Women’s Champ Eight

Great Eight Scullers in a Class by Themselves

Womens Great 8

By Matthew MacCormack – Posted on October 23, 2016

Erin Driscoll has been rowing on the Charles River for more than a decade.

The Needham native has coxed teams for the Windsor School, Radcliffe College and the Cambridge Boat Club Great Eight, spending the better part of 11 years gliding across the surface of the Dirty River, barking signals to her rowers.

But in those 11 years, Driscoll says she never faced conditions like the ones she and the CBC’s Great Eight battled on Sunday afternoon. Saturday’s torrential rain raised the water level, and whipping wind made the current unpredictable.

But that didn’t matter for the Great Eight. The team of Olympic scullers eviscerated the rest of the women’s champ eight competition, finishing the course in just a hair over 16:30.

“I think it was the worst conditions I’ve ever raced Head of the Charles,” Driscoll said post-race, a vibrant smile on her face and the iconic HOCR medal dangling from her neck.

“The wind was definitely really hard at the beginning. But as we came onto the second half of the course and the final mile, they’re so fit, they’re so strong and amazing. The longer the race is, the better they do.”

Driscoll said the team had its best stretch between Weld Boathouse and Weeks Footbridge, in the crucial home stretch of the race. The Olympic experience of the Great Eight shone through; Gevvie Stone captured silver in the Rio singles, Australian Kim Brennan finished won gold, and New Zealand’s Emma Twigg and Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin finished 4th and 5th, respectively.

“I definitely get intimidated by them at times,” Driscoll said.

“But once we’re on the water I try to remind myself that I’m the coxswain and I have to be in charge…they’re really easy to work with.”

Stone, a Newton native, powered the CBC boat to yet another title Sunday afternoon, one day after winning her 7th straight single sculls title at HORC

“This morning when I woke up I was sure they were going to shorten the course,” Stone said.

“It was gusty as all heck. It was a lot about handling each gust and recovering from each gust.”

There was some pre-race chatter about the presence of a second “Great Eight”, rowing under the colors of New York Athletic Club. Many thought the NYAC boat, comprised of the Olympic sweeping pairs teams from the U.S., Great Britain, New Zealand and South Africa, could give CBC a run for its money.

But the Great Eight rowing under the colors of the home crew proved itself as the greatest of the eights on Sunday afternoon. The NYAC sweepers boat finished in second at 16:45. Stone said her squad wanted to make sure everyone knew that scullers reign supreme.

“We took that seriously,” Stone said.

“We wanted to prove that scullers dominate.”

The adverse weather conditions made for slower times all-around. For reference, last year’s champion Cal Berkeley clocked in at 15:58 in the 2015 women’s eights more than 30 seconds better than the Great Eight boat this year.

Cal didn’t field a team for the race this year, opening the door for some of the other collegiate crews. Yale took advantage, clocking in less than two seconds after the NYAC boat for a third-place finish. Brown (16:47) and Michigan (16:53) rounded out the top five.

The Radcliffe A team fared the best of the crop of hometown crews, finishing 13th with a time of 17:39. Northeastern grabbed 18th, Boston University finished 22nd and Boston College clocked in at 25th.

The home-river advantage certainly benefited the Great Eight from CBC.

“It means so much to be able to win on this river,” Driscoll said.

“It’s great to be able to go past my college boat house, go past my high school boat house and still have people cheering for me at both of those spots.”

Stone said she heard shouts coming from residents on Auburn Street as she rowed by.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Stone said.

“I’m not used to that. I’m a rower; we don’t do this for the fame, we do it because we love rowing.”

Stone, 31, is not sure what her rowing future holds. She has announced her intention to retire from international competition, and will begin a medical residency next June. But she’ll find it tough to turn down the Charles River come next October.

“We’ll see what happens,” Stone said with a smile.

“It’s where I learned to row, it’s where I train now. This Regatta is my favorite weekend every year. There’s nothing better.”

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