The Head of the Charles was expected to be an Olympic pageant, with some six dozen competitors from the London Games scattered among the boats. Norwegian Kjetil Borch was one of those Olympians, but as a late entry, he was slotted dead last in the 27-boat field for the men’s championship singles.
Borch surprised the field — and himself — threading his way through the course and the boat traffic to win in 17 minutes 56.53 seconds.
Borch’s Norwegian teammate, Olaf Tufte, who teamed with Slovenian Iztoc Cop to win the championship doubles, found Borch about a half-hour after the 22-year-old crossed the finish line, and rushed up to congratulate him.
“I said, ‘Congratulations for what? Ninth place?’ ’’ said Borch, who thought he had messed up some turns.
“He said, ‘No, you won,’ and I said, ‘You’re kidding. You can’t be serious.’ ’’
Borch, who finished seventh in the double sculls in London paired with Nils Jakob Hoff, beat Olympic gold medalist and HOCR defending champion Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand, three-time Head champion Michael Sivigny, and Olympians Lasse Karonen (fourth in the singles in London), and James Chapman (silver in the quad for Australia). Borch was 1:36 faster than runner-up Steve Whelpley from the Penn AC Rowing Association.
Borch’s start position might have lowered his expectations, but not his aspirations.
“Actually, I thought an advantage came from it,’’ he said, “because I could just relax, lower my shoulders, and focus on myself with no worry about overtaking anyone. I saw that as a plus.’’
Tufte, who like Borch is from Horten, Norway, is 36, helped train Borch in sculling, and he said his protégé expertly steered his way through the gnarly twists and turns of the 3-mile course. And Bill Barry, who coaches the Norwegians, added that Borch is a tough guy.
“He was on the back, but he thought maybe he could do a good row,’’ Barry said. “He had a lot of motivation.’’
Hometown favorite and defending champion Gevvie Stone, who practically grew up on the Charles rowing out of the Cambridge Boat Club, won her fourth women’s singles title in 19:06.88, finishing nearly 15 seconds ahead of Australian Kim Crow, the Olympic bronze medalist.
Stone was an Olympian, too, but finished a disappointing seventh overall, after reaching the event’s semifinals. So Saturday’s victory was sweet.
“I didn’t know that I won until I pulled into the Radcliffe dock and one of the Radcliffe rowers told me,’’ said Stone, who started in Bow 1 and quickly left Olympic gold medalist Mirka Knapkova (Bow 2) behind. But Crow (Bow 3) caught Knapkova, too, and Stone said, “I had a hard time judging where I was compared to Kim, because she was right on Mirka’s tail.’’
Stone, now back in medical school with a very full schedule, has cut back on her training since the Games, and was a bit leery of the race.
“I wanted to go out and have fun, and it was really fun hearing so many people cheering,’’ she said.
Stone will be back cheering Sunday morning, when her father Gregg starts first in the veteran men’s singles (60 years and older), and her high school team, Winsor, rows in the youth eights. Stone will row in the Great8 boat of Olympic scullers in the championship eights.
In the men’s championship doubles, Tufte and Cop, starting in Bow 3, negotiated all the turns and bridges smoothly, then drove past Marcel Hacker and Glenn Ochal in the last straight in 16:12.64.
Sam Stitt and Matthew Miller of the Potomac Boat club edged two of the prerace favorites, Hacker/Ochal and Alan Campbell/Aleksander Aleksandrov, to finish second in 16:19.96.
Three-time winners Thomas and Peter Graves (Craftsbury Sculling Club) picked up a 50-second penalty for missing five buoys just before the final turn and finished eighth.
Tufte said Cop steered a perfect course, and the duo came to the last stretch knowing they were in contention, but still chasing Hacker and Ochal.
“We were powering on and keeping our rate up,’’ said Tufte. “Close to the finish, you have to do all you have, and we knew we were close to winning.’’
But Cop miscalculated.
“We powered up the last 400,’’ Tufte said, “and Iz said, ‘OK, 400 to go,’ and then he said, ‘OK, we still have 400 more to go.’
“There were no problems,’’ Tufte said of the turns and bridges, “but it was challenging.’’
In the women’s championship doubles, Katherine Stainken and Morgan Wimberley of the Potomac Boat Club won in 18:16.59.