On Thursday 29 October, the River Thames will play host to two mouthwatering races as some of the country’s top male and female scullers compete in the Wingfield Sculls. Daniel Spring previews the line-up
With opportunities for racing in 2020 being few and far between it’s great to see one of the oldest events in rowing, The Wingfield Sculls, taking place this Thursday.
The race, which describes itself as the “British Amateur Sculling Championship and Championship of the Thames”, has been run every year since 1830 (with the exception of two world wars).
Organisers have not only had to deal with the COVID-19 restrictions (although the single scull must be the most socially distanced of all sports!), they have also been forced to change the course. The race is traditionally run over “The Championship Course” from Putney to Mortlake. But this year, the closure of Hammersmith Bridge means it has had to be shifted to run from Auriol Kensington Boat Club to the University of London Boathouse.
The event was for men-only until 2007 when the first women’s event was held – and won by Olympian Elise Laverick.
Amazingly, the Wingfield Sculls will be the first time the sisters have gone head-to-head in a public single-sculls race
Such was the interest in this year’s event that, for the first time in a number of years, qualifying time-trial races were held in both the men’s and women’s events to reduce the entries down to the six permitted. In the women’s race the first surprise was that defending champion Jess Leyden missed out on qualification.
Winner of the time trial, and securing the prime lane three, is the 2015 champion and GB rower Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, representing Reading Rowing Club. She was U23 world champion in 2016 and has been a member of the GB women’s quad since 2017, winning a world championship bronze medal in the same year.
Next to Mathilda in lane two is her younger sister, Charlotte, racing for the University of London. Amazingly, the Wingfield Sculls will be the first time the sisters have gone head-to-head in a public single-sculls race. Charlotte is also an U23 world champion, winning the women’s doubles with Anna Thornton in 2018. She and Thornton went on to finish fourth at the 2018 World Championships. In 2019, Charlotte joined her sister in the senior women’s quad and, alongside Jess Leyden and Melissa Wilson, the two qualified the quad for the Tokyo Olympics.
In lane one is Saskia Budgett of Tideway Scullers. Daughter of 1984 Olympic champion, Richard, Saskia was an U23 world champion in the women’s quad in 2017 and was a spare for the senior GB squad at the 2019 World Rowing Championships.
Hannah Scott of Leander Club is in lane four. Scott is another U23 medallist, having won silver in both the women’s pair and eight, and she’s currently studying at Princeton University.
In lane five is another Tideway Scullers’ athlete, Katie Wilkinson-Feller, who also has GB honours to her credit, after racing at the U23 European Championships in 2018.
The racing should be excellent, and having six boats side-by-side on the Tideway means anything can happen
The final competitor in the women’s event, in lane six, is Georgina Brayshaw of Leander Club. She started rowing in 2015 as part of the GB Start programme, making her international debut at the Poznan World Cup in 2019.
Over to the men and the list of past winners of the men’s Wingfield Sculls reads as a Who’s Who of rowing royalty, with names such as Guy Nickalls, Jack Beresford, Chris Baillieu, Steve Redgrave, Mahe Drysdale, Alan Campbell and Greg Searle. Hoping to add their names to this roll of honour are six of Great Britain’s finest young scullers.
Lane three is Angus Groom of Leander Club. Groom is at the forefront of the GB sculling squad. He was a member of the GB men’s quad that finished fifth at the Rio Olympics, and came fourth in the men’s double at the 2018 World Championships. Last year he returned to the men’s quad, winning European bronze and finishing eighth at the World Championships.
Starting in lane four is Calvin Tarczy of Tideway Scullers. Just 20 years old, he grew up on the Tideway, learning to scull first at Fulham Reach Boat Club and Tideway Scullers. He went to school at St Paul’s and was a member of the truly outstanding 2018 first eight there, coached by Bobby Thatcher. A two-time junior world champion, Tarczy is also the youngest winner of the Scullers Head and is currently studying at Harvard.
In lane five is the defending champion Sam Meijer of Tideway Scullers. He’s another sculler who learnt his trade on the Tideway having attended Westminster School. He has three U23 gold medals and went on to study and row at Harvard. He is now a member of the GB sculling squad vying for a place at the Tokyo Olympics.
In lane two is another outstanding young athlete – Matt Haywood of Nottingham Rowing Club. He was a teammate of Meijer’s in the gold medal U23 men’s quad in both 2018 and 2019, and like Meijer, is a member of the GB sculling squad seeking selection for the Tokyo Olympics.
Lane one is George Bourne of Tideway Scullers and he is the third member of the U23 gold-medal winning quadruple scull from 2019 in the race.
The final competitor, racing in lane six, is Victor Kleshnev of Leander Club. A member of the GB U23 squad, Kleshnev is the youngest competitor in the event and won silver in the men’s quad at the 2017 and 2018 Junior Worlds.
His father, Valery, is one of the world’s leading authorities on the biomechanics of rowing.
The racing should be excellent, and having six boats side-by-side on the Tideway means anything can happen.
Follow all the action on Thursday at the Wingfield Sculls here.
Photos: Tim Koch