Organised by Ruderclub Germania Düsseldorf, the 41st Rhine- Marathon 2012 took place on Saturday, 6th October over 42.8km from Leverkusen to Düsseldorf. 167 crews from 82 clubs across Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, France and The Netherlands took part in triple, quadruple and quintuple sculls as well as fours. There were no eights and no singles (sorry Brett!).

Stefan Gräf, who has been a member of the Rhine-Marathon organising committee for about ten years, was allowed to compete in the marathon again last year after many years of break.

Racing in a quintuple scull, a category that has been added since 2011’s 40th anniversary of the Rhine-Marathon, he and his crew put in the fastest time. Again this year Stefan put together a strong and experienced crew to defend the title, including Stephan Ertmer, multiple German champion, Luis Buslay, former coach at RC Germania, Chris Covey, who completed a world-record breaking Atlantic crossing in 2011, and last but not least Lukas Müller, 2012 Olympic Champion with the German VIII.

Stefan Gräf and Chris Covey joining German crew members to race quintuple scull in this year’s Rhine Marathon

The Schellenbacher gig boat was equipped with an electric pump and various GPS devices, and the splash board was extended along the riggers with sticky tape to early break the wash.
After about 20km the crew was already leading by a minute. In pretty testing conditions, especially in the second half of the race with sudden downpours and gusts, Luis foot-steered the quintuple scull to the best of his ability in the stream through the wash of the many cargo ships while Stephan was stroking at an average rate of 27 spm.

With an average speed between 5.5 to 6 meters per second, the Rob Roy BC/RC Germania composite crew crossed the finish line in Düsseldorf after 2:08:14 and won with this time. They were just one second behind the fastest boat of the day.

[top row] Luis Buslay, Chris Covey, Lukas Müller, Stefan Gräf (Missing is Stephan Ertmer, who was taken to hospital for recovery, but rejoined the crew soon after);
[bottom row] Kathrin Schmack (Chairwomen RCGD), Dr. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (Mayor of Düsseldorf ) and Dirk-Peter Sültenfuß (Representative of Stadtsportbund Düsseldorf )

The overall winner rowed in a coxed quadruple scull (4x+). This very experienced crew have been champions four times in a 160km Tour de Lac race around Lake Geneva between 2006 and 2010. With such experience, they provided formidable opposition and also benefited from a slightly earlier race start, thereby enjoying better weather conditions for slightly longer during their race. These and other factors were hot topics of debate throughout the evening’s festivities. The overall winners also had a dedicated cox to make the best race line, their boat was slimmer…..

‘One second hurts,’ adds Stefan, ‘ But I have to say, even being utterly exhausted after the race, shivering on the whole body, we kept smiling for a long time and very much enjoyed our accomplishment, right Chris? For myself it was a perfect birthday present and an great experience to row the Rhine-Marathon behind an Olympic Champion.’

Record time across the course: 2:01:36 (1978) by Gothan, Schur, Hacker, Müller and Bollensdorf

Youngest participant: 14 years of age Oldest participant: 80 years of age

Chris Covey provides this summary of his experience:

‘The Rhine Marathon was unlike any other race I’d ever done before – 42km in 2hrs sounds impossible (that’s faster than a 6 min 2k pace – a 1:28 split), but the Rhine flows so fast that the boat flies! The weather looked good – we boated the 5x gig boat, got in, adjusted and then shot straight over the start line. I was in charge of keeping the boat drained of water by switching the bilge pump on and off – every time we passed one of the huge vessels travelling in the opposite direction (our steersman seemed to enjoy getting as close to these as he possibly could), the huge waves would smash over the side of the boat. A fine boat wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in this race! After the first hour we were on target for the record, but we were then cruelly hit by a strong headwind and lashing rain. The crew pushed through this well, definitely helped by the enormous German gold medallist sat behind me, and we finished just six minutes behind the record, one second behind the fastest time of the day and winners of the quintuple category. That evening at the club was a huge party – copious amounts of the local beer and Dusseldorf spirit ‘Killepitsch’ were consumed. Many thanks to Stefan for an amazing experience!’

Stefan’s enthusiasm for this exciting annual marathon is contagious. His final comment following this year’s race is:

‘I can only recommend to everyone in the club, whether junior, senior, elite or veteran, to make the effort and take part in this event next year. You’ll most likely enjoy it a lot.’