Gevvie Stone had won this event so often, race organizers could just have given her the trophy and ordered up another silver plate from Shreve’s with plenty of room for new names. Maybe they’ll do it now that the Newton native won her record 10th women’s championship singles at the 55th Head Of The Charles Regatta Saturday afternoon, equaling the mark of six in a row set by inaugural victor Gail Pierson in 1974.
“Double digits is amazing to get there and I wanted to end on a good note,” said the 34-year-old Stone, who outsculled Cambridge clubmate Emily Kallfelz by just less than four seconds in 18 minutes and 47 seconds in what likely will be her last race at the elite level before she moves on to the masters event next year.
The Olympic silver medalist, who’s taking a leave from her medical residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, had pronounced herself “psyched and nervous” taking on a field that included New Zealand’s Emma Twigg and Stone’s countrywoman Kara Kohler, this summer’s world silver and bronze medalists.
But Stone’s main challenger turned out to be Kallfelz, her fellow Princeton alumna who was starting 18th in the 22-boat event.
“Knowing that she’s been on my tail all season and knowing that she’s in the back of the pack definitely is part of the frustration and the challenge and the fun of head racing,” said Stone, who was first off the line as defending champion. “You’re really racing yourself and the clock, knowing that anyone you can’t see could be going fast.”
What Stone had going for her besides her international pedigree was a lifetime of plying the river and more than a decade of competing in the championship event, having claimed her first crown in 2008. The serpentine nature of the 3-mile upstream course, spanned by seven bridges, makes it a steerer’s race and nobody knows the angles better than Stone.
Between Weld Boathouse and the Eliot Bridge, she doubled her lead to eight seconds by hugging the buoy line, then hung on to win by 3.8 seconds.
“I was doing everything that I could every stroke down the course,” said Stone. “Empty the tank.”
That down-to-the-fumes approach earned John Graves his first men’s title after a quadrennium of disappointment.
“It’s honestly pretty awesome,” said Graves, who edged Denmark’s Sverri Nielsen by less than eight-tenths of a second in 17:45. “So many times, the tenths of a second go the other way. It was cool to get off the water and have people say it went my way. I just wanted to lay it all out there. The cherry on the top was the result being what it was.”
Graves, who rowed in the US quad at the world championships after failing to qualify in the single, had been runner-up here from 2015–17, and was third last year behind Ben Davison and course recordholder Andrew Campbell. But with Davison rowing in one of the American eights on Sunday and Campbell a race-morning scratch, the title was up for grabs among Graves, Nielsen (the world silver medalist), and half a dozen US world teamers including Erik Frid and Justin Keen, the two-time doubles victors.
Nielsen, Denmark’s top sculler since 2014, lives in the Faroe Islands, where he learned to row by pulling an oar in wooden boats not dissimilar from ancient Viking craft. Put him in a sleek racing shell and he’s a turbojet.
Nielsen, who was making his debut on the Charles, led by four seconds at the Weld checkpoint and by three at the Eliot. Had he taken a tighter line he likely would have prevailed.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone go as fast as he did as far as raw speed,” said Graves. “He was all over the place steering-wise, which I’m thankful for, but he was going unbelievably fast.”
Graves, who could see Nielsen coming all the way up the course, was able to respond down the home stretch and finally left town with a winner’s medal and an uplift on the road to Tokyo.
“It was nice to feel I was back on track,” he said. “To have some momentum going forward and setting myself up to have a great year.”