19-year-old from Leicestershire rewrites Olympic champion’s script

Friday, August 13

On an evening where the Regatta course at Henley-on-Thames was meant to be bathing in Olympic gold, one person had not read the script.
In a race that will go down in Henley Royal Regatta legend, Lauren Henry, a 19-year-old, from Lutterworth in Leicestershire hunted down and rowed over Andrea Proske (False Creek Rowing Club, Canada), the Olympic gold medallist in the Princess Royal Challenge Cup (women’s single sculls).
Henry (Leicester Rowing Club), who thought she was terrible at rowing when she started aged 11 and only carried on because of the hot chocolate in breaks between sessions, stunned the crowds and Proske as she tore up her lines and attacked as they passed the halfway mark.
From one and a half lengths down, she reeled in Proske, who was part of the Canada eight that won gold in Tokyo, passed her and rowed away. Proske, making her Henley Royal Regatta debut, had no response and finished far behind. It was as astonishing as it was brutal, the end of one career - Proske suggested this was her last regatta – and the beginning of another.
“I said to my family before that I believed I could beat her, but obviously I know she’s got an Olympic gold medal and I haven’t,” Henry, part of the Great Britain under-23 development squad said. “I know I don’t have the strongest start, so I thought just stay with her. And then she wasn’t going away and as soon as I got through her I thought ‘I’ve got this, I’ve got this’.”
“I expected it to be a real fight to the line and so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to conserve more energy for tomorrow.”
It brought to mind great upsets of Henley past including Matt Brigham, the Leeds University student, who knocked out New Zealand’s double Olympic champion and six-time Diamonds winner Mahé Drysdale in 2019.
But it is the beauty of Henley Royal Regatta, where juniors and students rub shoulders with Olympic champions and Proske is to be admired for coming for straight out of a sweep boat in the eight and chancing both arms in the single sculls.
“This is really a love letter to the sport,” Proske had said on Thursday. “I started in the singles, spent a lot of years in the singles, and to come to this amazing Regatta that has just such a rich past – longer than the Olympics – is just so special. It’s wild, somewhat akin to boxing, so I’m ready to throw down my very best race but I know there’s going to be some pretty fierce opposition.” She was not wrong.

Ireland’s Olympic champions progress to the semis  

Fifteen minutes before, the script was still intact as Ireland’s Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy (Skibbereen Rowing Club and University College, Cork, Ireland), fresh from winning gold in the lightweight men’s doubles sculls in Tokyo, showed that very good little’uns can beat some pretty handy big’uns.

They eased into the weekend by beating Sam Townsend and Charles Cousins (Reading University and Leander Club), who were heavyweights, had 15 Henley Royal Regatta’s between them, and have been core parts of Britain’s sculling team but are not racing full-time anymore. O’Donovan and his brother Gary were losing finalists in 2018 in their only other appearance at the Regatta.
Katie Greves and Jessica Eddie’s romantic return (Wallingford Rowing Club and London Rowing Club) was also finished at the hands of Great Britain's current sculling flagbearers, Emily Craig and Imogen Grant (University of London and Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club) rowed away from them. Craig and Grant also showed the power of a good lightweight crew and are one of the favourites for the Stonor Challenge Trophy (women’s double sculls). They were a hair’s breadth from an Olympic medal in Tokyo, finishing fourth by an agonising 0.01 seconds in the LW2x.
But in an example of what the Regatta crews are juggling in their lives, both crews asked for it to be later in the evening session (18:50) because Greves had to feed her one-year-old child and get childcare and Grant had lectures all day for her medical degree.
Read all the highlights of the day’s racing here