A blustery but sunny Henley witnessed some hot-tempered and exciting racing on day two. Competition in all the rest of the senior events begins on Friday with 67 races scheduled between 08.30 and 19.20.
Alex Henshilwood, Melbourne University’s prize coach, is one of the busiest men at Henley and, despite seeing two crews go out already, still has a few irons in the fire.
The former Great Britain lightweight international, who many regard as responsible for developing the talent of the GB eight’s strokeman Constantine Louloudis while at Eton College, saw his selected quad upset by Bayer Leverkusen in the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup on Thursday, after the Upper Yarra coxless four went down to Tideway Scullers in the Wyfold Challenge Cup on day one.
But he said: “I’m looking after a really strong group of under-23 oarsman getting ready for the World Championships in Trakai, Lithuania, and I’m hopeful things will turn around.”
Henshilwood, who coached Upper Yarra to victory in the Thames Challenge Cup last year, hopes that his crew in the Grand, rowing as National Centre of Rowing Excellence ‘B’, may cause a few waves when they open their account on Saturday.
“I know we’re racing Brown University but I hope we’re good enough to take them on,” he said as he moved swiftly along the boat tents. “There’s not much time to stand still this year,” he explained.
University of London last won the Prince Albert Cup for coxed fours in 2007 and their top crew are hoping to repeat the feat this year, upsetting selected Brown University of the USA.
“I remember we weren’t a selected crew back then [in 2007] either,” said Olympian Dave Townsend, the brains behind UL’s recent revival. “Three of these boys will be in Britain’s Under-23 team and another in the European Championships – so we know they should give most crews a test.
“What I’m really proud of is that the two guys in the middle of the boat had never touched an oar before they came to UL, so that just shows what we can do for people.”
UL confirmed the fine form they showed in winning at the Metropolitan Regatta earlier this month, dominating their race against Brown on Thursday evening from the start to record an “easily” verdict.
A small part of that recent UL’s revival is down to the Henley Stewards as, three years ago, assistant coach Phil Gray joined the Stewards’ Charitable Trust (SCT) Coaching Scholarship Scheme. Gray says he wouldn’t be in his current role without the benefits he gained from it.
Starting with just two coaches in September 2002 the project is now supporting 14 coaches. Each SCT coach must undertake a two-year, part-time postgraduate course in coaching, sports development or the health/social related benefits of sport, while spending 20 hours per week coaching juniors. To date the Trust has donated £970,000 to the initiative.
After completing his two-year stint, working with three clubs in Bath and Bristol, former Yarm schoolboy Gray, 26, took a job at the GB Rowing Team's Start centre at the University of Bath, and then moved on to UL.
“It's been quite a quick progression through. If I hadn’t had the Steward's scholarship and been in the area, I definitely wouldn't have got that job and I wouldn’t be at UL now.
“I want to be here to help make UL undisputedly the best university in the country and when that happens I'll see what else I can do.
“Obviously in the future I would love to be a chief coach myself but I'm not thinking that far ahead yet.”
A gondola crossing the course had a near miss with the Visitors’ Challenge Cup heat between Taurus BC and the composite of Christ Church and 1829 Boat Club but those concerned already had more than enough to handle.
Taurus - the open club at Oxford Brookes University – and the composite, a mix of former Boat Race blues from both Oxford and Cambridge, clashed in neutral water off the start and were ordered back to the pontoons by umpire Boris Rankov.
The re-started race was no better tempered, Taurus receiving numerous warnings for their steering before returning to their station, completing a two-length victory then receiving a lengthy telling-off from the umpire.
The composite’s German stroke, Hano Wienhausen, who rowed at six in Oxford’s 2012 Boat Race defeat, appealed afterwards, claiming the Taurus wash had affected the outcome of the race, but the appeal was refused.
If you’re a school eight aiming to win the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, you cannot afford to miss a trick. So it was noted that when Hampton School crossed the line two lengths ahead of the powerful Americans from Groton School, they turned straight round to paddle back towards the start for a long wind-down.
“We timed it just right for the lunch break,” said the eight’s coach Neil Double. “Before the lads went on the water, I checked if we would be allowed to turn straight round.”
Double, is used to crossing every “T” and dotting every “I” and his crew showed why they are one of the favourites, rowing through the faster-starting Americans despite giving away over a stone and a half advantage per man.
Double was able to draw on the experience of Alex Lloyd and Rob Wickstead - two 17-year-olds who have proved themselves the fastest junior rowers in Britain.
Last year, they were part of the British eight that won a silver medal at the World Junior Championships.
Hampton face further tough opposition from the USA in the form of Belmont School on Friday and Double said: “We’ve still got room for improvement.”
Hampton have some famous antecedents in the PE as Greg Searle, one of their old boys, recently described his victory in the event as a 16-year-old in 1988 as “maybe my best Henley ever”.
A survey sent to some of the 270 living rowing Olympians – many of whom will gather at Henley on Sunday – reveals another man who felt the same race was his worst experience at the Regatta.
Overall, Sir Matthew Pinsent enjoyed a stellar Henley career but described that loss, when he was at Eton College, as “totally demoralising for a young oarsman at the end of his school time”.
Forty-year-old Searle, who will aim to win his second Olympic title in the eight at London 2012, 20 years after his first gold – won’t be at Henley this summer as the GB squad are currently in the middle of altitude training in the Austrian Alps.
Cox Rowley Douglas is drawing inspiration from Formula 1 great Michael Schumacher and Bridget Parker, Olympic equestrian champion in 1972, as he continues his comeback with Molesey and Oxford Brookes in the Ladies’ Plate, which starts on Friday.
Douglas, an Olympic champion himself with the Great Britain eight 12 years ago, returned to the sport with Molesey in 2010, hoping to trial for the GB men’s eight again. He says he feels "a little bit cheated", having as he saw it not been given a fair chance to trial against the incumbent Phelan Hill, although a tribunal turned down his appeal over selection.
Schumacher, Germany’s seven-times world champion, endured two years of failure on his comeback before returning to an F1 podium recently. Douglas recently met Parker, who was a reserve for the GB eventing team but was called into action at the last minute and won a gold medal.
“I have that Schumacher mentality that you don't stop until its mathematically impossible. When the red light goes out on the start light at the final of the Olympics, the game's up and I'm not in,” said Douglas.
“I'm not hoping for this - I'll make that very clear - but things happen and I might as well stay in good trim just in case.
“I said at the outset I would finish out the year because I love the sport and this is a great place to come and do it, with a club that has supported me the whole way through.”
Douglas was expecting to face Jamie Koven - the American double world champion whose own bid to reach the Olympics at the age of 39 fell short recently – but Koven, a Regatta Steward, opted not to row in the Penn eight and to concentrate on racing in a pair, saying: “I’m too old to double up.”
The blustery headwind that has been a feature for much of the Regatta is unlikely to faze London Rowing Club single sculler Imogen Walsh, who faces Estonian Kaisa Pajusalu in the first round of the Princess Royal Challenge Cup on Friday.
A week ago at the Regatta’s qualifying races, the headwind was gusting at up to 40mph and some female sculls took more than 10 minutes to cover the shorter course.
Walsh, part of Great Britain’s second-choice lightweight double that will attend the European Championships in September, took desperate measures to deal with the conditions, having a centimetre cut off the end of her blades beforehand in order to set her gearing sufficiently.
“Someone in the sponsors’ enclosures asked when Katherine Jenkins was singing. We had to tell her it wasn’t until next week.”
- It was a good job one onlooker realised Welsh songstress Jenkins is performing at the Henley Festival, rather than the Royal Regatta
“Where do you keep the fire extinguishers?”
- A member of a coxless four in the Visitors’ Challenge Cup shouts to a friend who is putting the crew up in her mother’s house
For further information contact Caroline Searle or Miranda Edwards in the Henley Royal Regatta press office on 01491 572153 or 01491 575056 email@example.com or 07831 755351