At a rough estimate 10,000 rowers will have competed on and around the River Thames this week at four events to round off winter training. It all started on Thursday…


Westminster still sitting pretty in pink

The talk beforehand was about St Paul’s but Westminster won Boys Championships Eights at Schools Head for the second successive year and in the process gained some measure of revenge over the Paulines, who beat them in last summer’s Henley final but were four seconds behind on Thursday.

Former chief coach Bill Mason was on hand (having a boat named after him) to see his successor Josh Butler triumph with six of last year’s crew. Here's the provisional results. 

The shock of the day, though, was arguably the second place secured by Shiplake College, who rowed (and won) the lower 1st VIII category last regatta season – director of rowing Dave Currie’s first after moving from Abingdon.

Claires Court School were clear winners in Boys Quads, while Gloucester Hartpury won the equivalent girls’ event for the second time in three years. Some of the country’s quads avoided Schools Head, opting instead for the Junior Sculling Head - "The Scullery" - at Dorney on Friday.

For the fourth successive year, Headington School Oxford won the Girls Champ Eights, by seven seconds from Henley RC. However, their director of sport Ryan Demaine kept feet firmly on the ground, though, saying: “It’s a good performance from the girls, but there is still two months to go until National Schools [Regatta] and a lot more work to do."




Palace vs Poly at Eights Head

With GB squaddies missing at the start of Olympic year, the country’s best two eights over the last two years will duke it out on Saturday as Oxford Brookes bid to win the Head of the River Race for the first time, while Leander Club look for their ninth win in the last 12 events.



The men from the Pink Palace were seven seconds faster than Brookes at Reading University Head earlier this month but the men once known as Oxford Polytechnic were faster at British Rowing Championships in October. Molesey, starting second, feature several Under-23 and junior internationals.

Phelan Hill of the Great Britain men’s eight coxes the Leander crew, who beat Oxford’s Boat Race line-up last weekend. Hill has been on an extended, unpaid sabbatical from HM Treasury for the last two years, aiming to upgrade his London 2012 Olympic bronze for gold in Rio. He gave a terrific interview to City AM last month, detailing his 70-hour working weeks in the middle of the global financial crisis, with 70-odd emails waiting for him after every training session.

Behind Leander, Molesey and Brookes are a further 317 crews from 185, including 30 crews from seven other nations. For the first time the event welcomes a crew from China in the form of Jiaotong University, number 122.




Veteran rowers get younger

A record 221 crews are taking part in Sunday’s Veterans Head and there are plenty of youngsters coming out to play, with seven entries in the over-27 Masters A category, including a Thames RC boat that includes at least one 2015 Henley Royal winner.

Ahead of the head weekend, I’ve been asking on Twitter: What’s so special about your crew?





(That’s this Great Eight, for those of you with short memories)


Top Tideway women 

Great Britain's next generation of international oarswomen made a statement of intent as the fastest of 320 crews at the Women's Eights Head earlier this month. Racing as Leander/Reading/Tees, they were almost seven seconds faster than nearest rivals Imperial College

Coached by Peter Sheppard, the crew are apparently hoping to be entered as the second GB crew at the Lucerne World Cup this summer.

The three new club pennants went to Molesey (big), Tyne ARC (medium) and Cambois (small), who finished 111th overall.

Meanwhile Headington School finished ninth overall – the highest position by a British school crew in 16 years – but they were pipped to the School/Junior pennant by half a second by Cus Milano Lombardia of Italy.


First women to take on the Thames

It is amusing to think that senior figures around the Boat Race were worrying within the last 10 years that women’s rowing could not sustain a close race over the full Championship course. Here’s some video of three female scullers doing just that as long ago as 1928. 

The winner in this blanket finish is Margaret Barff, narrowly beating the famous Amy Gentry. A pioneer of women’s rowing, Gentry was celebrated on International Women’s Day on 8 March with a talk at the Henley River and Rowing Museum, quoted in full on rowing history blog Hear the Boat Sing.



Gentry was lobbying as long ago as 1927 to gain an invitation for women’s rowing to the Olympic Games, something that didn’t come to pass for almost 50 years. There still isn’t parity in the number of men’s and women’s events at Olympic level, but that’s another story …


Olympic lightweight worry

The drive to keep rowing relevant at the Olympics in 2020 and beyond has led to a raft of proposals which could see events chopped and changed at all levels internationally, and just about every proposal involves cutting out what is often the most exciting boat class, the men’s lightweight four.



There are currently eight men’s and six women’s events at Olympic level so something would have to give way on the men’s side to ensure parity without increasing the number of events – an Olympic no-no.

Alastair Douglass, a world Under-23 medallist in the light four last summer, has mounted an impassioned defence of the boat on the new Row Global website. The debate has seen several high-profile figures wade in, including James Thompson, who was part of the crew that won South Africa’s first ever Olympic rowing gold in 2012 (put a tick in the “inclusivity” box).





Welcome back, Jack 

The country’s top rowers have been training out in Avis, Portugal over the last fortnight, ahead of their biggest battle of the season so far, Olympic trials in singles and pairs at Caversham next weekend

However, two rowers at least will be pleased just to have made it this far.

With the difference of an inch, Jack Beaumont could have been left paralysed after he was hit by the GB men’s eight in Avis last summer. Instead he fractured four vertebrae in his back, broke two ribs and tore his hip flexor muscle. 



“I could easily be bitter or upset about what happened but who would it help?” Beaumont told the Mail on Sunday as he guns for one of the seven Olympic sculling seats available this summer. “It wouldn’t help me.”

Meanwhile, 2013 world champion Polly Swann took a tough route to reassess how much she enjoys the sport, during a lengthy rehab period from a back injury.

“It’s good to take some time out and reassess how motivated you are for the sport,” she said. “I was all by myself for six to eight months but I still trained hard every day, so it confirmed this is one of my passions and I am really excited about the future.” 


70/366 When everyone is rowing in pairs and you just really need some boat time #coxing #dryrowing

A photo posted by Zoe De Toledo (@zoe.detoledo) on



Henley Women’s back on screen

Amid the hoopla of the first televised Henley Royal last summer, it was easy to forget that Henley Women’s Regatta did live-streaming first. Unfortunately the project was dropped last year after the event failed to find a sponsor but it is back in 2016, with help from US philanthropic project the Colgan Foundation.


Henley Women's Regatta - Celebrating Women In Rowing! from Chloe Rose on Vimeo.


Given an almost doubling in crews over the last 15 years to 427 last summer, HWR is considering “significant site changes” and a move to a four-day format, event chairman Miriam Luke told Rowing & Regatta magazine last month. Exciting times.




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