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The first weekend in May signalled the beginning of the regatta season for Imperial at the 2-day BUSA championships in Nottingham. With 17 crews entered this was an assault on the championships on a scale not seen in recent years. The dark early morning sessions were over, and fresh from our training camps in southern France, we had every reason to believe that we would return home on Sunday night in a minibus overflowing with medals and beer.
At least, that was the plan.
And so it would have been until on Friday afternoon, whilst towing the trailer towards Nottingham, a blown tyre transformed the Shogun from a 4 x 4 into a wild bucking bronco. The first I knew of it was Simon’s, “Fuck!”, followed by a high speed jack-knife. Had the inevitable crash not been so well controlled, the consequence could have been fatal.
Unfortunately our fleet of boats was not so lucky, with Simon Dennis having to leave a large chunk of his namesake on the hard shoulder of the M1, and 5 or 6 other boats unusable. Our assault on BUSA was quickly turning into a minor incursion.
First up were the women’s 1st coxed four, who were unlucky not to progress beyond their heat.
In the 2nd men’s 8 we were without boat, but had the fantastic idea of using the women’s boat for our first race of the morning. “How much heavier can we be?, we reasoned. We soon found out. Drawing “unlucky” lane 6, which made the North Sea look like a millpond, we crashed through waves, the boat straining low in the water. Spray smashed over our heads, and the boat began to fill. Luckily the finish line arrived before the bottom of the lake.
Back on the course, and far less submerged, the women’s 8 cruised through their heats and looked set to destroy the field in the finals.
With the evening came the 2nd men’s 8 final, this time in a bigger boat. We rowed to the start confident of our ability to claim victory. At this point our substitute boat broke, leaving one crew member incapable of rowing. We would have to pull out, we were told. “Fuck it, we’ll win with seven men”, came our second fantastic idea of the day, and as we found out to our great discomfort, this was an unrealistic decision to have made.
Bad very quickly became worse as the women’s 8 approached their final. Watching the crews race toward the finish, it became apparent that Imperial were not present. They had been disqualified for being late to the start, a disappointing end for a crew destined for gold.
However, all was not lost on Saturday evening: The novice men managed to claim both silver and bronze in their coxed fours event, although they were disappointed not to have taken gold.
With Sunday came the sun, but the wind stayed too. We could have been forgiven for thinking that our fortune would be no worse than Saturday had proved, but our bad luck seemed destined to continue. The men’s novice 8 stormed through their heats and semis, in a similar fashion to the women’s 8 of the day before. Unfortunately for us, the similarities did not end there, and yet another medal opportunity was lost as the men’s novice 8 were disqualified on their way to the start of the final, for breaking the course rules.
Amidst all this bad luck came the women’s coxed four of Maria Olschner, Sam Musgrave, Hannah Robinson, Kate Molders and Ali Williams. In their final they were so far ahead of the other boats it looked like a separate race, taking gold some 300 metres ahead of their nearest ‘opposition’.
In the sculling also there was some success, with the women picking up an impressive silver in the championship event as well as a bronze in the lightweight race, and the men taking an unlikely gold in the novice competition.
In total, seven of our top boats did not race, two were disqualified and one broke. Nevertheless, we returned home with a creditable 2 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes and plenty of “experience”. There are plenty of regattas on the horizon, and the events of the weekend have only served to strengthen our resolve to return from them victorious.