Issue 94 - December 1996
Thames World Sculling Challenge, November 16th
'The image of the lone sculler, awake before dawn, driven to great hardship through monastic devotion to a corinthian ideal is a hackneyed one and tells only part of the story. In the Victorian age, the successful sculler was carried aloft by adoring fans in the same way as the professional boxer or jockey is now. Contests were as popular as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and fortunes were bet on the outcome.'
So ran the media blurb for the Fourth Thames World Sculling Challenge which was held over the Putney to Mortlake course on November 16.
Peter Haining, triple world lightweight champion and triple winner of the Wingfield Sculls, was out to achieve yet another 'triple' in the Thames Challenge. But he failed over the Putney to Mortlake course for which he holds the record. His conqueror was Merlin Vervoorn, a 21-year-old, 6'7" Dutchman with a Diamond Sculls win and a bronze Under 23 World medal behind him this year. Vervoorn, tutored for a couple of days before the race by top Tideway coach Bill Mason, drew the Surrey station with Haining on Middlesex and Karsten Nielsen, the young Dane who won the world lightweight title in Strathclyde, in the centre.
Vervoorn and Haining got the fastest starts and led away, and Nielsen's challenge largely evaporated when he caught a crab passing the Black Buoy, leaving his opponents a clearer run, and a neck-and-neck battle, to the Mile. Vervoorn, steering impeccably, eased out to just over a length's lead at Hammersmith, and, in spite of strong pushes from the 14 kilogram lighter Haining along Chiswick Eyot and at the Crossing, the scenario did not change for the rest of the race, won by the Dutchman by 1 1/2 seconds.
Vervoorn, who some thought was unlucky not to appear in the Olympics this year, is clearly a top prospect and is considering a post graduate course at Imperial College. He said afterwards, 'A tough race, but I don't like losing to lightweights'. Haining, 34, admitted, 'He was too strong for me in the middle', adding with a twinkle, 'He's big, he's fast, he's good looking, and I hate him.' Vervoorn's win books him a place in the 1997 Thames Challenge. Haining, who was instrumental in setting up the event four years ago, will now have to qualify.
The inaugural Women's Challenge, held over an hour before the men's race on a slacker tide, was an all-domestic affair with Britain's top heavyweight, Guin Batten, facing Britain's top lightweight, Sue Appelboom. Appelboom, on Surrey, led in the early stages, but Batten, with a 20 kilogram advantage and really sculling well, drew away from Fulham and the outcome was never in doubt. Appelboom's coach, Tony James, was not displeased with her performance, but sees his protegé's future in the double scull in the season ahead.
Women: 1. G Batten (Thames): 24:11; 2. S Appelboom (Mortlake, Anglian): 24:49.
© Copyright Mike Rosewell, 1996.
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