Following the success of last year’s China trip, we were invited back to the International Universities Rowing Regatta this year and a men’s eight and women’s quad flew out to Chengdu for a week packed with international rowing and cultural experiences. Upon arrival we were very impressed by the luxury hotel, and made sure to get a good night’s sleep before the first day of training.
We were surprised to see that our bus had a police escort on the short, five-minute journey to the lake. After a short, sweet and very humid session we were eager to get back as our buffet lunch was awaiting us. Mr Li, the supremely honourable organiser of the whole event, had kindly invited some of our contingent (along with some UCL rowers) for a private lunch full of tongue-numbing spices, lots of beers and a 53% vol. rice wine. We were unusually upbeat for the afternoon water session, to say the least...
Day two marked the rehearsal of the opening ceremony of the tenth IURR and it was quite a show: from jet pack acrobatics to jet skiing whilst carrying huge Chinese flags. Our crews featured in the row past which introduced all the universities which were to compete: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, UCL, ourselves and a few Chinese universities. Lunch was plentiful as ever, and afterwards we went upstairs to rehearse our performance of Romeo and Juliet for the post race ball. We had prepared a parody of the iconic tragedy but after Mr Li told us that he was a great admirer of Shakespeare we entered into panic mode, and our wonderful cox Charlotte hastily condensed the original three-hour production into a five-minute version. After much line learning, we were ready for the next day.
The big day. After an extraordinary opening ceremony, the people of Chengdu crowded round the lake to witness the spectacle of racing. In the men’s eight, after a slightly shoddy start in the heat, we made a huge leap and went on to win the B final, most importantly beating UCL by a length! The women’squadwas a new combination, containing a mix of rowers from both the novice and senior squads, but after a tough heat they also went on to win the B final. Following some down time, we got involved in the cultural exchange activities including palm leaf weaving, paper jewellery making and glass painting. In the evening came the post race ball, the highlights of which were our slightly tipsy cast performing the entirety of Romeo and Juliet in just five minutes and some of our contingent appearing in the fashion show.
Having not quite recovered from the ball, all the teams were allocated to dragon boats for a one kilometre race. With little experience of dragon boating and only a very short warm up, we had a very rocky race, but with a gruelling effort we still managed to win a plate.
On the last day, we spent our morning visiting the wonderful panda sanctuary. Whilst most of them were sleeping and lazing in the tree tops far from prying eyes, some of us did catch a glimpse of the brown pandas! We were then treated to a massive buffet in central Chengdu, accompanied as always by substantial quantities of wine and beer. The food coma got to us on the way to a historic town called Jinli, where we grabbed some souvenirs. We were delighted to find out that Mr Li had invited us to a traditional Chinese hot pot dinner. To round off the trip, we hired a private room for some karaoke, dancing and of course, more beverages!
We’d like to extend our gratitude to Mr Li and all the IURR organisers for inviting us back to Chengdu this year and fully funding the trip, and we hope to return again next year. We’re very lucky to get so many opportunities to travel abroad with the club and we are looking forward to our next trip to the European University Championships in Jönköping, Sweden in September.
With thanks to Bazil Saiq for text and Ellen Forsyth, Ambrose Mac-Fall and the IURR organisers for images.