With new look, Dad Vail Regatta shoves off on Schuylkill

West Virginia rowers Hilary Meale (left) and Jenelle Spencer (right) get ready to head out to the river. (Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer)

This is the first in a series of expanded-coverage articles on local sports events that are created and held only in the Philadelphia area.

The Schuylkill always overflows with excitement - and action - on the second weekend of May.

That's when collegiate rowers from places as disparate as the University of Michigan, UCLA, Grand Valley State, and Purdue descend on Philadelphia to compete in the prestigious Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta.

This year, after renovations at the river's edge and added events, spirits at the largest collegiate rowing event in the United States are extra high for the 73d edition of the Dad Vail on Friday and Saturday.

"For the first time ever at the Schuylkill River, we have docks made of a composite that are weather-resistant that will hold up for years," said Jim Hanna, president of the Dad Vail Regatta Organizing Committee.

While that probably won't excite many land lubbers, it's the equivalent of the Eagles' making performance-enhancing changes to Lincoln Financial Field.

"This raises the racing venue up to a whole new level," Hanna said.

One of the new additions, the launching area dock, is billed as the largest launch dock in the United States. It is more than 500 feet long. Another upgrade, the award dock, is stationed at the grandstand finish line near the Columbia Avenue bridge.

"So we now really have a world-class racecourse here," Hanna said.

In addition to having 118 college teams vying for sweep (multiple-rower) titles, the Dad Vail marks the return of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup for single scullers on Saturday. The regatta also will host an exhibition open singles sculling collegiate championship on the same day. This is the first year that both sculling events will run in conjunction with the Dad Vail Regatta.

On Saturday afternoon, the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, known as the Gold Cup, will showcase four of the top men's and four of the top women's rowers in the world.

On the men's side, 2008 United States Olympian Ken Jurkowski will compete against the Czech Republic's Ondrej Synek and Slovenia's Iztok Cop and Luka Spik.

Synek is the 2010 world champion. Cop is a five-time Olympian, and Spik is a 2000 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion.

Belarus' Ekaterina Karsten, the Czech Republic's Mirka Knapkova, Serbia's Iva Obradovic, and Sweden's Frida Svensson will compete on the women's side.

Karsten is a two-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion. Knapkova competed in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Obradovic is a 2008 Olympian, while Svensson is the 2010 world champion.

The champions will receive $10,000. The second-place finishers will get $5,000, while $2,500 goes to the third-place boats.

The Philadelphia Cup was last contested on the Schuylkill in 1962.

More than 36 men and women will compete in each of the singles sculling college championships.

As always, the marquee event at the regatta will be the college men's varsity heavyweight eight (4:37 p.m. on Saturday) and the college women's varsity heavyweight eight (4:17 p.m. on Saturday).

Michigan's men and Old Dominion's women are the No. 1 seeds in the events. The Wolverines are expected to receive stiff competition from Florida Institute of Technology, Williams, and Temple.

Brock, the defending champion from St. Catherines, Ontario, is seeded 11th.

On the women's side, the Lady Monarchs should get pushed by Buffalo, defending champion Sacramento State, Dayton, and St. Joseph's.


Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta

When: Friday and Saturday.

Where: On the Schuylkill, northwest of Boathouse Row.

What: It is billed by organizers as the largest collegiate regatta in the United States. More than 100 schools are expected to compete in the 73d edition of the event. The two-day regatta featured 122 teams last year. Kelly Drive is closed to traffic until Saturday evening.

TV: The finals will be broadcast live from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday on 6ABC and streamed live on ESPN3.com. The qualifying heats and semifinals will be shown live on www.dadvail.tv.

Locals: Among local teams expected to race are Temple, Bryn Mawr, Drexel, Haverford, La Salle, Villanova, Philadelphia University, Rutgers-Camden, St. Joseph's, and Delaware.

Friday: Qualifying races are scheduled to start at 7 a.m. and run through 5:40 p.m. Weather: Sunshine with some clouds, high 71 degrees.

Saturday: The semifinals are set to start at 7 a.m. and run through 10:43 a.m. The finals will begin at 10:59 a.m. Among the featured races, the women's varsity eight final is set for 4:15 p.m., and the men's varsity eight is scheduled for 4:35. Weather: Mostly cloudy with a chance of a thunderstorm, high 68 degrees.

Course: The 2,000-meter course starts near Hunting Park Drive and flows south to the Columbia Avenue railroad bridge and the grandstand.

Parking: Plan on parking in the remote lots in Fairmount Park. Go to Kelly Drive and follow the signs to the remote parking areas. Free shuttle buses will pick you up in the parking areas and take you to the race course and Rower's Village. The shuttles will be marked "Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta" and will be either London-style double-decker buses or trolley-style buses.

For more information, go to www.dadvail.org.

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939 or kpompey@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pompeysgridlock