A group of Yale Crew alumni returned on Memorial Day from St. Petersburg, Russia, after participating in the First Annual President's Cup Regatta. Yale was invited by the Amateur Rowing Association of Russia for the second time in nine months to attend as a guest at one of their prestigious regattas. The three-day competition, which included kayaking and canoeing in addition to rowing, was meant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the first boat club in St. Petersburg. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the former rowing powerhouse had largely been a non-presence on the international rowing scene. The intention of the Regatta was to remind Russians of their rich rowing heritage and reinvigorate interest in the sport.
The Yale boat included several returning members of the crew which competed in the Moscow Day Regatta last fall, among them former captain Andrew Collard '09, Vincent Granata '09, Pieter Morgan '09 and Kristoffer Strauss '09. Rounding out the crew was Alexander Rothmeier '08, Thomas Kohr '05, Hunter Swartz '07, Erik Woelber '09 and coxswain Dane van den Akker '06. Tom Katis '94 and Andy Kelly '93 acted as managers of the crew. Kelly saw rowing time when bowman Swartz suffered a back injury before the final and had to be taken out.
The greatest success of the trip may have simply been reaching Russia. Much of the crew was put together at the last minute, resulting in rushed visas and frantic negotiations with Russian consulates across the country. Several members of the team received their passports by Fedex less than two hours before their flights.
The Bulldogs found themselves pitted against a field of international collegiate and national team development crews. Among them were Cambridge University, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, and the national teams of several former Soviet bloc countries such as Poland, Estonia and Belorussia. After a late arrival and some disappointment in the boat allotted to the team, the Yale oarsmen took their first strokes together in the minutes leading up to the race. Competing against a seasoned field of crews with extensive time on the water, the Yale boat held its own in the initial event, a 1000m time trial. Unfortunately, Yale's time left the crew just out of contention for the A final. (It should be noted that the Yale crew posted a better time than Cambridge in the time trial.)
The men of the Yale boat were given the privilege to meet with Sir Steve Redgrave and Vyacheslav Ivanov, considered by many to be the greatest rowers of all time. Redgrave is noted for his accomplishment of winning a gold medal in rowing at five consecutive Olympic Games, an unprecedented feat for an endurance sport. Ivanov's accomplishments are no less impressive, having dominated the world of singles sculling in the fifties and early sixties. He secured three consecutive gold medals in the men's single scull at the Olympics. Ivanov was on hand to be presented the Order of Friendship by President Medvedev, while Redgrave was present as an honorary Grand Marshal. Redgrave held a press conference on the future of the sport of rowing which the Yale team attended. Fortunately for the Yale Crew, they were members of a select few who could speak English and were afforded the chance to interact with Redgrave much more than would have been possible at an event like Henley, where he would be mobbed.
The crew also had the opportunity to explore the rich cultural heritage of St. Petersburg, visiting the Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress and various other landmarks lining the Neva River. The city proper is situated on 42 islands, connected by an intricate network of bridges. Unfortunately, most of these drawbridges go up at night and several rowers found themselves stranded on the wrong side. Thanks to a little Yale ingenuity though, they managed to find their way home in time for some much needed rest.
The culmination of the regatta saw the crew meeting with the American Consul General in St. Petersburg, who came out to cheer for the Eli boat, and also led to the arrival of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to hand out the awards. With only a modest crowd present, the Yale crew found themselves standing close enough to the President to rub elbows with him. Medvedev's speech emphasized the need to build up the presence of rowing in the country, which could trace its rowing roots back to the Nevsky Flot founded in 1718 under the guidance of Peter the Great.
"Personally, I think rowing is important as a sport and I hope that this event will therefore provide some support and serve as something of a symbol," noted Medvedev.
Overall, members of the Yale crew unanimously felt that the trip was a rousing success and a truly remarkable experience.
The Yale crew with the American Consul General in St. Petersburg, Sheila Gwaltney