Scullers Head 2012 Results

That’s head-racing, rowing’s an outdoor sport.

Apologies if that seem blasé, it certainly is not meant to be. I’ve been responsible for compiling the results for the Scullers Head for about 10 years and within that time I’ve seen wildly different conditions, seen many problems and heard many complaints.

After every race we receive more or less civil questions about the results we publish and 2012 has been no different; many people, especially this year, are basically wondering why were we not better at predicting the conditions in advance and how come we didn’t we make the Tideway fairer for all competitors.

As organisers we measure the success of the race on more dimensions than coaches and athletes.

  • Did we get enough entrants?
  • Did we get enough officials?
  • Will the weather make it unsafe?
  • Did we get enough decent data from the two ends to be able to compile the results?
  • Did we have to do too much problem solving in producing the results?
  • Have we identified all the crews without bow numbers?
  • Are there any category winners with penalties?
  • Have we switched the lightweights who didn’t weigh in?
  • Have we excluded any entries racing for a time only?
  • Do the results look both reasonable and accurate?

It must be said that at every stage in every race almost every one of those questions (and a hundred others) causes momentary panic (and sometimes a lot longer than just a moment).

For me, while compiling the results, the first cut of the results (which was very similar to the provisional set published, which was the set finalised) just looked awful. Far too many high start numbers (450+) having done far too well. We expect some high numbered new entrants to finish well, but these would generally be those around 110, the elite new entrants.

Firstly, Alan Campbell had won, so we knew that there wasn’t too much wrong, but when 4 of the top 6 finishers are novices, something is least awry. My first reaction is that it is my results – what is wrong with the data? Very quickly though, after validating sample after sample, we realised that our data were credible and it was something else. While many 450+ entrants had done well, they hadn’t all done well, there were breaks. Experienced watchers saw the results and nodded knowingly, the high fliers might have flown higher thanks to the conditions, but they were always going to have done well.

Many people before and during the race highlighted the issue of landwater and I’ve seen various calculations as to the effect this would have had at various stages in the race. It obviously made a difference.

This year it was landwater, some years it is rain, others wind. The issue of stream strength is a perennial classic and, frankly, one we can do nothing about. The time from the first sculler crossing the start line to the last sculler crossing the finish was a smidge under 2h15 (overall the scullers started at 4.2 scullers per minute, which is within the normal range, the top 100 started slightly faster at 4.9 per minute which again is to be expected). There are a couple of breaks baked into the start, to allow natural gaps to make it easier for returning scullers to cross (otherwise Hammersmith/Barnes Bridge scullers will find it close to impossible to get across the river and home before the last sculler passes), but this has only a small effect on the overall time taken. Switching the oldest entrants to the middle does make a slight difference too, comparing the times taken by the W.IM3.LWT compared to MasI.

We started approximately an hour after Chiswick high tide – this is normal. If you compare the start times of similar races, you’ll find that compared to this year’s 4s head we were comparitively about 20 minutes earlier, and for next year’s men’s head less than 20 minutes. The women’s head in 2013 will be slightly later, about 45 minutes, but there are no huge outliers.

Had we started at 1000 or 1030 there would still have been a marked difference in flow rates, but crucially we start at that time for a reason. On a typical day, if we start much later, we run out of water under Putney Pier so returning crews have to go around the outside and this makes marshalling (and timing) more problematic. We have 550 boats in the draw and while we expect 15% or so not to start, we still had 446 finishers and we need that extra time which the Women’s Head in particular don’t need – they finished with 287 boats this year, that would have made 45 minute’s difference in the arrival of the last boat across the finish line.

I’m not moaning about the comments, every has a right to make comments, but there is often more to it than you realise.

Not before time

Martin Cross has a great pedigree, unimpeachable credentials but this great news is nothing like Manchester United not being allowed into the FA Cup. It’s like Arsenal’s Wunderkinden not being allowed in the London 2nd XI cup.

Leander are head and shoulders the most powerful club in British Rowing. They can afford to support their athletes in ways other clubs can only dream about.

While this news might mean that Leander can’t win it’s not going to open the door to all and sundry. The Thames cup in ’09 will still come from Molesey, Agecroft, London, Scullers or a similar setup with BIRO assistance and internationals on the roll.

Being involved

Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.

So said someone, I though it was GB Shaw but WikiQuote doesn’t know about it, so it can’t be true.

There’s an addendum to that cliché.

Those that can’t teach, administrate.

Which is rubbish. When I give up competing, I plan to avoid coaching (although will probably not manage that). I don’t want to leave the sport entirely so will officiate and organise. The satisfaction you get when organising rather than actually competing is surprisingly high.

When events go well – even if the weather tried its darnedest to intervene – it is fun and enjoyable to administrate.

Killing through kindness?

Last night the popular rowing gossip site, The Slug published the slightly doom laden news that the Leo Blockley story is just about the enter a new chapter.

The short version is that at a training camp in Amposta, Spain at the end of 2000, a crew from the Oxford University lightweight men’s group was swamped in a flash storm, in the ensuing panic one of the crew, Leo Blockley, attempted to swim for the shore and never made it. (The story is more complex than that and many more details are available on the memorial campaign’s website.)

Burying a child must be the saddest duty a parent can ever do and, since then, as a memorial to their lost son, Leo Blockley’s parents have, admirably, conducted a campaign over the issue of buoyancy in rowing shells. You see while all racing rowing boats – from the small singles to the large eights – have to almost by definition float, there remains a grey area around the issue of their handling in inclement and unusual conditions. In the majority of outings undertaken on inshore water in the UK and around the world, the worst that might happen are a few small waves (perhaps from passing launches) and maybe a bit of rain.

The issue raised is how much these shells need to be able to remain buoyant when they have undergone extreme shock – be it overwhelming swamping or through losing structural integrity. How much should a shell be obligated to be able to still float when totally swamped (as was the case in Amposta).

It has been proven that the marginal cost of providing sufficient buoyancy to new shells is minimal and most boat manufacturers now offer this as standard, but certainly as a free/cheap option. But how much should this be obligated – and going further, how responsible are the UK governing body, the ARA, or the international body, FISA, for not having in their rules stipulations regarding safe supported weights.

The re-opening of the inquest, which had originally returned a verdict of accidental death, leads to a distressing inevitable conclusion – that criminal investigations and possible criminal charges are in the offing. The obvious conclusion is that someone considers someone (be it an individual or the sport’s powers that be) potentially criminally liable. Such a conclusion has almost inevitable repercussions.

The demise of rowing in the UK. That would be a lasting legacy to build on the earlier tragic drowning of Leo Blockley.

Killing through kindness?