A springtime Sunday in Montreal saw another chapter written in the storied rivalry between Queen’s and McGill University. The Queen’s rowing team won six of eight races on April 27 to claim the overall title at the 2008 Queen’s-McGill Challenge Boat Race. The Gaels won the annual contest for the fifth straight year, capturing the Lorne Gales Challenge Cup for the eighth time in the 12-year history of the competition.
Head coach John Armitage said the race, modeled after the traditional Oxford-Cambridge and Harvard-Yale contests, is an important date on the Queen’s rowing calendar.
“I think it’s become a very prestigious event,” he said. “It’s a reward for the eight best men and
the eight best women that have trained all winter and it’s become, at Queen’s, prestigious to be named to the boat race team.”
The crew took to the water as soon as the ice cleared from Lake Ontario, giving them just three weeks of practice before facing McGill. But Armitage said the real work was done on dry land throughout the winter months.
“We take the people that have been showing really good scores on the rowing ergometer,” he said. “That’s not the exclusive way of picking a crew, but the erg doesn’t lie. It tells you who’s been doing their training.”
The Challenge featured men’s and women’s eight crews from each university at both the varsity and
novice levels. Each crew competed in a 2.9 kilometre head race and a 500 metre sprint, with points awarded for wins in individual races counting towards the overall winner.
Coming off an incredibly successful interuniversity season in the fall, Armitage said that expectations were high among the Queen’s team.
“In January we pulled the men’s team and women’s team together,” he said. “Both groups of men and women set goals of defending our titles [against McGill].”
The Queen’s varsity men’s crew, second-place finishers at the Canadian University Rowing Championships in November, won both its races to collect the Men’s Challenge Blade. The win extended their streak over McGill to five consecutive years. Combined with the men’s and women’s novice teams, who also swept their races, the results ensured an overall victory for the visitors from Kingston.
McGill’s only success came in the varsity women’s category. The national champions from Queen’s lost both races and the Women’s Challenge Trophy in an extraordinary upset. It was only the third time in the contest’s
ten-year history that McGill defeated the Queen’s women.
Armitage said he was both satisfied and surprised by the performances.
“I was delighted with the results of the novices and the varsity men and stunned that we lost the varsity women’s,” he said. “I’m just stunned that we were beaten by McGill. If you’d have asked me before the event I would have thought that they could have mailed the trophy into us. So full marks to McGill. That’s why you have to play the games. … I’ve always believed that the result you get is a reflection of your training
and, unfortunately, this result may be a reflection of the training that our women did this winter.”
Armitage said that the boat race raises the profile of the Queen’s program within the Canadian rowing community.
“They see that we’ve got our act together. Your high-performance athletes want to know that they’re going to have a year-round focus on their sport. … Our sport’s a year-round sport,” he said. “We’re all a part of starting a tradition.”
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