Windermere Cup: Tradition runs deep

Windermere Cup

Windermere Cup -

The men’s varisty eight puts its undefeated streak on the line this weekend in the Windermere Cup, which is the premier boating event of the year in Seattle.

Photo by Joshua Bessex

For a team that has dominated the national scene for years, won multiple national championships, and even sent athletes to the Olympics, one event still stands out as the biggest spectacle every year: the Windermere Cup.

The No. 1 Washington men’s crew team will get to experience that spectacle when it hosts No. 9 Cornell and No. 16 Dartmouth in the 27th annual Windermere Cup on Saturday. A full day of racing begins at 9:55 a.m. on the Montlake Cut. The competition is not only one of the biggest events in the rowing world, but also a staple of the local community since 1987. 

The Windermere Cup is the largest free event in Seattle every year and represents the traditional opening day of boating season for the city. While it comes at an important time in the season, just before championship season, the event means more as a unique chance for the athletes involved to take center stage. 

“Every year, it amazes me how many people come out and how exciting it is,” senior captain Alex Bunkers said. “It’s the closest you can get to rowing inside a stadium.” 

The sheer multitude of spectators, which often outnumbers the finals of the Olympics, impacts the race. Cornell head coach Todd Kennett, who rowed in the Windermere Cup in 1991 as a member of the Big Red, remembers the crowd being so loud he could not hear the coxswain, forcing the rowers to slap the side of the shell to send signals. 

UW men’s coach Michael Callahan has a similar memory of the race from his rowing career with the Huskies from 1993 to 1996. 

“The moment you get to look down the full course, a tingle goes down your spine,” Callahan said. “When the athletes get out there, they are going to realize they are in an incredible space and setting — like no other I’ve even been in.”

While the spectacle of the event is unique in the rowing season, the Huskies will also try to make sure they are ready for the postseason in two weeks. The UW race plan has been a building progression over the course of the season, and the crew will try to ensure it is executed this week. That plan includes a strong start, as the Huskies fell behind California by four seats at 500 meters last weekend.

This year’s cup will have a new element, as UW rowing director and women’s coach Bob Ernst worked closely with Callahan to bring two Ivy League teams to Seattle for the race. The competition is traditionally between the UW, one domestic team, and one international team. Dartmouth and Cornell will use this year’s Windermere Cup both as their annual rivalry race and as a chance to knock off the reigning, six-time champion Huskies. 

While the stage is certainly set for plenty of drama and intensity, those who have experienced the Windermere Cup believe the event will speak for itself. 

“The statement will be this Saturday with 75 degree weather, everyone cheering, and all for the right price,” Ernst said. 

Reach reporter Nathaniel Reeves at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @njr3701

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