Olympic rowers try Cornish gig racing challenge
Champion Olympic rowers locked oars with the cream of Cornwall's female gig rowers yesterday in a friendly rowing contest in Cornish waters.
Gold medal winners Helen Glover, from Penzance, Yeovil-born Heather Stanning, Katherine Grainger and Sophie Hosking were all in the same boat, literally, for the series of races off St Mawes, against Cornwall's best gig rowers.
The Team GB rowers competed first in "sliding seat" boats similar to their own racing boats, and then in gigs against teams from communities across Cornwall
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The evening culminated in a race of ten pilot gigs, mixing the Olympic champions, gig rowers from clubs across Cornwall, and spectators who volunteered to have a go.
As darkness fell last night, it looked like the Cornish gig racers had triumphed over Team GB in gig racing, while Team GB were the winners when competing in their own "sliding seat" boats.
The Cornish Rowing Challenge, raising money for Helston-based ShelterBox and sponsored by local businesses, was organised by the Cornish-born Beijing Olympic medallist Annie Vernon, who has long wanted to bring the GB Women's Team to Cornwall to try the very different sport of gig racing.
"The idea is that the GB rowers will take to the coxed fours against the gigs and then the GB rowers will step out of their comfort zone and try racing the gigs," she said earlier in the day.
"I've assembled a crack team of 11 GB Olympic rowers who, although they have the edge in fitness, have spent the last six weeks partying; they're facing gig rowers who may only do a quarter of the training that the GB girls normally do, but have raced their major championship last weekend so are in peak form.
"There is nothing here but pride at stake, we are not going to win any medals. All the girls here are some of the best rowers in the world. However, we have the gig racers who know what it is like to row when the sea is pretty rough, and are used to going around buoys, and the tides and other challenges."
None of the Team GB rowers had tried gig racing before, they confessed, yesterday afternoon at a press conference in St Mawes Sailing Club – not even Penzance girl Helen Glover. And so their morning practice session was a bit of a culture shock, because gig boats are much heavier than the boats they are used to. "We thought we are going to go in there and blow their minds, but it was actually really hard," said Helen. "It wasn't at all like the rowing we are used to. It is fun though, we are getting addicted to it."
It was a first visit to Cornwall for Helen's Olympic rowing crewmate Heather Stanning, who was born in Yeovil in Somerset but now lives in the north of Scotland.
"It is nice to come down and see Helen in Cornwall because the Cornish people have been really behind her," she said.
And Helen paid tribute to her Cornish supporters. "I really have had the sense that the whole county has been behind me," she said.
Among the gig racers preparing on the harbourside were current National Pilot Gig Championship holders Falmouth Gig Club.
"It is all pretty exciting to be honest," said rower Jenny Shipley. "It is not every day that you get to race with the best in the world at your favourite sport."