Photo by AJ Canaria
The Windermere Cup got its start 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 history, spirit, and soul.
All in, for Seattle.
The Windermere Cup has grown into a cherished Northwest tradition. We feel fortunate to partner with other iconic Seattle-area businesses to bring this event to our community.
A team of members from Washington Athletics and Washington Rowing, work with us to bring the best teams in the world to Seattle to compete in the Windermere Cup Regatta. Rowing is one of the oldest sports at the University, beginning in 1899 with support from the local business community. In 1903 Washington Rowing entered its first intercollegiate competition beating California, starting a longtime rivalry with the college and a culture of winning for the UW. In the 1936 Olympics, the Washington team won the Gold Medal defeating the German National Team as told in the #1 New York Times best-selling story, The Boys in the Boat. Washington Rowing has become one of the best rowing programs in the world. It’s state-of-the-art training facility, located on the UW campus and shores of Lake Washington, next to Seattle’s iconic Montlake Cut, attracts the best student-athletes from not only the Pacific Northwest but from around the world.
The Seattle Yacht Club (SYC) started the time- honored tradition of Seattle’s Opening Day of Boating Season more than 100 years ago. Hundreds of SYC volunteers work to produce the celebration each year. The SYC added crew races to the Opening Day festivities 50 years ago this year, and allowed Windermere Real Estate to sponsor the crew races beginning in 1987. Windermere Cup would not have been born without the Opening Day event that put a spotlight on the world-class arena that the Montlake Cut provides for rowing. The combination of the Windermere Cup races and Seattle Yacht Club’s Opening Day Boat Parade, creates a perfect “celebration of community & sport”.
In this episode, Windermere Owners Mike & BJ Connolly and Podcast Host, Brian Bushlach talk about what makes Windermere Cup such a special event and how watching the races will be different in 2021.
Listen to the Windermere Home Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher.
When John Jacobi founded Windermere Real Estate in 1972, he had a vision for the way real estate should work: anticipate and respond to the needs of buyers and sellers, and support the communities you serve. While other real estate companies were focused on size and sales, his goal was to earn the respect of the communities where he and his agents worked and lived. More than four decades later, John Jacobi’s humble beginnings have gone from a single office with eight agents to a network of 300 offices and more than 6,500 agents throughout the Western United States. See our historical timeline to learn more about Windermere through the years.