World Masters 2017: Bling in Bled

The 2017 World Masters Rowing Regatta in Bled, Slovenia, was the biggest-ever iteration of this annual festival of rowing with over 4,700 competitors, aged 27 to 91, racing in 900 heats over five packed days. As usual Thames sent a trailer and a contingent of rowers led by the evergreen Pauline Rayner, and as usual came back with plenty of medals.

Perhaps the sweetest event for Thames to win was one of the last. The club entered a mixed B 8+ on Sunday morning, confident that being one of only a few clubs to be able to field a full crew instead of a composite would bear fruit. It did. After a slow but clean start the crew gradually overhauled their opposition – a composite from Latvia, GB and Austria – to win by 4.4 seconds. It was a triumphant result celebrated in style.

Thames also played a key role in victory in the last race of the regatta, the mixed A 8+. Carlos and Jess teamed up with friends from Carlos’s Brazilian club GPA plus rowers from Chile, Hong Kong and Scotland to row the Maurice Rayner to a convincing 3-second victory over a strong Dutch combination.

The Maurice was also raced to a third mixed 8+ victory, for Pauline, in an international composite in mixed I 8+ – beating their slightly older opposition by almost a minute.

Sunday’s results followed a busy few days for the Thames rowers. In total the club picked up medals in five events other than the mixed races. There were a number of close second places and strong performances across the board in other events.

Pauline was the first to win a medal in the WH2- on Wednesday, but had to wait until Saturday for her next win when she took first place in the WH4- with three of her longstanding crewmates from other clubs. Pauline also finished second in WF8+, WG8+, WH2x and WH4x, and third in WH4+, WI2x and MxI4x – an impressive run of results.

The Thames women’s B squad of Julie, Jess, Carrie and Jo had a frustrating start to the regatta in the WB4x due to a close encounter with a buoy. They also raced the WA4+ for practice, finishing fifth in their heat and not too far off the pace of younger rivals. A much better race in the WB4+ saw them place fourth in their heat and fifth fastest in the whole field.

Jess and Jo raced the WB2x, having had a successful practice regatta at Henley T&V a few weeks earlier. They were a little slow out of the blocks but steadily made their way through the field, eventually breaking clear with about 250m to go to storm home 3 seconds ahead of their German competition.

The B women also teamed up with three of Julie’s university friends from Cornell in the USA – Jill, Louisa and Tory – to race C-grade events. The Cornell ladies had joined Thames as overseas members and were proudly flying the red-white-and-black flag. Despite not having rowed together for years, the quartet found an instant rhythm which took them to victory over Milton Keynes in the WC4+ coxed by Laura, and later on in the WC4- too.

In the WC8+, raced at the crack of dawn on the second day, the Thames crew were second to an international composite. That set the tone for the WD8+ on Friday, in which the C-grade quartet raced with women from Barnes Bridge and Mortlake, and the WB8+ when the B and C women were joined by Thames rower Saskia. In all three races an international composite crew took the win.

On the men’s side, Philip made his World Masters debut in MA1x despite having suffered a recent injury, giving him a taste to return next time around. Meanwhile together with Carlos and his GPA friends, Roger, Alex and Sam raced a number of events. Like the women, they found themselves outpaced by a single faster crew in the A8+, B8+ and C8+ – in the latter two races being beaten by the might of Dynamo Moscow. In A4+, B4+ and A4- the Thames men proved they were on par with the pack, although medals were a little out of reach.

Till also went to Bled, racing in a number of events with Thames and with former clubmates from Germany. With his doubles partner from Berlin Till was second in his heat of the B2x. Till and Carlos finished third in the C2x and Till also acquitted himself well in the A1x and C1x.

Thanks must go to Pauline for organising the trailer and lending her boats to everyone; to Colin and Ali for towing boats for Thames, Quintin, Mortlake and Kingston; and to the Bled organising committee for running a remarkably smooth regatta despite the numbers involved.