne at this year’s Australian Boat Race.
Cameron Girdlestone led the Sydney men’s eight, reunited with fellow Rio Olympian and University of Sydney alumni Alexander ‘Sasha’ Belonogoff.
The two won silver at Rio in the men’s quadruple scull, and Belonogoff has won every Australian Boat Race he has contested, with six wins from six starts.
Girdlestone said: “I thought Rio had the toughest conditions Sasha and I had ever faced, but this took the cake. To give them credit, Melbourne really stuck it to us. It was more like a race of survival than a race of the fittest and strongest.
“Congratulations to the rest of the Sydney crew, it’s a real honour to come back to row with these guys.”
Jordan Smith, University of Melbourne student and captain of the men’s crew, said: “It was tough conditions, but the boys did their best. We wanted to approach it really maturely and just try to be the fastest crew from A to B, not the fastest out of the blocks.
“We knew we would struggle in the tough conditions and Sydney handled it a lot better than us.”
The University of Melbourne women’s eight upheld their unbroken record, with a seventh consecutive win.
Led by Rio Olympic rower and student Sarah Banting, the crew maintained their lead throughout the race.
Banting said: “Jen (Jennifer Cleary, fellow Olympian and University of Melbourne alumna) and I were having a laugh saying we've had a bit of experience with rough and rolling waters. We put a little bit of pressure on ourselves, but the wind and cold we get all the time down in Melbourne, so we were probably more in our natural habitat than the Sydneysiders.”
Cleary said: “We knew it was going to be tough, but we just wanted to be really relaxed and I think we handled that really well.”
The University of Sydney women’s crew rowed hard and did not let up.
Captain and student, Rebecca Humphris, said: “The race was tough. We had moments that were tricky but we were able to recover. We did all we could, and I’m really proud of the crew.
“Congratulations to Melbourne, they’re awesome racers.”
The earlier college races proved an omen for the main event with University of Sydney’s St Andrew’s men’s eight securing an impressive win over Ormond College, from the University of Melbourne. The women’s eights with Ormond prevailed by just one boat length over the St Andrew’s women’s crew.
Hundreds of spectators braved the chill and gathered at various vantage points including Cockle Bay Wharf and Pyrmont Bridge to watch the races, cheering on the crews as they approached the finish line.
Race convenor Chris Noel said: “When you’re running an event like this on the open Harbour, the weather’s a major concern. There were forecast very heavy winds for this morning. Fortunately they were more moderate than we expected, except they did come up for the men’s race. The men’s crews had a very rough start; they all did a great job.
“I’d like to thank the Roads and Maritime Services and NSW Water Police for making the race possible.”
University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence presented the medals and trophies to the women’s teams, and said: “Our sporting programs encourage both participation and excellence, and this race demonstrates the very best of sportsmanship between two universities in a great setting.”
The Sydney crews wore black armbands as a mark of respect for the late esteemed journalist, Rebecca Wilson, who was a keen supporter of Sydney University Boat Club (SUBC) and rowing generally.
The result leaves the tally at seven-nil to Melbourne in the women’s race and six-one to Sydney in the men’s, since the annual regatta was revived in 2010.
The Edmund Barton Trophy, named in honour of Australia’s first prime minister, was awarded to the Sydney men’s eight and will remain in Sydney at least until next year. The Bella Guerin Trophy, named after the first woman graduate of the University of Melbourne, returned to the Melbourne side after their win.
Based on the famous Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, the Australian competition features current and alumni rowers from Australia’s oldest universities. The two university clubs met informally on the Yarra in 1860, with the rowing competition a regular event by 1870. It now alternates between Sydney Harbour and Melbourne’s Yarra River each year.