The biggest event of the spring season for the UVic Vikes rowing crews is set to get underway this Saturday, March 25 as UVic will once again battle it out for the Brown Cup against their rivals from UBC.
The first race of the day is the men's reserve at 2:50 p.m., while the women's varsity race that gets underway at 4:30 p.m. is the final race of the event.
Pitting both the men's and women's varsity and reserve eight boats of the two schools against one another, the Brown Cup has a storied history.
Based on the world-famous Cambridge vs. Oxford contest, the race first took place 26 years ago when the men's crews from UVic and UBC competed. It wasn't until a year later that women's crews would join in and the actual Brown Cup that the teams continue to compete for today was made and put up for grabs.
Even with the long history surrounding the event, this year's iteration promises to be one of the most thrilling in recent memory.
The UBC and Vikes women's eight boats have battled it out all year long, with UBC topping the Vikes at the Canadian University Rowing Championships in November and then just edging the Vikes to the finish line at the Elk Lake Spring Regatta in early March.
"It looks like it will be another tight race this year," said Vikes head coach Rick Crawley. "UBC nipped us on the line at the Elk Lake Spring Regatta, which they've done the last two years, but we have been able to turn the tables on them at the Brown Cup which I'm sure they are very aware of.
2016 Men's race.
2016 Women's race.
"Both the school's eights this year are faster than we have had in a long time."
With recent changes to the boat and a lot of hard work put in throughout the year by the women's team, Crawley thinks the crew is shaping up nicely ahead of the Brown Cup.
"I'm pretty happy that we've added Caileigh Filmer to the mix, but she's just one person, what I'm really happy about is the way that the younger or newer athletes are developing," said Crawley.
"We have a lot of horsepower in the boat and now we are just working on applying that and harnessing it, hopefully we can get faster and really fly at the Brown Cup."
It isn't just the women's side that promises to be a tight race however, as both UVic and UBC have had dominant seasons in the men's eight boat, with the Vikes topping the T-Birds to take home gold at the CURC'S.
"Both programs have a good energy and are preparing for this event very well," said Vikes head coach Aalbert Van Schothorst. "We were patient at CURC'S in pacing our race: UBC likes to come out aggressive and dominate the front end, we like to make sure we finish the race strong."
"The crew that we are working with at present misses Mathew Szymanowski who is away at a co-op, but the depth that we have in this program allows us to move in Ty Adams very comfortably and he's adding speed to the boat," said Van Schothorst. "The boat has good rhythm, speed and aggression, it's in a really exciting place, producing more raw speed than the one we had at CURC's."
About the Event
For the second straight year, the race returns to the Gorge Waterway: only this year there's a twist.
To celebrate the special anniversary and to honour the Royal Victoria Boat Race that ran in the 1980's, the course has been extended 700-metres past the old finishing line underneath the Johnson Street Bridge all the way to new finish line right in Victoria's downtown harbour.
"The fact that it finishes in front of the Delta Hotels creates a really exciting finishing view," said Van Schothorst. "The viewing party for family and alumni that's going to be in the Lure restaurant at the Delta is an ideal place to watch the live stream and then walk out and catch the last 700-metres of the race."
Of course the change in the course doesn't just affect the spectators but also the race itself.
"It's going to be pretty exciting to see the give and take that happens on the course because it's a long race now," said Crawley.
"Adding 700-metres will make it about the fittest crew," said Van Schothorst. "While the Esquaimalt Station was favoured in the past, the new start and finish line for all intents and purposes are fair and equal.
"It's no longer about picking the line that's going to give you the shortest metres to the finish, instead you will now pick the side that reflects your crews racing style, to give you a psychological edge in the important moments in the race."
Umpires also play a key role in this event, ensuring that the simple rules are upheld in a way that respects the work put in by both crews. Chief Umpire and former Vikes coach, Wayne Van Osterhout has put in a lot of work preparing his crew for their individual roles and this will be one of his last major events before he retires from the umpiring community.
The special anniversary of the Brown Cup also gives the Vikes the opportunity to honour one of their own, with the christening of a new boat for the men's program being named in honour of former Vikes men's coach Howie Campbell who spent 23 years with the program.
"In recognition of Howie's contributions to the program, some key donors came through and brought together enough money to buy a brand new Husdon Super Predator," said Van Schothorst. "While Howie hates being in the limelight, this moment is well deserved and a long time coming, as having a boat named after you is one of the top honours in our sport."
The christening ceremony will take place the day before the Brown Cup, on the 24 at the Gorge Narrows Rowing Club at 10:30 a.m.
Aalbert Van Schothorst, men's head coach
"Over the years the event has become more serious as the crews started investing more meaning into the experience based on who has rowed it before them and how difficult it now is to make either the varsity or the reserve Crew. The current reserve crew, for example, has two junior national team members with incredible racing experience in it and the crew is rowing at a very high standard, creating a great training environment for both crews. It's gone from just a spring anchor event to a badge of honour having raced in it."
"Coming up on the 25th anniversary is a very sobering moment for the event because it has stood the test of time. When things stand the test of time, people start to reflect on what that event means and how to respect it more."
Rick Crawley, women's head coach
"For a long period of time we kind of had UBC's number but in recent times there have been some really good races. Craig (Pond, T-Birds head coach) has done a good job of getting that program to a pretty high competitive level. The last two years have been probably some of the most exciting Brown Cup races we have had and we've been fortunate enough to be the victors."
"We have a three-and-a-half kilometre course on our lake and that gives us a good test as we continue working to be relentless and build a race plan for different points in that course."