THE rain on Saturday did not dampen the spirits of the rowing teams and their supporters at the 2016 Universities Boat Race on the Kowie.
Rowers from nine different universities accepted their medals at the prize giving with admirable grace and pride spurred on by their vociferous supporters and the media hype and attention.
Repeating their victory from last year, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) beat hosts Rhodes University to take first place in the Women’s A Finals.
But, rowing for Rhodes women in the A Finals, Maika Diekmann said that she was happy with the results, with Rhodes showing improvement.
Rhodes also came second in the Men’s A Finals. Rhodes rower and international rowing champion, Brad Betts, from Port Alfred, said he was happy with the results and that Rhodes had come a long way recently.
Betts came 4th in the men’s double scull in the World U23 Rowing Championships in Rotterdam in August this year.
But Rhodes was not expected to defeat the University of Pretoria (Tuks), which has now won the Boat Race eight years in a row and has three Olympic rowers on the team, Lawrence Brittain, David Hunt and Jake Green.
Brittain, who overcome Hodgkins Disease before going on to win Olympic silver at Rio, congratulated Rhodes on a great race and said that he attributed the success of TUKS to the Olympic level training which they had received.
Brittain gave credit to coach Mpumi Geza.
As the first women’s team home, UJ received the Isis Blade given to the varsity regatta by an Oxford crew member when the women’s race was introduced in 1988.
Since the men’s race is based on the Oxford v Cambridge University race which dates back to 1829, the women’s race on the Kowie is also based on the Thames’ women’s race which was founded in 1927.
Kudos went to head coach Dennis Howard and coach Sizwe Lawrence Ndlovu who coach the UJ women’s team.
Ndlovu, who won gold in the lightweight men’s four at the London Olympics in 2012, was asked to coach the UJ team when he injured his hip, but he said he intends to return to competitive rowing.
Tuks won the Cambridge Rudder which came from a boat club in Cambridge when the SA varsity men’s race started in 1980. UCT and Wits first competed on the Vaal River, but the rudder inspired the universities boat race to expand and in 1984 it moved to the Kowie.
UCT and Rhodes have been competing here since the 70s.
The race was sponsored by Rand Merchant Bank for the first time this year with the motto “Think. Pull. Together.”
Passing under the old bridge was hazardous as there is only a metre on either side of the oars. But there were no accidents, capsizings, crashes or sinkings this year.
Teams of eight coxed boats rowed out from the small boat harbour under the two bridges to the starting point upriver.
From start to finish took them about 20 minutes, the women’s race being 4.8km and the men’s 6.2km.
They crossed the finish line at a point linking the small boat harbor pier to the NSRI on the other side of the river.
The event was well-supported by students who camped overnight, enduring rain and mud, in an area next to the Lounge, while others stayed in a backpackers lodge and holiday accommodation.