Meet Luka Grubor, from British Olympic Gold to Split Regatta Organiser

Total Croatia News

After the highly successful annual Sveti Duje Rowing Regatta on May 1, 2016, TCN caught up with one of the organisers, Luka Grubor, to find out how the rowing teams of Oxford and Cambridge University end up in the Dalmatian capital every May. Grubor, himself a 1997 boat race veteran of the most famous boat race in the world, also won Olympic Gold for Britain in the 2000 Games in Sydney in the men’s eight. Living in Split these days, he is the co-founder of the popular event. 

The Sveti Duje Regatta brings together rowing communities of Split, Oxford and Cambridge for a weekend of fun, competition and bonding. How did it all start?

I started coming to split for work after I started a yacht charter company in Croatia for UK clients, and my friend from Split was a rower like me. Split has a really strong rowing club with international reputation called Gusar, so I went to the club to meet the guys, which is where I met Toni Gamulin, the co-founder of this event.

He was involved in university sport and he told me that he had a university regatta, which was quite new, and he asked me if I could possibly get some lecturers, rowers or anyone from Oxford or Cambridge to come and visit. I thought to myself that it was in May, and so there was a possibility to get the actual crews, but to be honest I wanted to fob him off, so I gave him an impossible wish list of conditions.

I told him it was very unlikely as the crew does not really travel together, but if it had any chance of happening, it would have to be on the waterfront in the centre of town, there would have to be a really good party, and it would have to include some kind of trip, some cultural angle, and I thought that was the end of it, but three weeks later, he came back to me and said that everything was organised, and he wanted to know when they were coming. Literally a month later, the first one happened. We managed to get the actual crew and we rebranded our veterans as Legends, a kind of private joke.

Tell us about the Legends, as there is some seriously impressive Olympic and World Championship medal winners at this race. Tell us a little about the quality of competitors.

Well I am not sure that there was much quality on display in the race this morning… But seriously, the name Legends is kind of an interntal joke, but Cambridge for example has a double world champion, a 4-times world champion, and an Olympic champion in the coxless fours. It is a wider collection of friends from all around the world who have been connected by Oxford and Cambridge, and Split has become a reunion place.

People know about Oxford and Cambridge, but they may be surprised to hear a rowing club from Split mentioned in the same breath.

In rowing circles, you would be surprised at how well known the Gusar rowing club is. They recently celebrated 100 years of existence, and since 1952 they have had a crew at every single Olympics, or at least a member in the national team. The club crew won the Helsinki Games back in 1952. The Skellin brothers won medals at the recent Olympics, for example, and the club has generation after generation produced some seriously top rowers. People from Dalmatia tend to be tall and coordinated and so good for basketball and tennis, and they have the natural physiology for rowing as well. The rowing tradition in this region is very strong. In actual fact, there are more medal winners (3 Olympic, 4 World Championship) in the Split boat today than either Oxford or Cambridge.

I understand that there has been a rather interesting side effect to this competition, with some competitors taking the hospitality and warm welcome to a higher level. Men have met women across the divide…

It is actually one of the things that I am proudest of, the fact that when I moved to Split, I wanted to organise some kind of focal point for my mates to come and visit, and there has been some great new friendships between the two countries as a result, and our circle of friends has widened considerably. And then Mr. Smith… met one of the ladies here, and they are currently living in London, but looking to move here. So I lost a mate and gained an in-law… They keep telling me that it is my turn next.

You are an Olympic champion and a true professional, and I understand your pre-race preparations were meticulous. (It would not be a state secret to reveal that the rowing teams were not in bed by 21:00 the night before the race)

Absolutely top notch. There was a lot of refuelling the night before the race, but you have to understand that part of the weekend competition is to win the race off the water as well as on the water… It was a great party with some great people.

The Legends race is on the Sunday, but the current university race on Saturday seems to be flourishing as a competition.

Absolutely. This year’s competitors were fantastic – from Hungary, Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, even Russia for the first time, from St. Petersburg. Oxford and Cambridge obviously help with the appeal, as there is no other opportunity to race against them, and there is always the chance of a scalp, and on occasion, they get that scalp. It is a wonderful event, and great to see so many young teams taking part. Put it together in a nice place like Split with a great social scene, and you have a fabulous event.

See you here next year!


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