There were dominant performances at the Aon Maadi Cup schools rowing finals at the weekend. And then there were … sensationally dominant performances. Tim Murphy reports.
Girls from two South Island schools stole the show at the Maadi Cup rowing champs at Lake Karapiro – the great Rangi Ruru School of Christchurch, and Dunstan High from Alexandra claiming remarkable clean sweeps and their places in history.
A record 2623 competitors from 123 schools took part in what was the biggest Maadi event yet.
Rangi Ruru was top overall school – taking eight gold medals, including the premier girls’ event, the U18 eight, which the school has now won a record 16 times – double the record of any other school. While it was the first time Rangi Ruru had stood on top of the podium in 11 years, their squad stunned the regatta by unprecedented victories in all the eights finals – U15s, U16s, U17s, U18s and novices.
The blue and golds were honoured for a history-making performance on their ‘away’ course of Karapiro, the home of the North Island schools’ regattas.
But the girls from Dunstan pulled off something remarkable as well. They won five gold medals, including all the big sculling races for the U18 seniors, the single, double and quad, and novice quad; won the award for top sculling school in the country; were top co-ed school and third overall. Dunstan fielded 19 rowers and has just 600 students.
The Rangi girls won the big one, the Levin Jubilee Cup for the U18 eights, in a lead-from-the-front, commanding performance over the Karapiro 2km course, holding off two other Christchurch crews – Christchurch Girls (who had won the prized Dawn Cup for the U18 fours the previous day) and St Margaret’s (who were the reigning eights champs from 2019 – as last year was cancelled due to Covid).
But other schools will also have noted, looking ahead to future Maadi regattas, that five – yes, five – of the winning Rangi Ruru senior eight were U16 rowers elevated to the biggest stage. All things going well, those girls have two more Maadi campaigns in them. Asked about future hopes, Rangi Ruru’s head of rowing, Olivia Ling, said humbly: “Yes, it’s a very young under 18 eight.”
Georgie Bethell was one of those younger rowers, and had the rare feat of competing in and winning the eight in the U16, U17 and U18 finals. Three golds. Her teammate, Nicole Vance, another from the young cohort, won four – the U16 and U18 eights and the U16 and U17 fours.
The clean sweep of the eights, though, might not have happened.
In the U17 event for the big boats, Rangi Ruru was leading comfortably with 250m to go when one of the girls, a novice, got her oar momentarily stuck in the water. She fell backwards in the boat, but recovered from what could have caused the whole boat to lose pace.
“She just caught a crab, she fell back in the seat and the oar spun over the top of her,” Ling said. “As a novice it was just a remarkable recovery to get it back.”
Ling believed the clean sweep was a first for any school. She said Waikato Diocesan won the four U15 to U18 eight races in 2012, but the U18 novices event had not been introduced to the regatta then.
Rangi Ruru’s squad of 39 rowers at Maadi had not envisaged a clean sweep, despite having been confident in their U16 programme and seeing the U16 four crew win gold by a full 11 seconds. Ling said they had done the sweep of the big boats at the South Island club champs, but as the South Island schools regatta was cancelled due to Covid, “we’d not really raced anyone since February.” At the Maadi regatta, both Christchurch Girls’ and St Margaret’s had increased their boatspeed.
Rangi Ruru also won two silver medals and a bronze at the regatta. Five of the Rangi U18-8 crew, and two others from the school, have been named in the North vs South U-18 trials.
The performance of Dunstan High at Karapiro not only won high praise from commentators, but won their coach Simon Smith the Bill Eaddy Cup for best coach (junior) nationwide.
Five gold medals, three bronzes and victory across all the senior girls’ sculling events thrust Dunstan’s distinctive red and yellow into glory.
Sophie Smith (Dunstan’s senior quad has two rowers named Sophie Smith) was the best single girls sculler, taking gold in the U18 single. She headed off Madeleine Parker of Napier Girls and Sophia Rutherford of St Andrew’s, Christchurch.
Dunstan’s manager, teacher Hamish Morton, said winning top co-ed school in the country was “a pretty big thing when you look at a school of 600 students and we took 19 girls away with us”. That feat might not be repeated. “I’d like to say it will happen again, but I think it is one out of the bag. But who knows?”
The younger of the two Sophie Smiths, who is coach Simon Smith’s daughter, will be available to row again next year. To differentiate between the two rowers, the squad call them ‘Sophie Smith Alexandra’ and ‘Sophie Smith Dunedin’, as the older student had come to Dunstan from Dunedin.
Morton was not aware of a school winning all three senior sculling titles and the U18 novice quad in his eight or so years in rowing. “We are very fortunate that we’ve got good water down here, and they’ve got an exceptional coach. We’ve been knocking on the door for a number of years and progressively building.”
At Karapiro “all the stars aligned.” Of the 11 crews Dunstan fielded, 10 made A finals. It also won the U15 octuple (eight rowers, sculling) for the fourth year in a row and had three bronze medal finishes. “Success breeds success, I guess,” Morton said.
And in the boys’ regatta…
Christ’s College of Christchurch had its own show of dominance – but this time in the single, biggest race of the week, the final of the U18 eight for the Maadi Cup. It was Christ’s only gold medal of the regatta, but it was the one that mattered, having been pipped two years ago at Karapiro by archrivals Christchurch Boys’ High.
This time, the boys in white and black powered away by the 500m mark and were never challenged, taking their 13th Maadi Cup by six seconds from the North Island’s best, Auckland Grammar School, and another Christchurch power, St Andrew’s. Neither St Andrew’s nor Grammar, who had triumphed in the U18 four for the Springbok Shield, could stay with Christ’s.
One Christ’s crew member, Archie Batchelor, became the third member of his family to win the Maadi Cup, after siblings rowed Christ’s to victory in 2016 and 2018 down south at Lake Ruataniwha, near Twizel.
Those three Maadi victories in quick succession have put Christ’s out on their own in the chase to reach the phenomenal 17 Maadi Cup victories by Whanganui Collegiate, which at this national championships could not win a medal. Hamilton Boys’ High School, who have 10 Cup wins, were back in fourth in the Maadi final at the weekend and fourth on the school points count.
As fans on the lakeside marvelled at the Christ’s crew’s 2021 annihilation of the best in the land, the TV commentator could only add: “This crew is phenomenal. They are really flying here in this beautiful boat.”
The Maadi winning crew was: Thomas McEwan, George Trolove, Angus Wynn-Williams, Johnny Lee, Louie Bethell, William Alexander, Gus Orr, Archie Batchelor and Hamish McCulloch (cox).
Interestingly, two of the Christ’s crew, Wynn-Williams and Bethell, had sisters in the winning Rangi Ruru senior eight. Golden siblings.
The country’s top boy’s sculler is Oscar Ruston of Gisborne Boys High School, who took gold in the U18 single sculls (from Dominiko Arnerich of St Peters, Auckland, and Ben Olifiers of Whakatane’s Trident High) and silver in the U18 double.
Full results for the 2021 AON Maadi Cup can be found at rowit.co.nz