Last summer, two men’s boats from the Bowdoin’s rowing program competed in the world’s most prestigious regatta, Henley Royal Regatta, on the River Thames in England.
The two men’s boats, each with four rowers and a coxswain, finished 10th and 14th during the time trial in June. They narrowly missed out on a top eight standing, so they did not advance to the side-by-side single elimination knockout rounds.
“The regatta itself was absolutely spectacular, wild,” said Assistant Coach Doug Welling.
Captain Phillip Wang ’18, a coxswain for one of the two boats, said that training and interacting with top rowers around the world in the Henley Royal Regatta pushed the crews to take rowing to a whole new level. For example, his crew trained to start off a race at a stroke rate of 52, a much faster rate of rowing than they were used to in the states.
“I remember walking around and seeing bunch of Olympians from like New Zealand and they would have their Rio 2016 jackets or in the boat tent you would see boats with Rio 2016 stickers and it was cool because you were standing next to them, and you were not just a spectator,” Wang said. “You are the same river as them doing the same things and interacting with them.”
The program began competing in Henley Royal Regatta in 2000. This year was the fourth time the team has competed in the regatta, with the other times being in 2003 and 2013. In 2003, Bowdoin’s men’s boat advanced to the quarterfinals and was knocked out from the regatta by Goldie Boat Club of the University of Cambridge, who eventually went on to win the event that year. This year there were a total of 577 entrees, 144 of whom were from overseas. The whole regatta took five days, and each crew raced 2,100 meters as opposed to a more standard 2,000 meters.
In the regatta, there is a total of 16 entrees in the knockout stage. Eight of the entrees get into the knockout stage automatically, meaning they qualify without having to compete in the initial time trial, based on their resumes or, in some, cases luck. Colgate University and Boston University were accepted into the knockout stage automatically this year. American crews, Williams College, Deerfield Academy, Kent School and University of Virginia qualified for the knockout stage after the time trial.
Two weeks before the regatta, the team also competed in the Marlow Regatta at Dorney Lake, England. Both men’s fours finished fifth in different divisions out of more than 30 crews.
“We really used that as the ability to get settled and to get people used to new rented equipments. That was the course from the 2012 Olympics and that was spectacular,” said Welling.
The co-ed team boasts 58 rowers and coxswains this season. Many of them joined the program with no prior experience. Despite the relatively small size of the program, which does not recruit members and whose members on average have less experience, the team finds a way to compete against much bigger rowing programs around the country through what they say is simply work ethic.
“We have some really motivated athletes and because most of our team did not have rowing experience before coming to college, we can to teach them a sort of our method,” said Head Coach Gil Birney. “Our sort of vision of how boats ought to move. I think the student themselves are highly motivated and ambitious. It is really unusual for a program this size to be able to complete with the level of competition we do.”
Captain Jessica Webber ’18 observed that because the rowing program at Bowdoin is a club sport, there cannot be any coaching or official training outside of the season. With that in mind, most of the team works out on the rowing machines frequently by choice, so that they can improve.
“I think our athletes really thrive under the underdog mentality,” said Webber. “Being kind of scrappy, there are lots of sophomores with only one year of rowing experience thrown into top boats. You get to really size up against these recruited six foot athletes from other schools, sometimes D1 schools, and you just try to go out and beat them. I think this is something everyone has learned to enjoy and strive for.”
This fall, the team will compete in a total of three regattas, including the Head of the Charles on October 21-22.