STRATFORD Boat Club’s juniors impressed – including winning gold – under the beating sun at a sweltering Peterborough Junior Championships on Saturday.
In the penultimate major event of the season, the 1,000m four-laned course looked splendidly still as the Stratford J15 double of Harriet Hodgson and Julia Zampronio Gurden took to the water for their doubles race. Despite a strong row against opposition who ultimately finished first and second in the event, they just missed a placing in the semi-finals.
Advancement through the heats for the J15 squad then fell on the singles events. Elisabeth Edwards was next to take her lane yet, despite finishing in a respectable third, missed out on the further heats and Conar Aitchison and Will Clarke, in separate heats, could not break through the heat stages despite some hard racing along the course.
Hopes then rested with Sophie Elstone, whose race plan saw her establish first position early and she was able to control the race to win her heat for a place in the final later in the day.
The first races of the afternoon saw Aitchison and Clarke together in the double. With a good start and the first 500m looking promising, they settled nicely ready for the final push.
As the finish approached, the race noticeably upped a pace and, despite a fight to the finish, the boys once more closely missed a finals place.
As the sun continued to beat down, the girls’ quad crewed by Edwards, Elstone, Hodgson and Zampronio Gurden, coxed by Toby Sartain, started well but were again unable to advance to the finals.
Closing the racing for the J15s, Elstone’s final in the singles event saw her line up under the relentless sun for her fourth race of the day. Another good start looked promising and pushing strongly through the first half made for some good racing. The last 200m forced each competitor to the limit with Elstone finishing in bronze medal position at the end of a very demanding day.
The J14 squad began their day’s racing with the boys’ singles of Tomi Wilcock and Will Beattie, in separate heats, both gaining places through to the next round.
Racing next to each other for the one remaining place in the final, both boys set off well and Wilcock was able to maintain the lead throughout and win the remaining place in the final, to be run later in the day.
The girls’ double of Bella Chappelhow and Honour Keil were next and in another hard-fought and confident race they missed a finals place by only seven seconds against the eventual event winners.
The J14 girls’ singles event followed in which Freya Watts and Harriet Holmes comfortably won through to the next round, however both were just pushed out of places for the final.
Chappelhow, Holmes, Keil and Watts, with cox Toby Sartain, joined forces in the girls’ quad for the start of their afternoon racing. An exciting opening race with only 1.2 seconds separating them from first place saw the girls into the semi-final, in which accurate blade work and synchronicity quickly led them into the final for what turned out to be the most exciting racing of the day.
With not the best of starts, the girls found themselves in fourth position, however they calmly focused on the task ahead and maintained rhythm and control nicely.
At the halfway point and still in fourth position, the girls could be seen to find a second wind and with 300m to go the encouragement from Sartain saw the boat accelerate to push convincingly into third position.
The crew were then further boosted by the ever-increasing cheering from the crowd as they moved into second place and finally finished only four seconds behind the winners.
Following their initial singles races, Beattie and Wilcock then came together in the double and maintained the J14 run by easily qualifying for the final. Yet more close racing was to follow from the boys and the excitement was far from over as from the start the opposition from Maidstone put up the fight in what was to finish as the closest race of the day.
Another steady start found the Stratford crew slightly behind by the halfway point but sheer determination mixed with skilled sculling saw the Stratford double break away from the bronze position and push ever closer towards the gold.
A neck-and-neck final hundred metres had the crowd mesmerised as the finish bell rang twice in such quick succession it was impossible to know, until the announcement, that Beattie and Wilcock had won the gold medal by 0.4 of a second.
Racing was not yet over for Wilcock, who shortly after winning gold in the double had to race the singles final with little rest allowed. After a short recovery period, he once again took to the water, however the effort given to win the double event meant the singles was a race too far, with Wilcock finishing out of the medals by only a few lengths.
J15 coach Trevor Tiller said: “It was a fantastic day’s racing for the Stratford juniors, who all showed great promise leading into the highlight of the season later in July – the British Rowing Junior Championships at Nottingham.”
ON SUNDAY, there was no let-up for Stratford juniors as they raced the preliminary heats of the club’s internal President’s Sculls.
Club president Paul Stanton said: “The President’s Sculls was introduced to encourage not only the junior squad but all age groups to improve their skills and competitiveness in sculling.
“We are certain this emphasis will help our athletes excel in our own rescheduled regatta on Saturday, September 21.
“We have been heartened by the response of most of our regatta sponsors who have stuck with us over the cancellation of our June regatta and carried their support over to September. It’s going to be a great day!”