The Great Race is an annual rowing race between the men's eight from the University of Waikato, New Zealand and a prominent university team from outside New Zealand. The race is held over a 4.8 kilometre stretch of the Waikato River in Hamilton, New Zealand and is raced upstream.
The nature of the river creates a highly technical course, with the current frequently switching from side to side of the river over the length of the course. This creates an advantage to the team on the side that the current is not on. The current ranges in speed from .64m/s to 1.3m/s. The slower water has the potential of slowing down a rowing boat down by 1.5 km/h over the length of the race.
Previously, the University of Waikato had raced the University of Auckland over the Waikato River course in an annual fixture, which was first held in 1989. Known then as the 'Gallagher Boathouse Eights', the event was organised by Waikato University Sport & Recreation Manager Bill Crome and received huge local support from the people of Hamilton. Waikato won the first encounter against Auckland with a crew that contained three former Olympic representatives, Nigel Atherfold, Greg Johnson and Chris White, with the rest of the crew consisting of Waikato Rowing Club oarsmen, Andy Mahon, Nik Posa and Richard Kirke, and Stephen Hatfield and Chris Spanninga from the Hamilton Rowing Club, and coxswain Russell Robson.
The race in its current format was the creation of British politician Bryan Gould, who was a former vice-chancellor of the University of Waikato and a graduate of the University of Oxford. The winners receive the right to hold the Harry Mahon memorial trophy. Harry Mahon, who was born in New Zealand, was a highly respected rowing coach for the Cambridge rowing team and the Olympic British rowing eight. He lead many crews to World Championship and Olympic Medals. Harry Mahon died of liver cancer in 2001.
For the second race, held on September 7, 2003, the Oxford crew got out to an early lead of two boat lengths by the first bridge. By half way, the Waikato crew had caught up and powered home to win the race by two boat lengths.
The visiting crew is flown out to New Zealand and entertained for the period of their stay. In the past this has included accommodation and use of the world class rowing facilities at Lake Karapiro. A full itinerary is organized for the crew, which allows them to really get a taste of New Zealand and make their stay in New Zealand a truly memorable one. Past crews have commented that this has really helped strengthen team bonding as well as making the long journey to New Zealand extremely enjoyable.
The race is treated very seriously by both crews and visiting coxwains and coaches are given full briefings on the complexities of the Waikato river and the race course. The event has a high profile in the Hamilton community and as such the visiting crews attract a lot of media attention.
The boats used for the Great Race are custom built identical Heavyweight Men's 8+s (eights) from KIRS (Kiwi International Rowing Skiffs) in Cambridge, New Zealand, who have a reputation for building medal winning boats at World Championship & Olympic level.
The event draws crowds of 20,000 + to the river banks in Hamilton and is covered by National Radio and Television. Spectator entertainment takes on a carnival atmosphere with corporate hosting, street theatre, displays, competitions and markets, and popular NZ and local music acts performing.
Rowing on the river starts at 9am with corporate crews battling for work place bragging rights. This is followed by the secondary school races, which has the top NZ school crews and girls) racing over a 3km upstream course. The boys' race is traditionally between King's College and Hamilton Boys' High School. The day culminates in the two international races - Bryan Gould Cup and Harry Mahon Trophy - raced over the 4.2km Great Race course.
The Waikato River is sacred to the local Tainui Maori tribe, and a ceremonial Haka (war dance) is performed on the boat ramp and a Waka (traditional Maori canoe) leads off the two crews to the start line.
|2005||Waikato||University of Washington|