Pragnell: “The King’s and Queen’s Cup Interstate Regatta is what rowing in Australia is all about.”

The King’s and Queen’s Cups Interstate Regatta, proudly supported by Infratects Pty Ltd, forms a major part of the Sydney International Rowing Regatta and this year will be no different when Sunday 29 March comes around, it will be State vs State and Mate vs Mate as Australia’s top rowers come out to show their true colours.

For this week’s newsletter, we caught up with New South Welshman Fergus Pragnell who has been competing in the New South Wales King’s Cup Eight Crew since 2005 and has been a part of a crew that has won the Men’s Eight Race every year since 2008.

“I’ve rowed in King’s Cup for New South Wales since 2005, and in my first three years of rowing in the event we finished fourth, third and second respectively and then in 2008 we won the event and have won every year since, including two years where the winning margin was less than half a second!”

When you ask the 29-year-old why the Interstate Regatta is so important to the athletes and States, his answer is a simple one: “It’s the best day in the Australian Rowing calendar. You get to see the top athletes in the country representing the clubs and the people from where they first started rowing.

“Australia’s best rowers often re-locate to different states to train with specific coaches and combinations, which means more often than not that our best rowers don’t train permanently in their home state.

“For example, the top two female rowers in the country, Kim Crow and Sally Kehoe, both train at institutes away from their home states and at the Interstate Regatta, the two are potentially there fighting it out representing their states.

“For me it is a chance to represent the people who helped you at the start of your rowing career. The coaches and clubs in each state are the ones that really develop school kids into international rowers, the people from these clubs aren’t the ones who take crews to World Championships or Olympic games, but they have been integral in the careers of all athletes.”

Despite having been educated in Canberra, at Canberra Grammar School, Pragnell is New South Welshman through and through and the thought of not winning a King’s Cup is a hard one to palate: “The King’s Cup is not a race that I ever want to lose again in my life.

“I can remember every crew member that I have raced with and every winning and losing margin. It’s an exciting day, because there are no heats or semi- finals for the Interstate Regatta. It’s just one race. There aren’t crews that are in good form or favourites.

“The race depends on who can perform on the day, and it’s almost like anyone has a chance to win if they have a blinder. Some interstate crews are renowned for performing exceptionally when they row for their state. Our NSW King’s Cup crew is probably one of them, but also Sally Kehoe from Queensland in the Women’s Single Scull, Rhys Grant from WA in the Men’s Single, the Queensland Lightweight Coxless Four who won the Penrith Cup last year.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the Interstate Regatta is the chance to see a number of athletes race against their team-mates and crew-mates from the international team and it’s not always an easy thing to deal with says Pragnell who last season raced in the Australian Men’s Four that won bronze at the World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam.

“It is very, very uncomfortable to race against your team-mates. We spend the bulk of the year living, training, travelling and racing with people from other states. They’re some of my closest mates.

“But there is never banter during the year. The King’s Cup is rarely spoken about between people from different states. It’s something you would only talk about with rowers from your own state. It is as though no one wants to say anything to someone from another state to give them more of a reason to try to beat you.

“My pair partner Josh Dunkley-Smith is Victorian and we always room together. All year I look out for his well-being as much as I do mine. But the night before the King’s Cup regatta, one of us will move to a different hotel!”

While there is a great sense of pride in winning the King’s Cup, which has a history dating back to the 1919 Peace Regatta, Pragnell admits that New South Wales record in the event is nothing in comparison to the State of Victoria.

“NSW is by no means successful in the King’s Cup when you look at Victoria’s record. We have had a great run in the event of late. This recent success is based on a long streak of losing.

“There has always been passion and desire in NSW, but often the other crews were better crews or were just better on the day. When I started in the King’s Cup in 2005, there was a core group of guys who were hungry to win. There was no expectation we were going to win. We put pressure on ourselves to win, and we were devastated when we didn’t.

“To hear stories of when the NSW crew won in 2004, and to see the reaction of some of the older rowers in our crew in 2008 when we won, it made me realise the value of this race. And every year, it become more important for me. The pressure is on our crew to perform now.”

He also admitted it was an opportunity to make the rowing community of your respective State as proud as you possible can: “As an older member of the crew the race means more than just racing with my mates.

“It is about representing the people from rowing clubs in NSW. People who volunteer at regattas, who drive boat trailers for us around the country, who cooked meals for us at camps, who coached us when we were ratbags, and who gave us a chance to be successful.”

Rounding of his interview, the Queanbeyan local encouraged people from across the country to come out and support the event, or at the very least turn in to Fox Sports coverage of the Interstate Regatta, saying: “It’s a hot day out, if you come down to the Sydney International Regatta Centre, but it’s one where you get to visit one of the best modern rowing venues in the world.

“The course, which was built for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, gets better every year as all the trees grow and offer more protection from the wind.

“It’s honestly one of the biggest rivalries in world rowing. People talk about the Oxford-Cambridge rivalry, but their crews are made up of imported international rowers, on this day, people genuinely don’t like people from another state. The King’s and Queen’s Cup Interstate Regatta is a real rivalry and what rowing in Australia is about.”