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UVic, UBC rowing eights crews battle windy conditions on Gorge waterway in Brown Cup

Competing for the Brown Cup on the Gorge.

The rain went away but not the wind Saturday as the University of Victoria Vikes and UBC Thunderbirds eights rowing crews stroked down the 3.5-kilometres from Gorge Narrows to the Steamship Restaurant in the Inner Harbour.

“The wind wanted to push you all over the place but we stayed composed,” said UVic women’s head coach Jane Gumley, whose crews won both the varsity and junior varsity races.

“Our coxswains [Zoe Crookshank for varsity and Helen Ross for junior varsity] managed to keep fabulous lines.”

Then there was the prop wash the UVic and UBC men’s varsity crews had to row through, about 700 metres out from the finish line, after a seaplane crossed ahead on its way to the dock.

“That’s definitely something the guys will remember a lifetime,” said UVic men’s head coach Aalbert Van Schothorst.

“That’s what happens when you hold a boat race in the beautiful Inner Harbour.”

The annual dual race is Canadian university rowing’s answer to the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race along the Thames. UBC and UVic have produced numerous Olympic medallists for Canada — from UBC rowers at Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960 to UVic rowers from Los Angeles 1984 to Tokyo 2020 — and the current editions of the Vikes and Thunderbirds didn’t disappoint in a panoramic setting Saturday.

“It was spectacular racing under the Johnson Street Bridge packed with people,” said Gumley.

“There was an electric energy and our crews were pumped.”

The UVic Vikes women’s program has added to its lauded history by most recently producing Tokyo Olympic-medallists Avalon Wasteneys and Caileigh Filmer and could have up to four Vikes alumni in the Canadian boats at Paris 2024 as it shows no signs of waning. The Vikes women this season won the Canadian university championship, Canadian Henley and now the Brown Cup.

UVic won the women’s varsity race Saturday in 12 minutes and 00.76 seconds to UBC’s 12:03.07. UVic leads the Brown Cup women’s all-time series 25-5.

“This was a nice way to cap the season,” said Gumley.

The UVic crew consisted of Noa Hardcastle, Gen Olson, Maggie Hemphill, Mikaela Holthuis, Nicole Cusack, Abby Speirs, Danica Ariano, Danae McCulloch and coxswain Crookshank. Stroke of the winning junior varsity Vikes crew was Tess Mackay-PettyJohn.

UBC won the men’s varsity race for the second consecutive year by crossing first in 10:30.46 to UVic’s 10:45.42. UVic leads the all-time Brown Cup series 20-10. The results followed form from the Canadian university championships in which the winning Thunderbirds had shunted the much-younger Vikes crew to the silver medal.

“The two best in the country went head-to-head,” said Vikes men’s head coach Van Schothorst.

“UBC is a quality crew that has been on-point all season. But they graduate a lot of guys and we bring everybody back.”

Vikes crewmembers Giancarlo DiPompeo, Connor Attridge, and Victor Lefebvre are headed this month to the Pan American Games qualification regatta in Santiago, Chile. The 2023 Pan Am Games are this fall in Santiago.

UVic, meanwhile, won the junior varsity race over UBC.

“That’s really promising for us,” said Van Schothorst.

The current Vikes will not lack for inspiration in a UVic men’s program that that has produced Olympic gold-medallists Dean Crawford, Kevin Neufeld, Grant Main, John Wallace, Derek Porter, Darren Barber, Bruce Robertson, Andy Crosby, Kevin Light and Adam Kreek.

But even those heralded alumni may not have had to row through the prop wash of a seaplane.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com