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Oxford Dominates Sveti Duje International Rowing Regatta

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International Rowing Regatta for Saint Duje weekend, is undoubtedly one of the best regattas in Europe, draw-cards being Oxford and Cambridge University, as well as the Legends Race on Sunday between Split, Oxford and Cambridge.

 

The International Rowing Regatta over the Sveti Duje weekend (Saint Duje is the patron saint of Split), is now its 16th year. Over the weekend from the 5th – 7th May, Split is host to some of the cream of the crop from Universities around Europe including the formidable Oxford and Cambridge.

Every year it just gets better and this, was no exception. So, how do you officially open a rowing Regatta? In the mansion of one of Croatia’s most famous sculptors – Ivan Mestrović, of course. The opening party, was held in the grounds of the grandeur Mestrović Gallery. One cannot help but be in awe when you walk through the gates and see this.

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After a few official welcome speeches from the Šimun Anđelinović (Rector of the University) and Denis Boban, head of rowing club HVK Gusar, Luka Grubor took to the mic to lighten the mood somewhat – thanking everyone involved in the regatta, especially because it is an event that not only reunites old friends, but it is also a way of keeping the Veteran Oxford gents, connected to the next generation of upcoming rowing talent.

There was a gorgeous spread of food laid out – traditional soparnik, prosciutto, cheeses… but I think it was the wine at the bar which had the largest line all night. After chatting to a few competitors, the overall consensus was clear, everyone was absolutely pumped to be in Split, a few girls from Oxford telling me that on their calendar, this was a race and event not to be missed. Apparently, the night ended on a fairly reasonable note, majority ducking off early in preparation for the upcoming race day.

Race day, Saturday 6th May saw perfect conditions – clear blue skies and glassy water. The atmosphere was anything but tense; there was an absolute buzz in the air with just a hint of friendly competition and banter. The event attracted Universities throughout Europe, from Krakow, Budapest, Hamburg to Pavia in Italy as well as Oxford and Cambridge of course; Croatia was represented by Split, Dubrovnik and Zagreb, 

Everyone had their own ways of warming up (or not)

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The event even attracted the next generation of Croatian rowers….

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Unfortunately, the Split University did not make the finals, the first time the final has been without a Split team for 13 years. However, they did win the B Finals. “Bolje išta nego ništa” (better something than nothing).

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In the Women’s Finals, the Oxford women took out first place, followed by Hamburg University and Zagreb Medicine in 3rd. It is worth noting that this year saw more women’s teams than any previous years – 9 teams in total, hopefully this trend continues (yes, I am all about female power). Later talking to Harriet Austin (a fellow kiwi) from Oxford, she admitted that it wasn’t as easy as they made it look – the beginning of the race saw them half a length behind and some of the crew yelling ‘down’ (as in slow down), but they got stuck in and won more than convincingly. I am also going to throw in here, that Harriet as well as attending Oxford University (which is impressive enough), is about to complete a race for charity, rowing in a team from Ibiza to Barcelona, which will take 3 – 4 days. Another legend.

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Total Croatia Sailing then took to the water in the chasing boat for front row seats of the Men’s Finals, Aachen University were the reigning champions from 2016, but it was going to be an interesting match as Oxford had won comfortably in their preliminary heat. And they were off!

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Being so close to the action was really something else, watching from the shore, it always looks effortless (which of course it isn’t), but being up close and personal, there was no mistaking the pure strength, grit and determination it takes to row at this level. And, quite a sight to see these athletes on the stunning Adriatic, rather than the grey Thames – just saying… Every team gave it their absolute all, but, in the end, Oxford Men took it, claiming the victory by a clear length and winning over rivals Cambridge in 2nd and Aachen University taking 3rd place this year.

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None of this changed the comradery between the teams however – it looked as though everyone had won, there was laughing, dancing, singing, plenty of photos… and of course, the compulsory finish – throwing the cox in the water!

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Just to top it all off, after lunch, a boat ride was organised for the competitors to enjoy a far more relaxed view of Split.

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And some enjoyed the company of good friends and good wine – another detail not spared, the organisers even had their own wine created for the event, by the winemakers and rowers family Rebić. On the label it says – Vineyards and wine making demands the most delicate of climate conditions and human top qualities, as well as rowing equal parts of both patience and wisdom for a longer period of time. But above all, there must be friends and just the right amount of joy that does the most to bring out ‘The Nectar of Legends’ glory out.

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The highlight of the weekend, besides the racing, was of course the Lighthouse Disco on the Riva. No need to go into too many details here, but I can say a few looked worse for wear the next day, Cambridge students telling me, “it was a great night, good clean fun” – I’ll take their word for it.

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On Sunday, the weather looked somewhat menacing for the final showdown – the Legends race between Split, Oxford and Cambridge, worth noting that between all teams there is an astonishing 30 Olympic medals held. The Riva was packed for the race, most hoping for a win like the previous year.

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The rain held off and the race was underway; it was neck and neck ‘til the end, everyone eagerly anticipated the official results, first competitors to win two races would win overall, and… Oxford won the first. The boys, got back to the start line and, off they went again. While it was still close, this time Oxford pushed hard at the end and took their second win convincingly. A great win, but I do have to add that it looked as though the Oxford team had a few more of the younger generation from the University teams…

But there is no denying – Oxford absolutely dominated this year’s Regatta, 3 from 3! This is perhaps where I add the cliché –  the overall vibe of the weekend was still one of comradery – sport is the real winner on the day… but in all seriousness, it was an incredible weekend, the organisation was absolutely impeccable, many of the competitors told me this was one of the best regattas they had been to; from beginning to end their schedules had been organised and they received the best hospitality. At the press conference last week, Luka Grubor said they were aiming to create a world-class event, one that highlights the sport as well as culture (aka party) and I believe they pulled it off!

A huge congratulations to all who competed and to the organisers and volunteers who made this weekend what it was; a special thanks to Marija and Toni Gamulin and Luka Grubor for your incredible hospitality over the weekend, we’ll take this over the Henley Regatta any day and are already looking forward to next year!

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