The quality of Mercer
Christopher Dodd on the first day of racing in Princeton.
Sad to say that the main interest of the first day of the first round of the 2001 Zurich Rowing World Cup is speculation about whether officials outnumber competitors among the sparkling white tents and sponsors hospitality areas at Mercer Lake. The third category, spectators, is certainly running third, but may rise with a rush for Saturday's finals when a college ragatta in the morning will surely boost local interest. Only two events merited heats, and some events have dropped off the programme altogether. Events were held for those in straight finals to determine lanes.
That said, this auspicious occasion was sun dappled and less troubled by the cross winds of recent days, although not entirely free of this element. Matthew Wells was the only member of British team involved in heats, and his troubles have been with boats. The first Vespoli that was using was too small and the second was three kilos overweight. Gord Henry, a Canadian, came to the rescue on Thursday evening by lending the British sculler a boat of his own making called "Fluidesign".
Wells had only his warm up outing to try the boat before the heat, in which he finished third after a good 1000 metres out in front, followed by a less successful second half. The former double sculler Olaf Tufte of Norway won and qualified for Saturday's final, and Todd Hallet of Canada overhauled Wells just before the line. "It was rougher in the second part and I was rigged too low. I kept catching waves," he said. The other heat was won in authoritative style by Xeno Mueller, the Olympic silver medallist and 1996 Olympic champion. Wells's qualification in the repechage this afternoon should be a formality.
Mueller looked in tip top form but will not be seen in Europe until the world championships. "What holds me back at the beginning of the year is girth," said the Swiss who lives at Newport Beach, California. I tried to persuade him to give the Diamond Sculls a try, but he doesn't like travelling.
The only other event to have heats was the men's double sculls. Qualifiers straight to the final are Brian Siebert and Kiran van Rijn of Canada and Bjorn Hendrickx and Stijn Smulders of Belgium.
If the jury remains out on the success of this Fisa entry into North America, there is no question that Mercer Lake is superb venue for a regatta and an excellent development by Finn M W Caspersen and his organising committee. It is also close to some of the most coveted training water in the US, Lake Carnegie at Princeton.
The set-up at Princeton is breathtaking. The students began rowing in 1860 on the Delaware and Raritan canal. It lasted until 1886 when the rowing club gave up the struggle with the narrow waterway and mule-drawn barges. Then in 1902 Howard Russell Butler, a former Princeton cox, asked his friend Andrew Carnegie, steel mogul and Scot, to finance a dam and rowing lake.
Carnegie's lake was created in 1906, five kilometres of it, close the canal and town, and in 1911 the alumni donated a boathouse which was recently enhanced and extended. It is breathtaking from its gothic doors to its awesome erg room, from its tank to its vast boat bays, from its gym to its wooden floors, furniture and trophy display. Twelve hundred benefactors helped this process: the lesson for college and student clubs is harness your old boys and girls and make a lasting family out of them. At Princeton they finance everything save the coaches' salaries.
The lake is beautiful, too, and the US men's team use it early morning and evening, as does the Lake Carnegie Rowing Association. Curtis Jordan, Princeton's coach and overlord of all this, says "this is a 24/7 facility".
Meanwhile, the World Cup in America is having a low key beginning. But Saturday, nevertheless, is the start of something big: Cracknell and Pinsent's attempt run unbeaten in a pair to Athens 2004. They would also like to win this year's World Cup yellow jersey by the end of the second round in Seville. We shall see.
Men's 1x Heat 1: 1 Xeno Mueller (Switzerland) 6:59.27; 2 Aquil Abdullah (US) 7:13.48; 3 Steve Tucker (US) 7:17.00; 4 Haavard Lium (Norway) 7:24.25; 5 Mohamed Ahmed (Egypt) 7:47.18.
Heat 2: 1 Olaf Tufte (Norway) 6:56.70; 2 Todd Hallet (Canada) 7:01.17; 3 Matthew Wells (GB) 7:03.09; 4 Ralf Kreibich (Austria) 7:15.69; 5 Aly Ibrahim (Egypt) 7:18.69; 6 Jesus Huerta (Mexico) 7:23.11.
Chris Dodd will be filing reports on Saturday's FISA events to the Rowing Service.
FISA World Cup 2001 index