Blues rowing achieve seven podium finishes at OUA Championships

Andrei Vovk captures silver and bronze in St. Catharines

Blues rowing achieve seven podium finishes at OUA Championships

On October 27 and 28, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues rowing team competed at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championships held at Henley Island. Already familiar with the course, the group quickly settled into their usual pre-race routines. Athletes huddled together out of the wind beneath U of T’s tent, posted right along the rocky shoreline, and watched their peers glide by. Although the forecast was grim, the weather held up throughout the weekend, producing only some minor wind and a touch of rain on Saturday. The atmosphere on the island was upbeat and hectic, with boats hanging overhead while crews jogged, skipped, and jumped around, doing anything to keep warm.

The Blues novice teams raced on Friday, arriving early to rig their boats and prepare for their morning races. Both the men and women qualified for the finals, which took place shortly after the preliminary heats.

The women were very satisfied with their fourth-place finish, while the men were glad to take home a bronze medal. Later in the afternoon the heats for the varsity athletes began, and different crews came and went quickly. The lightweights were careful with their food, as they would be weighed in the next day, but the heavyweight rowers happily downed bagels and peanut butter as they watched their teammates race. The novice rowers bused back to Toronto late that afternoon, while the rest stayed overnight in St. Catharines for their finals the next morning.

Relieved to wake up to relatively calm water, the athletes cycled through their races — many were in multiple boats and had to race several times. Although the regatta was dominated by rowing powerhouses Western University and Brock University, U of T ended the tournament with 141 points overall and several podium finishes. This is especially significant in light of the poor weather leading up to OUAs, which severely hampered the Blues’ ability to practice on the water. Nevertheless, the team performed solidly, taking home six medals.

Andrei Vovk, a longtime fixture on the Blues team, had a strong showing in the men’s lightweight 1x, finishing in 7:07.8 to net a silver. Vovk also took home a bronze from the men’s lightweight 2x category, joined by his partner William Sati, in a solid time of 6:43.26. The men’s heavyweight eight, a spectator favourite, also finished on the podium. The boat, composed of Simon Plenderleith, Terek Been, Chris Hill, Esteban Poveda Torres, Samuel Muise, Alex King, William Sati, and Jacob Koudys, captured third place with a time of 6:02.88.

The women’s eight came in fifth, but they are slotted to race together one last time this season at the Canadian University Rowing Championships in Burnaby. Megan Lewicki and Rachel Dick achieved a silver medal in the women’s lightweight 2 for their time of 7:56.3. The women’s heavyweight four of Lauren Richardson, Megan Kamachi, Kendra Wells, Robyn Loves and Jessie MacAlpine finished in third place at 7:23.39.

For a majority of Blues rowers, this was the final race of the season — and for a few graduating students, the last of their career altogether as Varsity Blues athletes. The rowing season itself is very intense, but also incredibly brief. Finishing on a strong note, the Blues rowers will now begin their winter training to prepare for open water in the spring.

Varsity Blues rowers perform at 2017 Brock Invitational Regatta

Rowers compete at famed Henley course, place first and second

Varsity Blues rowers perform at 2017 Brock Invitational Regatta

In the dim morning light, two fleets of athletes left Varsity Stadium on Saturday, October 14. One bus left at 4:45, the other at a much more reasonable 5:15 am — both headed to Henley Island, one of the most famous racing courses in Canada, to compete in the Brock Invitational Regatta.

Upon arrival, the team quickly unloaded the trailer, stacked high with slim boats, and began to re-rig the boats to be used the soonest. Around 7:00 am, it was time for the lightweight rowers to weigh in. Lightweight rowers must be below 72.5 kilograms for men and 59 kilograms for women.

Athletes stripped down to their racing gear, shedding layers of spandex and fleece, to be measured and stamped with their weight. Coxswains — diminutive but deceptively loud — were also weighed in. They must be over 50 kilograms for women’s boats and 55 kilograms for men’s. After the weighing-in, the races began in earnest.

The Blues’ first race of the day was the men’s lightweight double, which took off around 8:00 am. Things moved quickly from there, as athletes darted in and out of the tented U of T area while preparing for their races. Those who weren’t scheduled until later in the day studied together on tarps laid over the muddy ground, hunched over textbooks with subjects ranging from calculus to Middle Eastern politics. Others watched races unfold from the river banks, cheering for teammates as they zipped by. After their races, athletes carried their boats and oars back from the dock and huddled up together to debrief, usually with a bottle of water or a bagel in hand.

Most novice rowers had only really been rowing since the first week of September. For them, Brock was a milestone — they completed their first two-kilometre races, visited Henley for the first time, and caught their first crabs in Martindale Pond.

Highlights of the day included the Blues women’s team, slotted around 11:00 am, having a rough race due to technical issues but pushing through to the finish; the novice Blues men, who raced later in the afternoon, coming second overall to McGill University; and the best performance of the day — the women’s lightweight double team, who easily took first place in their race.

Brock was an important learning experience, a good way to measure progress, and an opportunity to prepare for the more important race coming up in two weeks: the OUA Championship, also held at Henley. After Brock, crews broke down their strategies and analyzed their performances, looking for ways to improve in time for the OUAs.

Hopefully, the Blues can build on this momentum going forward and perform well in the OUA Championship at the end of the month.