HENLEY HIGHLIGHTS: THAMES TRIUMPH, BORIS CONTROVERSY, OLYMPIC CHAMP UPSET, SIX-DAY REGATTA? July 04 2016
There was a record entry, huge TV coverage, Olympians strutting their stuff, a champion upset, a controversial disqualification, a packed programme - with the possibility of more next year – plus the usual assortment of submersible cars, floating Elvises, swimming Dutchmen and all the other things that make the place special.
Another Henley Royal Regatta is in the books. Let’s have a look back at some of the highlights.
Henley Heart-stopper: Thames triumph after last-gasp Cal crash
The live footage was pretty impressive but if you want a clearer idea of the scenes as Thames RC won the Visitors Challenge Cup, watch this video from club member James Padmore.
While the crowd was wild, the mood on the water switched from frenetic to blank as the University of California coxless four – half of the eight that won the US national title at the IRAs in June – went from a length up to a near-swim as they collided with the final boom before the finish line.
After consoling his counterpart Scott Frandsen, Thames head coach Ben Lewis hit the nail on the head when he told me: “They [California] made a mistake under extreme pressure. It’s not a great way to win, but a win’s a win and it is a fair one.”
TRC won the Visitors for the first time ever and snatched their second Henley win in as many years – with three of the eight that took last year’s Thames Cup. They are the first club to win the Visitors since Leander in 2007 but some arguing they are the first “proper club” ever to lift the trophy.
Thames aren’t satisfied, though: in 2013 they set a target of winning the Ladies Plate within five years. Captain Alan Bowling said: "This is a stepping stone to that. We've got plans to keep pushing forward.”
Boris Controversy: Leander win on disqualification
It’s been a bad week for Borises. While his fellow Oxford graduate Boris Johnson was raising ire for his part in the aftermath of the EU referendum, Boris Rankov was raising hackles at Henley.
Which Boris has had a worse week?— HenleyRoyalBulletin (@TidewayBulletin) July 3, 2016
Rankov disqualified Sydney RC - one of the favourites in the Thames Cup – for poor steering on Thursday, then was at the heart of affairs as Dutch crew Nereus had their win in the Ladies Plate final annulled two hours after the race had finished.
"This is something Nereus always do when they win and I'm doing nothing about it," says a voice over official radio pic.twitter.com/qjnejVWcxf— Martin Gough (@martingough22) July 3, 2016
Leander’s complaint was that they were being washed down as Nereus steered onto their station and the official statement was opaque. My understanding is that Nereus were disqualified because their coach Diederik Simon was steering the crew from the umpire’s launch, behind Rankov’s back.
Although not obvious in the official highlights, footage available to the Regatta apparently shows Rankov hold his flag out for over a minute to warn the Dutch crew back onto their station, with no reaction from the cox. Then Simon gestures and the crew moves.
since 1947 there have been 5 @HenleyRegatta Finals decided by DQ— Daniel Spring (@fatsculler) July 3, 2016
2016 Ladies Plate
However Simon - one of the sport’s hard men and a member of the legendary Holland Acht that won Olympic gold in 1996 - clearly felt aggrieved as he spoke to the NLroei website.
“At one point I saw from the corner of my eye the referee reached for the red flag, which is used to disqualify,” he said. “Then I started waving to my team. Moments later my eight were again on the right side.”
Martin Cross, who commentated on the race and was seen during the lunch break trying to calm Simon down, said in his video blog: “I didn't agree with the verdict but I'm very glad I didn't have to make it.”
Diamonds Upset: Olympic champ Drysdale stopped
He is the reigning Olympic champion, will go for gold in Rio and was in Henley mainly to work on his starts and rough-water rowing but if Mahe Drysdale expected to win a record-equalling sixth Diamond Challenge Sculls, he failed to account for Hannes Obreno.
Belgian Obreno finished 12th overall at last year’s World Championships and grabbed a place for Rio via the recent Final Qualification Regatta in Lucerne but he appeared unflustered by his rivals pedigree, under-rating five-times world champion Drysdale for much of the race, piling on the pressure as he went.
The denouement could only happen in a singles race: the two heavyweights raced bow ball to bow ball through the enclosures, Obreno piling on pressure and, abruptly Drysdale slumped at the progress boards, his rate dropped from 35 to 28 and he paddled over the final few metres behind the new Henley champion.
1. What an absolute privilege to umpire that Diamonds race. Old fashioned, classic small boat @HenleyRegatta racing to a standstill.— Matthew Pinsent (@matthewcpinsent) July 3, 2016
Drysdale’s response afterwards was low-key: “Obviously I’m a little disappointed how I rowed today, I really wanted to win that one, but I’ve learnt a few things here this week that I can now take into my preparation for Rio which will hopefully aid me in being successful in six weeks’ time.”
On this showing, though, we shouldn’t rule Obreno out for a place on the Rio podium.
These Girls Can: Gloucester hat-trick, quad wins with Grace, battling GB eight
The girls from Gloucester RC came from nowhere over the course of the week to win the club’s third successive Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup, out-powering Headington School in Sunday’s final.
They didn’t even race in the quad at the National Schools Regatta – four of this crew won in the coxless four instead – and had to come through Henley qualifying but toppled selected crew Glasgow on day one and built from there. Coach Tom Pattichis said: "It’s a bit of a surprise to win, but a very good one."
Such was the strength of the women’s quads in a record Henley entry that the DJCC for schoolgirls was doubled from eight to 16 and the Princess Grace for seniors expanded to 12.
Gloucester-Hartpury old girl Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne made some more history later in the day as she became the first Reading RC athlete since 1935 (when the club won the second of back-to-back Wyfolds titles) to win a Henley medal. Wingfields champion MHB was at bow in an impressive quad likely to be Great Britain’s Under-23 entry for the World Championships in August.
Another GB women’s development boat impressed this weekend as the eight gained revenge over Princeton University – who defeated them at Henley Women’s Regatta a fortnight earlier – in the semi-final before succumbing to a powerful US senior crew.
Baby-Blue Bravehearts: Edinburgh make history
Not content with being the first ever Scottish university crew in a Henley final, Edinburgh University’s coxed four went a step further, overcoming a length’s deficit to Newcastle – twice previous winners of the event – to take the Prince Albert Challenge Cup.
And we haven’t even mentioned …
What about Oxford Brookes beating the Harvard Junior Varsity, completing an unprecedented unbeaten season, grabbing their second Temple title in three years and sparking raucous celebration in the boat tents?
We’ve forgotten the systematic demolition by Henry Fieldman and his Molesey eight of NSR Oslo to take their sixth Thames Cup – their third in six years – helping to celebrate the club’s 150th anniversary.
There was the barnstormer by Schuylkill quad – so close that both crews sat to listen for the official announcement before reacting – which saw Leander denied the Prince of Wales title for the first time since 2009.
We haven’t mentioned the nail-biting victory in the Fawley for Claires Court School, which saw the Maidenhead school complete the sculling Triple – Schools Head, National Schools and Henley – for the first time.
And there’s no space to properly acknowledge Eton’s 13th victory in the Princess Elizabeth Cup for schoolboy eights , the biggest challenge of which was beating Westminster in Saturday’s semi-final.
The GB men’s development eight running the Dutch Olympians close, gallant British Sunday losers from Sport Imperial and Upper Thames, a potential Rio silver-medallist pair from the Netherlands in the Goblets, the list goes on and just shows how exciting this Henley, especially finals day, has been.
And there’s more
Regatta chairman Sir Steve Redgrave admitted in a TV interview that the regatta might expand to a sixth day, leading to speculation that more events may be incorporated as a result.
A women’s eights event of the standard of the Ladies Plate seems to be one event that would be a popular addition. Fears that adding events at the Royal may detract from Henley Womens’ seem to have been unfounded on the evidence so far. A men’s club quads event might also be popular.
First, though, the event has to relieve a little of the pressure created by the new policy of expanding event entries on a one-off basis depending on the quality of the field, as they did with three events this year. Friday evening qualifying was also huge this year, given a record entry of 629 crews – up on the previous mark of 552 set in 1998.
An extra day may not bring extra revenue: Wednesday is not a great cash cow as it is. Sir Steve mentioned a raise in Stewards membership subscriptions in his speech on Sunday, which might help. He also revealed plans for a new family-friendly enclosure on the Buckinghamshire bank around Phyllis Court – perhaps a Regatta-run version of Remenham.
These are exciting times on and off the water for Henley Royal.