Merchant & Banker’s Regatta held on Saturday 29nth September
The finals of the Merchants & Banker’s Regatta were held last Saturday at the Madras Boat Club with prizes keenly contested by several teams: JWT, Madras Hauz, Element K, LionBridge, Sify and O&M. The finals were a roller coaster ride for the teams with all the usual excitement, tension, joys, thrills and spills. The Regatta was sponsored by Vodafone with Sify and Parrys being the co-sponsors. Kumar Ramanathan, CEO of Vodafone in Tamil Nadu was the chief guest at the event.
Element K were the winners of the overall championship this year, with LionBridge the runners up. Sify, who had won the overall championship for the previous six years sequentially, had to be content with lifting the most prestigious trophy- the men’s fours. Madras Hauz, a fledgling film production company, made a magnificent debut winning the women’s doubles, women’s pairs and other prizes with its all woman team. All the teams had trained for about two months under member coaches of the club, overseen by James Joseph, the well known club color (oarsman) who has represented India at different events and is one of the prominent coaches of the club. It was great to see the camaraderie between teams, with familiar faces and rivals over the years meeting and mixing during the training and the finals as friends.
The training was rigorous, with ‘water work’ (rowing on the river), time on the ‘ergs’ (training on the rowing machines known as ergometers or ‘ergs’ for short), followed by ‘circuits’ of running, calisthenics, floor exercises and stretches every day. All of this starting from six AM and culminating at about eight thirty or nine AM everyday! One could actually see the difference in the fitness and physique of the teams after those two months with relentless drilling by the coaches. The course the teams row is about 800 meters long, but it seems like one long sprint with a finish at the end. International events are even longer at 2000 meters, so place huge demands on endurance, yet are short enough to feel like a sprint. This means that rowers have some of the highest power outputs compared to any sport according to the wiki. Rowing is also one of the most satisfying team sports, with team work based on inter-dependence and trust that transcends most other sports. It also fosters self-discipline, whole body fitness, and the finest traditions of sportsmanship.
The races were conducted by the members of the club with the chief organizer being Robbie Rao, with James Joseph overseeing the logistics of the boats, Ravi Thomas overseeing their launch and Rajiv Subramani coordinating the races with the distant starters under the Kotturpuram Bridge. The current President of the club, Gopal Madhavan, and Sanjeev, the Captain of the Boats, presided over the races. Gopal Madhavan rowed in his first M&B Regatta in 1958, fell in love with the sport, and has been a member of the club ever since. He has served the sport well over those forty or more years, including officiating as an international umpire at the 1982 Asian Games. The 1982 Asian Games were also notable for the contribution of the Madras Boat Club to the conduct of the rowing events with Chacko Kandathil being one of the coaches for India, and MV Sriram and S Ravi from the MBC were part of India’s rowing team!
The Madras Boat Club has been conducting the M& B Regatta for over a hundred years from the 1890’s onwards with a few breaks in between. This set me thinking about the history of the sport and here’s what I learnt from the wiki. The earliest recorded reference to rowing is from an Egyptian funeral inscription of 1430 BC of the warrior Amenhotep 11 who was also renowned for his feats of oarsmanship. In the Greek Classic ‘Aenid’, rowing is shown as part of the funeral games arranged by Aeneas in honor of his father. The term ‘regatta’ could have been derived from Venetian festivals of the 13nth Century called ‘regata’ which included boat races.
The first known modern races, as we know them, took place on the river Thames in London between professional watermen who provided ferry and water taxi services. Prize money was offered by wealthy owners of river side houses, or by the London Guilds or Livery Companies. Such races soon became very popular, drawing large crowds and spreading across England, particularly on the river Tyne. The oldest boat race in the world, held continuously from 1715 to this day is held on the Thames from London Bridge to Chelsea. Amateur competitions followed, with the forming of clubs such as the Monarch Boat Club at Eton, and the Isis Club at Westminster College in the 1790s. Oxford University began races in 1815, while Cambridge followed in 1827. The first boat race between Oxford and Cambridge took place in 1829, while the annual regatta between the two universities was established at Henley in 1839.
The Leander Club at Henley is the world’s oldest public rowing club, founded in 1818. The Madras Boat Club was formed not much later in 1867 in Ennore, and shifted to the present premises on the Adyar in 1892 as the sport grew in popularity. Inter-club regattas, as well as club level races were held from the 1890s continuously up to the regatta this year but for a few breaks in between. Over the years, the club has produced some of India’s finest oarsmen and women, and has contributed to the sport of rowing both in India and the region. This year’s M& B is part of this rich tradition of competitive rowing, and will hopefully inspire many new recruits to this timeless sport.