The GW Invitational Regatta has developed into one of the premier rowing events in Washington, D.C., since its creation 24 years ago, but the race took on an international flavor over the weekend with crews from the United Kingdom's University of Oxford and Brock University from Ontario, Canada, competing against American teams on the Potomac for the first time in the race's history.
The Potomac Challenge Cup, the regatta's sister event, was created this year in order to give top American teams the chance to race against top teams from around the country and the inclusion of the new international opponents gave GW and the regatta's other usual competitors an opportunity to test themselves against fresh competition.
"On the men's side, there is a tradition with the teams that come [to the regatta] for the past 24 years, and that's Navy, Cornell, Holy Cross, Georgetown. We like that core group and everyone likes racing each other," men's head coach Mark Davis said. "It has been great having new teams compete."
In the closest of Sunday's races, the GW men's team was able to reach the petite final against Brock but were beaten by two-tenths of a second. It was a tight weekend as well for the GW women's team, which fell to in one of the closest races of the day to Navy by just 1.1 seconds.
"I have a very young squad. Particularly in my varsity eight I have three sophomores, and all of whom started rowing last year, and they didn't win a race at all last year. For them it's about building up their confidence and showing that they can win races," Davis said. "So it's definitely a learning process for them. They are getting better each time out. But they still have a long way to go."
Ultimately, the Potomac Challenge Cup final pitted the women's rowing teams from Columbia and Oxford against one another, while the men's side featured Navy and Oxford, with both American teams prevailing over their British counterparts by more than 10 seconds.
The significance of racing against boats from Oxford, traditionally one of the top teams in the United Kingdom, was not lost on GW women's rowing team head coach Eric Carcich.
"We are all really excited to have the English crew Oxford here. They were just the winners of the famous 'Boat Race,' which is a 4-mile boat race in England on the Thames. They beat Cambridge by 12 seconds," Carcich said. "It is a huge pride thing for us, to have such an incredible crew from England."
Both Davis and Carcich said they were pleased with the success of the Potomac Challenge Cup. The next step, Carcich said, is to have the Potomac Challenge Cup grow in size by attracting more than two international crews.
"Next year is the hundredth year of the cherry blossom festival and the plan right now is to bring in a crew from China and a crew from Japan to celebrate the hundredth year of the cherry blossom festival," Carcich said. "In the future we are looking to bring in the Australians and New Zealanders. That's our five-year plan. To get those two sets of teams in."
The GW men will travel next to Oak Ridge, Tenn., April 16 to compete in the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta, while the women's team will head to Camden, N.J., April 16 to compete in the Atlantic 10 Conference Women's Rowing Championships. Both teams, their coaches said, will benefit as the season winds down from competing against international competition.
"The Potomac challenge is all about figuring out who the fastest domestic crew and fastest international crew is," Carcich said. "And that is just not being done anywhere else across the U.S."