Off the Water Raw: Day Four

Olena Buriak & Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska

Emotions were running high as the joint Ukraine/Polish crew of Olena Buriak and Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska left the boating area for their first race in the Stonor Challenge Trophy for Women’s Double Sculls. They won the race against their American rivals and crossed the line filled with emotion for Buriak’s experiences of the last months.

Stonor | Buriak & Kobus-Zawojska, UKR/POL | © Alistair Craigie

Stonor | Buriak & Kobus-Zawojska, UKR/POL | © Alistair Craigie

talk me through the race, how was that?

[Agnieszka] It may have looked easy but for us it was very tough because it’s our first race but we know we row for something more. This is a combination of friendship, not just rowing.

[Olena] It’s a great experience, it’s like no other place in the world and I’m so happy to be here rowing with Agnieszka. In the race we just did everything together, and we were very successful! 

[Agnieszka] I had a really good feeling on the start line but I don’t know why because it was our first time together haha but I had big trust in Olena, it’s an honour to race with her and we know we’re racing for more than rowing.

[Olena] It was a big honour to race with you Agnieszka! For me it’s also a really big experience at this regatta. Before the start I wanted to tell Agnieszka not to worry but I knew that she knows and it just shows it because we were very successful!

[Agnieszka] It’s funny because before the race I said to my husband ‘I have an Olympic medal but for this race I am more nervous’ but I think if we want to do something really good there’s always going to be a little bit of stress! 

Tell us about your racing kit...

[Olena] This is our project. My friend designed and made this for us! It’s a combination of Poland and Ukraine, not only the flag but the people too, so we have a Ukrainian heart inside a Polish heart. We like these lycras a lot and it’s to support Ukraine. 

It seemed like there was a lot of emotional support for you here at Henley. how have you found it?

[Olena] Oh yes I have a lot of messages of support, lots of support for Ukraine. When we crossed the line we did the hearts with our hands to support Ukraine.

Meghan Musnicki & Jessica Morrison

Meghan Musnicki [AUS] & Jessica Morrison [USA] both live in San Francisco and paired up for a crack at a 2022 Henley trophy. Racing as California Rowing Club, Musnicki is a two-time Olympic gold medallist (London and Rio) and five-time World Champion. She was fourth at the Tokyo Olympics in the Women’s Eight. Australia’s Morrison won Gold in the Women’s Coxless Four in Tokyo. The campaign got underway according to plan when they won their first race in the Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup for the Women’s Pair.

Talk me through the race, how did it go?

[Morrison] Well it was pretty tricky, really windy, we had to correct our steering off the start but Megan did a great job steering. Naturally with Henley there’s always a challenge to stay off the booms. It was a good confidence-boosting race and the first race together!

How was it gelling together as a crew?

[Musnicki] We both obviously come from different places and different systems, Jess is from Australia and I’m from the American system so it’s interesting to see how the two different styles blend together. I came from rowing in the US eight and Jess has come from fours and pairs so it’s been fun to work with different variety of coaches to blend our strengths together.

What was the reason for the pairing?

[Musnicki] We thought it would be fun! We’re both based in the San Francisco Bay area and about five weeks ago we thought sure why not and hopped in a boat! Luckily California Rowing is where we row out of and they’ve really helped us get out here so it’s an amazing opportunity and an amazing event.

Jess, what does it mean to be rowing here?

[Morrison] It’s wonderful, I’ve never raced here before, I have been a spectator once before but this is such a world-renowned regatta so I’m glad we took the opportunity we had and we’re very grateful for the support we’ve had: both of us not just here representing our countries but the club that got us here. Sometimes it’s a case of always striving to race at the world stage for your country so to be on the different side of it and to be able to enjoy it makes it all really fun.

How many times have you raced here?

[Musnicki] This is only my third time here - the first two times were as part of the US Women’s Eight but it’s awesome to be here, great to be back… it’s Henley you know, there’s nothing like it!

Hambleden Pairs | M. Musnicki & J. Morrison | ©

Matt Macdonald & Tom Mackintosh

Matt Macdonald and Tom Mackintosh were part of New Zealand’s Olympic gold medal-winning eight from Tokyo. They have teamed up in a pair to take on the Silver Goblets & Nickalls’ Challenge Cup on their quest to qualify for Paris 2024.

Goblets | Macdonald & Mackintosh | © Alistair Craigie

What are your reasons for competing at Henley?

[Matt] We come here some years as part of our European tour, because we like the atmosphere and because there is some really good international competition and because we enjoy the social aspect and the competitive racing.

How would you describe the whole Henley experience?

[Tom] It’s sort of indescribable I think. You’ve got the carnival rides at the mile marker, people chanting ‘Kiwi’ and leisure boats up the course so it’s an exceptional regatta and it’s a pleasure to be here.

What are your hopes for this week?

[Matt] Hopefully we have another good race tomorrow and make it through to Sunday and we’d like to come here and win for sure but just try and row our best every time down the course. It’s very different from what we’re used to - with a smaller boat with all the wash is quite hard to deal with but we’d like to win for sure.

What’s it like competing here?

[Tom] There’s certainly more obstacles for sure. You’ve got wind, wash, wake, hecklers and spectators and you don’t traditionally have that in a six-lane Olympics or World Champs. So we’re just data gathering, taking it one race at a time and you’ve just got to think on the job.

And how does this fit into your Olympic cycle and building up to important events?

[Tom] We wrapped up Tokyo at the end of last year and then we had a few retirees from the men’s eight programmes so it was the next natural choice for Matt and I to see how this pair would pan out. So we’re still at the start of the cycle I would say and we’re just figuring out how to make this boat go as fast as possible.

How is it panning out?

[Both] It’s going well.

[Matt] We raced at World Cup 2 two weekends ago then World Cup 3 the following weekend and we’re really enjoying it. The World Champs this year and World Champs next year are important, we’ve got to qualify to go to Paris so that’s a big one. Then Paris itself.