It takes more than just good rowing to keep the famous shield in your grasp at Aon Uni Champs

 

The Hebberley Shield apparently weighs in at a chunky 38kg.

Not easy to lift but not impossible to pick up and run away with either.

That’s why Glen Sinclair was planning to have a solid bunch of Otago students around when it was presented to the Blue and Gold for a record 32nd time on the final day of the Aon University Champs.

It’s accepted tradition for other clubs to try and steal the shield, the symbol of supremacy for the Men’s Championship Eight, after it’s been presented.

“It’s led to some all-in brawls over the years and other years it's been a lot more peaceful,” says Glen, the manager of Otago University rowing, who recalls one year having to retreat from the enemy up the hill by the Aramoho-Whanganui boatshed, only to find a bunch of Auckland Uni rowers waiting to ambush them when they reached the top.

The things people do for a keg of beer, the ransom for successfully taking the shield hostage.

This year, Glen’s escape route was for his rowers to get the Hebberley and literally jump in the lake with it. He’d masterminded a deal with Dennis from KRI to pick it up on a launch and get it out of Karapiro that way.

You gotta love it.

The mastermind escape, where Glen Sinclair's Otago Uni rowers jump in the lake with the Hebberley Shield to keep it safe from those athletes wishing to steal it. The rowers swim it out to an awaiting umpire boat which Glen pre-planned to be there. Video: Art of rowing

The first Uni Champs to be livestreamed hopefully opened up a whole new audience to a unique rowing experience.

Commentator Mark Watson was definitely channeling the vibe. He’s legend for his passion behind the mic, at one point comparing a neck-and-neck race for gold between two fours to the famous Cox Plate of 1986 when Bonecrusher beat Our Waverley Star.

Next thing, he was calling the races like he was at the races.

The Women’s Championship 1X did live up to the Bonecrusher/Our Waverley Star showdown.

Waikato University’s Sam Voss going head-to-head with the only athlete from Massey University, Sophie Egnot-Johnson.

It was the best of uni rowing’s top tier, Sam holding off Sophie by just over a second.

“The wind out there today was pretty brutal,” says Sam. “So it was pretty low-rating, leg press style racing. I was just trying to hold Sophie off at a certain distance for most of the race ‘cos I know that her second half is really strong and her wind as well. It was digging pretty deep.”

She’s had to dig pretty deep over the past few months, getting Covid on the eve of seat racing for a place in the New Zealand Women’s Quad to go to the Last Chance Olympic Qualifying Regatta in May.

Getting back in the building at Rowing NZ is now top priority for Sam, who was U23 World Champion in the single in 2018.

“My little fun fact is like [Emma] Twiggy's nine years older than me, and so I've still got nine years from winning 23s to hopefully get to the Olympic Games. I'd love to give it a crack, but I'm going to have to do some pretty hard work to get there.”

It was a pivotal day for Sophie. She had to race a time trial for selection to the World University Champs in the Netherlands in July.

She’ll be finding out before Easter Sunday’s over.

By the time Christmas is on the way Sophie’s set to line up at another big event, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupo.

Like Sam, she’ll spend the winter at the Performance Hub at Waikato, as well as racing a few triathlons to build-up for Taupo.

It’s not unusual for her to do a training swim up to the start of the 2km course at Karapiro and back.

That’s a decently long dip.

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Sophie Egnot-Johnson (left) the only competitor from Massey University after going head to head with Waikato University’s Sam Voss (right) in the Women's Champs 1x. PHOTO: ART OF ROWING 

Luckily it was just a short one in the lake for the Otago boys today, what with carrying a 38kg hunk of history an’ all.

 

The Ashes trophy for overall points

1stOtago University153
2ndWaikato University73
3rdCanterbury University59
4thAuckland University36
5thLincoln University14
6thVictoria University9
7thMassey University3

 

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Otago Uni rowers celebrating with tHE ASHES TROPHY awarded for overall points at the regatta. PHOTO: ART OF ROWING 

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.