Photo by AJ Canaria
The Windermere Cup got its start 32 years ago, in 1987, when Windermere Real Estate founder, John Jacobi, joined up with the University of Washington to create an annual rowing event. They wanted to bring the best team in the world to Seattle's Montlake Cut, which at the time was the Soviet Union. That occasion marked one of the few athletic competitions for the Soviets inside the U.S. in 25 years, since relations were strained during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviet Union brought both its men's and women's crews and won both races in convincing fashion. After that, the precedent was set for what has become one of the world's premier rowing events, and certainly a staple of Seattle's rowing community.
As the United States and the Soviet Union remained enemies in the late 1980s, an unlikely man had an idea to make Seattle’s opening-day rowing regatta grand. Unlikely because he was the founder of a real estate company who had never rowed competitively a day in his life.
Windermere Real Estate founder John Jacobi’s idea took form – almost overnight – through the help of an eclectic and dynamic cast. University of Washington coaches and administrators. State, local and national officials. U.S. congressmen. International, side-door diplomats. And, most of all, the rowers. They made the first, improbable Windermere Cup in 1987, the one that helped the Cold War thaw.
Author Gregg Bell describes that first historic event when the Soviet Union’s national crew team came to Seattle to race against the nationally ranked University of Washington Huskies. He tells stories of the Soviets suspecting UW coach Bob Ernst, their escort, was a CIA agent, of Russian athletes trading USSR team gear for American blue jeans and cassette tapes. He details the first race’s signature moment: the UW and Soviet rowers trading their jerseys and splitting their crews to row each team’s boat back to the boathouse after the finish to this new Windermere Cup.
The history and stories grew from there. Like how half of Romania’s national women’s crew deserted their team and country at the 2001 Windermere Cup to hide in Seattle and defect to new lives in America. Or the Lithuanian rower Kestas Serevia who escaped Soviet occupation in his native Lithuania to row for Washington, eventually making the U.S. his permanent home. There’s also the story of Croatian Ante Kusurin who left behind his country during its war with Serbia to row for the UW, and his adjustment to rowing alongside Serbian teammates. And in what is still considered the biggest upset in Windermere Cup history, the year the Australian Olympic veterans came to Seattle, partying the week away before an epic loss to the Washington men.
This book is for and about those athletes, the colorful characters and brilliant people the Windermere Cup has featured every first Saturday in May since 1987. Through interviews, original documents and pages upon pages of breathtaking photographs, Bell captures this event’s 30 remarkable years, its spirit and its soul.