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6 Oct, 2010 15:04

Rowing in Russia marks sesquicentenary

The 150th anniversary of Russia's first rowing club has been marked in St. Petersburg. It was built by the Brits and, as RT found out, relations between the two countries in this sporting field are still going strong.

Europe has played a crucial role in the cultural development of St. Petersburg over the last 300 years. The Italians took care of the architecture. French was the aristocracy's language of choice. The Dutch gave the city its distinctive canals. While the United Kingdom helped set up the country's first ever rowing club 150 years ago, which, unfortunately over time, has fallen into a state of disrepair.

For Yulia Anikeeva, the director of the Russian Amateur Rowing Association, the St. Pete rowing channel has a special meaning. She learned how to row there, during her student days, and personally wanted to restore the club to its former glory to help a new generation learn to love the sport.

“This idea came to us a long time ago, because a lot of us used to train here, and it was sad to see just how low the standard of rowing in Russia had fallen to,” she says, adding: “We all got together to see how we could try and restore the place and keep the tradition going, as St. Petersburg has always had a number of places where people have rowed.”

Links in the field of rowing between Russia and the UK still remain strong, 150 years on.

Five-time Olympic champion, Sir Steve Redgrave, has visited the site, while the clubhouse has a distinctly British feel to it.

And the technical and coaching expertise the UK is able to offer is likely to see a marked improvement in the standard of the sport, not just around St. Petersburg, but across the country as a whole.

One of the main aims of the club is to help develop youth interest in the city, especially amongst students.

The Oxford and Cambridge boat race is famous the world over, and university rowing is popular in the US, but the same cannot be said of Russia. And this idea has the backing of one of the world's greatest ever rowers.

“In junior rowing, every two years completely new people come into it. In seniors you have athletes who go on for five, ten years and even longer. And it’d difficult to break in. Everybody’s level goes up constantly, and then the older people retire and the next level are there,” Sir Steve Redgrave explained.

This is imperative, given the current state of Russian rowing. The country has won just one gold at the last three Olympic Games, and the prospects are not looking good for London, in less than two years' time.

This is a far cry from nearly 50 years ago, when the Rome Olympics proved to be one of the greatest moments in rowing, not just for Russia, but also for St. Petersburg – or Leningrad, as it was then known.