HENLEY, England — The Washington men’s varsity eight capped an undefeated season with a gutsy effort against a stacked British national team eight in the final of the most prestigious event of rowing’s most historic regatta, the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta.
Ultimately, Washington matched the previous course record, set by the German National Team, but it would not be enough to catch the determined British squad of Olympic medalists, rowing as Leander Club and Molesey Boat Club, which set a course record and won by one boat length.
The home team won in a record 5 minutes, 54 seconds, three seconds faster than the previous mark.
It is a testament to the Husky crew that it entered the Grand Challenge, an event usually reserved for national teams, and put up such an impressive challenge against Britain’s best eight. Britain’s rowing squad was the best sweep team at the Olympics last summer, and their lineup at Henley was essentially an all-star lineup of British oarsmen.
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In making it to the final, the Huskies had already pulled off an upset the day before, defeating the Polish National Team (racing as Wojskowy Klub Sportowy Zawisza and Regionalne Towarzystwo Wioslarskie Lotto). The Polish boat was comprised of the same rowers — albeit in a different lineup — who placed seventh at the 2012 Olympics.
It was also the crew that earned silver at rowing’s World Cup two weeks ago, narrowly losing to Great Britain by half a second.
For Great Britain, a nation whose eight had taken Olympic bronze last summer, the narrow win was not enough. In the two weeks since winning the World Cup, the team sought to make its eight even faster for Henley. Britain’s eight included members of last summer’s Olympic bronze winning eight, as well as a member of the bronze-medal winning pair, and three members of the Olympic Gold winning four. The team’s lineup for Henley sent a clear signal to the international rowing world: Great Britain was putting its best oarsmen in the eight.
This was the loaded British crew that Washington lined up against at Henley, and by staying within a length of the Olympic champions and medalists, the Huskies garnered incredible respect from the crowd and commentators, who declared Washington “The finest collegiate rowing program in the world.” Britain’s legendary oarsman Sir Mathew Pinsent praised Washington’s “punchy” choice to take on the Grand Challenge.
Though the Huskies will not come home as Grand Challenge winners, they are not hanging their heads.
“I am proud,” said coach Michael Callahan. “These guys set out to do something special and they have. They wanted to know how fast they could go and it took racing the world’s best to find out. I am incredibly proud of their choice to take on this challenge.”
Washington’s No. 6 seat, Conlin McCabe, echoed Callahan.
“I think a lot of people are interested to know how fast international eights are relative to collegiate eights and we are willing to find out,” McCabe said.
Washington’s eight featured six seniors. For five of them, this was their first loss in their collegiate racing career at Washington. It seems fitting that this crew would want to finish by seeking the biggest challenge.
“I’m glad we get to end on a bang at Henley, taking on the Grand Challenge,” said senior captain Alexander Bunkers.
“This crew has embraced every challenge they’ve had,” said Callahan. “It has been a thrill to watch them race here. They have made their mark on Washington, Henley, and international rowing.”
• Washington incoming freshman Nigel Williams-Goss scored 15 points to help Team USA roll over Serbia 82-68 in the gold-medal game of the FIBA U-19 World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic, and finish undefeated at 9-0.