Proud Split Rowing Tradition Trumps Both Oxford and Cambridge

Total Croatia News

Imagine a boat race where a third rowing team had more Olympic and World Championship medals than either Oxford or Cambridge. Split’s proud rowing tradition triumphed on May 1, 2016 at the annual Sveti Duje Legends Race in Split, the highlight of an extraordinary rowing success story in Croatia. 

It is hard to know where to start.

For those outside Croatia, it might seem a little strange to hear that the Oxford and Cambridge boat race teams participate every year in a rematch in the Dalmatian capital of Split, or perhaps even more so, that there is a ‘Legends’ race the next day featuring rowing teams of retired heroes of Oxford, Cambridge and Split, with the Split team fielding more Olympic and World Championship medal winners than the more famous British visitors, but it is a fact. And the perfect introduction to a rather remarkable weekend and story of a tradition of sporting solidarity, competition and firm friendship, which has inextricably linked the proud sporting tradition of the city of Split, which it is said boasts more Olympic medals per capita than any city in the world, with the two famous British university rowing teams.  

Now in its 15th year, the annual Sveti Duje Regatta (named after the patron saint of Split) brings together some of Europe’s finest university rowing talent and its heroes of yesteryear for a weekend of bonding, competitiveness and fun. According to several sources I spoke to at the event, the Sveti Duje Regatta is one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the rowing calendar, and there is never a problem filling places.

It is not hard to see why. The opening of the regatta was held in the stunning grounds of the Mestrovic Gallery in Split, an enjoyable evening where old friends and new mingled before heading on for a bigger party elsewhere. 

Among the welcoming speeches was Luka Grubor, part of the legendary British rowing team in Sydney 2000, from where he returned with an Olympic Gold in the men’s eight. Croatian by birth, Grubor is now a resident of Split, and the idea of bringing his mates over to Split after the idea of holding such a regatta from event partner Toni Gamulin was the seedling which brought this remarkable annual gathering to fruition.

It was a pleasant surprise that Luka sought me out personally to congratulate us on the work of Total Croatia News – apparently he is a fan, and I will publish a very entertaining interview we recorded with him shortly.  

Ivan Mestrovic has been hailed as the greatest ever Croatian artists, and there was enough time away from the festivities for a guided tour of this particular genius of a sculptor. He left more than 800 works and this family home to Croatia, and it is one of the country’s most popular cultural attractions – here you see Adam and Eve, sculpted from walnut.

The weekend was about rowing, however, and Saturday was dedicated to a regatta for current university rowing teams. This part of the event is growing each year, and 2016 brought competing teams from as far away as St. Petersburg in Russia. In addition to Oxford, Cambridge and two teams from Split University, the men’s event had represenation from Zagreb FSB, Zagreb Medicina, Rijeka, Dubrovnik, Aachen, Wroclaw, Pavia, Krakov Akademia, Krakov Jagoellonian and St. Petersburg, while the ladies had representation from most of these also, but additionally from Zagreb Agronomija, Budapest University, Corvinus University of Budapest and Hamburg. 

Check out some of the drone highlights of the first day above, with the results as follows:

Men: 1. Aachen 2. Cambridge 3. Pavia

Women: 1. Hamburg 2. Cambridge 3. Zagreb Medicina

A German whitewash then, and it is interesting to note that part of the reason for Aachen’s success is that they were so impressed by last year’s event that they hired two Olympic coaches to help them prepare for this year’s event, and with stunning success. Congratulaions, Aachen! 

There was a party…

But as this is a family website, we will leave you with just this picture of the awards ceremony. 

Saturday’s bright sun was swapped for torrential rain, and this correspondent did not envy the Legends or their 220m races on the Split waterfront in front of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Diocletian’s Palace. The race was delayed due to the weather, but spectators enjoyed a little mid-air entertainment, as a seagull tried to attack the race drone with gusto. The drone retreated to a safe distance before being attacked three more times. I am looking forward to seeing the footage of that one…  

Co-founder Toni Gamulin did a fine job with the national media before the race, although one suspected he probably had gone to bed a little later than 21:00 the night before…  

And we were ready for the off. Split’s rowing team Gusar in the white in the middle, and flanked by its more famous British university rivals. Now in its 102nd year, Gusar (which means Pirate) is such a successful rowing tradition that it has contributed an Olympic competitor at each Olympics for more than 60 years, and indeed the 1952 team consisted solely of Gusar members. 

It was kind of the Dalmatian hosts to provide British weather for their guests, but the UK legends had not reckoned with local adaptation to fierce sea conditions, and the Gusar Legends destroyed Oxford and Cambridge. The rules were that the first crew to notch up two wins over the 220m race was the undisputed winner.  Here is the first race filmed from the starting line:

Umpire and announcer waited anxiously for confirmation, but yes indeed, the Legends of Split did the deed in two races only, with Cambridge second in both and Oxford third.  

As most left the hospitality boat for the awards ceremony in Diocletian’s cellars, an indication perhaps form one we left behind as to why Oxford and Cambridge had not taken all the golds…  

The cellars of Diocletian’s Palace date back 1700 years and are of course a Game of Thrones filming location. A much friendlier welcome awaited the rowing guests for the awards ceremony.  

TCN’s bilingual Danni Matijaca was on hand as compere, juggling a busy weekend as the PR also of the 8th Days of Croatian Boat Building and Tourist Attractions Fair at Marina Meridien Lav in Podstrana. 

Legends all. 

A core aspect of Gusar Rowing Club is tradition and continuity, and it was good to see a medal around the next of Split Legend, Denis Boban’s young child.  

Apart from being a rowing legend, Denis is pretty good with the camera too, and his cover photo for the TCN guidebook to Split stunningly portrays the course the legends rowed on the Split waterfront.  

And talking of tradition, a special thanks to Toni and Marija Gamulin for their outstanding organisation. In two months, there will be the sound of Gamulin, the next generation with the birth of their first child. Will he be a Gusar rowing legend in the future? Of that there is no doubt. 

An exceptional weekend and event, and if you are a university rowing club, why not get involved next year? More information on the official regatta website


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