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For Champ 1x, Finish Line May Bring Pot of Gold

By Lauren Thomas
Posted on October 20, 2023
For Champ 1x, Finish Line May Bring Pot of Gold

Above: 2022 Champion Emily Kallfelz

When two-time champion Ben Davison heard the news that prize money would be offered for the championship singles this year, it felt like a no-brainer for him to enter the race.

Originally planning to row in the alumni or championship eight with the University of Washington, Davison could not pass up an opportunity to win money through rowing — a dream he has had for years but never been able to realize, other than with small amounts here and there.

“It’d be unreal, yeah. It’d be something else. This is a great opportunity for myself and for everyone that’s competing in the event,” said Davison, who won the single in 2018 and 2021, and will row in bow six for his seventh HOCR.

For the first time, the Head of the Charles is offering a total purse of $35,000 to the winners of the men’s and women’s championship singles races: $10,000 will go to first place, $5,000 for second and $2,500 for third, all sponsored by longtime friend of the regatta, Don Smith.

The goal to make the singles events more attractive to rowers and increase the level of competition, has resulted in an increase in international rowers in the men’s event and a larger amount of entrants overall.

“There’s a large amount of money on the line, so that just incentivizes people to, after world’s, to just sort of get back into training a little bit sooner and keep the intensity just a little bit higher to get ready for this,” Davison said. “So I think it’s a great thing and I think it will for sure make this a tougher year.”

For reigning women’s champion Emily Kallfelz, the prize money adds another dimension to the competition and fun that always marked her experiences at the Head of the Charles.

“I think historically, it’s been a pretty fun regatta. Especially seeing this very massive, wide range of athletes that are coming here like high schoolers, masters, elite rowers, novices — there’s like a really wide range, and I think that’s a huge draw to the regatta itself is just being able to be so inclusive,” Kallfelz said.

“Obviously, prize money, if it’s only for a few events, it probably isn’t going to be impacting the regatta as a whole and how it’s kind of perceived,” she said. “But you know, it’ll definitely draw more attention to these top events that are attracting more competitive athletes.”

Because high-level rowers are not typically offered prize money, Kallfelz says they are all adapted to living a lifestyle without it, though it would be a welcome contribution.

“It’s a really generous amount, I would say. Most of us athletes, you know, would be grateful to kind of come upon that prize money for sure. Then again, I would say that anyone who’s kind of in the rowing world, and rowing for the national team isn’t necessarily like doing it for the prize money.”

For Genevra (Gevvie) Stone, who defined the Championship Singles event for a decade, the prize money offering is bittersweet.

“I’m very excited because I think it puts it on par with some other major regattas in the world that do offer prize money to the single scullers,” the Olympic silver medalist from Rio said. “Of course, I was also a little bit jealous because I … would have made quite a little bit of money if I had been offered prize money every year.”

Stone won the Champ Singles event 10 times in 2008, 2010-12 and 2014-2019 and has rowed and won the Masters Single race the last two years. She briefly considered moving back to the championship race this year but decided it best to steer clear. She is currently living in Utah while on a medical fellowship and it has impacted her training.

A total purse of $35,000 may not be grand in today’s sports universe, but it can seem like a windfall to athletes who struggle to make living expenses.

“I think, as an elite athlete, $10,000 goes a long way,” Stone said. “These athletes, for the most part, the majority of their income is coming from the US stipends which is anywhere from $1000 to $2,000 a month. Which, if you add it up, is not enough to live on if you’re paying rent in any major US city. So having prize money to a sport where there’s really not a lot of opportunity to earn money doing what you do is fabulous.”

In the early 2000s, the HOCR offered prize money for exhibition sprints for international and national team elites, but it didn’t last.

“I hope that this sticks because I think it could have a very positive influence on the field, on the racing and the spectators — the enjoyment for everyone along the banks, and also for the athletes themselves,” Stone said.


By Lauren Thomas
Posted on October 20, 2023