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Sveti Duje Regatta: More Than a Race, it's the Stuff of Legends

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The Saint Duje Regatta will take place this weekend in Split, over the 6th and 7th May 2017. Following the Press-Conference, Total Croatia Sailing got chatting to the organisers and discovered this event to be so much more than just a race.

In the last 15 years, the Sveti Duje Regatta has become one of the greatest and most respectable University competitions in Europe; it connects more than 35 Universities and competitors from 15 countries, from Istanbul to Hannover and Vienna. In the last 5 years, more than 500 competitors and 90 volunteers have been involved with the event.

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The ‘Legends’ race between former heroes of Cambridge, Oxford and Split, has become the greatest rowing force in history, according to results and Olympic medals. Competitors from the event have won a stack of Olympic medals between them. The most significant legends are the Winklevoss twin brothers – medallists and controversial Co-Founders of Facebook, and James Cracknell, the two-time Olympic gold medallist and one of the most famous adventurers of our age. Among many achievements, James has been featured on the BBC in a series ‘Through Hell or High Water’ which documented his experience at the Atlantic race – the world’s toughest rowing race. Legend indeed. New to the Legends this year are Mike DiSanto and Olivier Siegalaar who both won medals in the most recent Rio, 2016 Olympics.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. After the press-conference, I managed to chat to two of the event organisers – Toni Gamulin and Luka Grubor, who, I would say are nothing short of legends themselves. Not only is Luka an Olympic gold medallist himself and has competed in every Legends race (one of the only competitors to do this), but it is because of Luka and Toni’s efforts that this race exists.

Luka went on to explain the importance of University sports – “In the UK and England, rowing is one of the strongest nations in the world and majority of the athletes are supplied through the University system. Somehow, in Europe, certain countries have lost their University sport-base, it has happened in Croatia as well. Clubs are finding it harder and harder, the world is a different place and I think the new breed of athletes is going to come from University sports. If you come to Split and go to University, it is so great that sports involvement here is normal, rather than a privilege like it is in Oxford. It enriches University life.”

The Sveti Duje Regatta, was technically already in existence, Split hosted the first regatta in 1825, between Split, Hvar and surrounding regions. In 2000, a mere 175 years later, the regatta was brought back to life. Luka – former Oxford rower and past OLympian, returned from the UK and was approached by Toni who came to him with the concept ‘why not bring a few of the lads over here for a race.’ Luka gave him an impossible list of requirements – the race needed to be on the Riva and there needed to be a great event and party organised around it, being two of the ‘impossible’ tasks. After a few weeks, Toni came back to Luka and said – it’s done. And so, began the legendary story and race.

What started out as way of “reuniting friends”, has grown into something so much more. As well as being one of the greatest University races in Europe, highly anticipated by the Split rowing team – reigning champions I may add; it is also abuzz across the seas. Apparently, it is an event that all former Oxford and Cambridge heroes look forward to, but don’t take my word, check out the video below to see for yourself.

Not only have Toni and Luka formed a strong friendship over the years, but so too, have many of the competitors with each other and with Croatia! Ben Smith, a past competitor met his wife here and Alex Groves is to marry here in June – once again giving all the lads a reason to return to Croatia. Eleven rowers have bought real-estate in and around Split, totalling a whopping 20 million kuna, four have started businesses in tourism and adventure sports and several have formed agencies in England, sending thousands of guests to Split and Croatia every year.

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Luka went on to say:

“We wanted to demonstrate how to organise a regatta, that it can be more than just competitive, it can be attractive as well – to the athletes and spectators alike. Henley regatta in England does it best – you might not see much actual rowing, but they have created a great event that has turned into a highlight and attraction, people go for the rowing and for the atmosphere. It is a win-win, a great event pours money back into the sport and town, and for the rower – it is the closest you will get to rowing in a stadium, with crowds cheering alongside you.

In order to have high-performance sport, you need to have great events that are worth competing at; and, I think the Regatta in Split is growing into something that hopefully now will. It is already under the patronage of EUSA – European University Sports Association and through this event, we are really trying to create a big draw for developing University Sport.

The Sveti Duje Regatta has been growing every year and we have no doubt this weekend’s event will be nothing short of Legendary!

Program:

Saturday 6th May

09:00 – 12:00:   University races in Spinut (HVK Gusar)

21:00:               Lighthouse Disco, Sveti Nikola, Riva

Sunday 7th May

12:30                     Legends Race: Oxford – Cambridge – Split 

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