Putney to Mortlake, Thursday 11th November 2004, 11:02am
Wells in charge
Matt Wells added a new trophy to the University of London roster as he won this year's prestigious Wingfield Sculls race at his first attempt, beating triple champion Ian Lawson and lightweight Tideway expert Tim Male. It was an impressively good race, despite Wells seizing and then holding the lead from early on without serious challenge. As an exhibition of excellence, however, the race signalled a return to top form for the 174-year-old event which is good news for British sculling.
As 11 o'clock on Thursday November 11th drew near, the scullers marshalled between the bridges at Putney, on a rather listless incoming tide with just a breath of head-wind but otherwise fine conditions. The Remembrance Day two-minute silence was observed by all three scullers, and then they moved through Putney Bridge to align at the University Stone.
Wells and Lawson are old crewmates, having spent two full years together in the British double before Matt Langridge was selected to partner Wells in this year's Olympic 2x crew, leaving Lawson in the single for Athens. As the flag dropped and the race began, Wells belted off at above 40, Lawson matching him on rate but unable to quite summon the power to stay alongside. Within 45 seconds Wells was edging away on the central station, and by a minute gone had clear water over the other two, Lawson on Surrey slightly in front of Male on the outer Middlesex station.
As the scullers settled into their racing pace - Wells at a comfortable 32, Lawson and Male slightly higher - the scrap for second place became crucial. As they approached the Black Buoy Male pushed hard and took advantage of hesitation in Leander man Lawson's steering: the Tideway Scullers lightweight claimed second before the end of the Fulham Wall. The next obstacle to negotiate was the PLA boat, which had inexplicably decided to lead off ahead of the scullers, rather than overseeing the race from behind. Predictably, it was moving much more slowly, and around Barn Elms all three rowers started to feel the effects of its wallowing wash. Finally the Harbourmaster moved aside, and first Wells and then the two following could cross the wake and scull into better water.
Here in race terms it could all have been over, but nothing was further from the scullers' thoughts. Lawson may have lost confidence as he slipped back into third, but he never lost determination, and despite wavering on his line, used every iota of power in his body to stay as close to the leaders as he could. Male, also, might have been excused from giving up. Here he was following in the wake of a much stronger heavyweight international, who also knows the Tideway well, in calm conditions where the leader was unlikely to tire or lose control of his bladework. All he could - and did - do was steer the tightest possible line, and keep sculling at his best, ready to take off if Wells made any mistakes.
That, however, was unlikely. Wells had five seconds lead at the Milepost, settled down again to rate 29, and slowly drew further away throughout the race. He took an elegant line around St. Paul's, and then both he and Male capitalised on the slack stream by tightening to Middlesex around the Bandstand. Finally, as Wells pushed away from Barnes Bridge, he took the rating back up again and added another length to his margin, making it just under 4 lengths by the finish post.
"I never got much further away up the course", Wells said afterwards, paying tribute to his opponents. "I wanted to make sure my 7-8 weeks training counted towards this race", he added, having started sculling again on 27th September after a much-needed post-Olympic break. He and Langridge won the Olympic 'B' final but due to a photofinish-related 7-boat 'A' final, are officially 8th fastest in the world this year. Now he's looking to the future, and Beijing 2008. "I've got four years to be all I can be". He was delighted to be the first UL sculler to win the Wingfields, and equally pleased that the event, which also confers the titles British Amateur Sculling Champion and Champion of the Thames, was won by a local Tideway oarsman.
Lawson was resigned: "I didn't get into it or get going, even though it was good conditions", he shrugged. "You have to go as hard and fast as you can off the start, but he got me off the blocks", Male said of Wells. "Then I settled into a good rhythm which got me past Ian. It was clear from Barnes Bend [Matt] wasn't going to croak for me, though." It was a classy performance from Male, more than 20 kgs lighter than the two heavyweights, but a fluid and technical sculler. Nor should Lawson be written off: less practised on the Tideway than the other two, and in their wake, he had considerable steering trouble, yet managed to slip no more than 4 seconds back from Male between Hammersmith and the finish. That argues for strength and determination at least matching that of Wells.
Male is aiming to concentrate on the lightweight single at this year's Worlds in Gifu (Japan), while the lightweight squad reorganises under new management (the chief coach since Athens has been Paul Thompson). Wells has made his ambitions to be in a medal-winning boat for Beijing clear, while Lawson wants to be back at the top of the team, however well he handled the difficult job of being Britain's only Olympic single sculler and Lucerne qualification. It is salutary to think that while the world is muttering over whether Pinsent, Cracknell et al will carry on, these three internationals are already back in training and without fuss starting to move the bar higher for British sculling.
|Finish (Univ. Post)||21:52||22:03||22:13|