May 05, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) When the decision was made to use the opening day of boating season in the Seattle area for what would eventually become a world-renown rowing regatta, the creators of the Windermere Cup knew having an opponent like the Soviet Union to challenge Washington would instantly give the event credibility.

And for the 10th, 20th and now 30th anniversaries of the event, it's only seemed appropriate to have the Russians take part.

''It's pretty awesome. ... To think of the different generations that are affected by this and to have these guys come back every 10 years is really cool,'' said OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate, the presenting sponsor of Saturday's race.

The 30th anniversary edition of the Windermere Cup features Washington taking on the Russian national team and Stanford in the men's race; and Washington facing Cambridge University and the University of San Diego on the women's side.

Arguably one of the premier rowing events in the United States and one of the best in the world, the Windermere Cup was hoping to add another unique chapter to its history this year. It was announced in January that the Cuban men's and women's national teams would be the international invitee for the 30th regatta, a sign of the improved relations between the United States and Cuba.

But the Cubans backed out in March after Washington announced the Cuban teams were facing ''difficulty'' in getting to the event. In stepped Russia on the men's side. The choice of the Russians could not have been more appropriate. They were there as the Soviet Union when the Windermere Cup started in 1987 and competed during the 10th and 20th anniversaries as well.

''Maybe it was meant to be when we got Russia,'' Washington coach Michael Callahan said.

All three of the men's coaches in this year's event, including Russian coach Alexander Litvinchev, have rowed through the Montlake Cut to the deafening roars of fans lining both sides of the narrow channel that connects Lake Washington and Lake Union. Callahan and Stanford coach Craig Amerkhanian still marvel at the event.

''This regatta, to me, is the top regatta in the world, having rowed at (the) Henley (Royal Regatta), having coached at Henley,'' Amerkhanian said. ''But it's about the Cut, it's about the University of Washington. It's the history, it's the tradition. ... This is the center of American rowing.''

The Soviet Union teams that came to Seattle in 1987 were powerhouses. This Russian team isn't quite as dominant, made up mostly of rowers from the under-23 Russian national team that took third place at the 2015 World Championships.

Litvinchev said through an interpreter on Thursday that this group has only recently been put together and was on the water in the eight-man boat for the first time last week.

Meanwhile, the Washington men's crew that is ranked in the top five of most national polls has a number of rowers who are projecting toward the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

''Being a Washington athlete, it's the biggest stage that we have,'' Callahan said. ''We train a lot, there are a lot of hard hours out there. You're going through the Cut thousands of times through the year and finally someone is out there to watch you. It's pretty special in itself.''

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