- Sir Steve Redgrave: “Public safety the top priority” after 2020 cancellation
- 481 crews from nine nations, including returning Olympians
- Inaugural year for three new women’s eights events
After being cancelled for the first time in its 182-year history outside of the World Wars, Henley Royal Regatta will return on Wednesday, August 11 for five days of top-class competition set to feature a strong domestic entry from schools, clubs and universities, a promising range of overseas crews, as well as Olympians returning from Tokyo.
Entries are now closed with 481 crews from nine nations, including 41 from overseas, due to compete on the famous two-lane match racing course at Henley-on-Thames.
“The Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta are delighted to announce that we will stage the 2021 Regatta,” Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Committee of Management, said.
“It has been another difficult year for everyone, and the impact of COVID-19 on our competitors, and all involved in the sport, has been immense. Our aim has been for this Regatta to provide a focus for our athletes and to avoid a second lost season, and this has been possible because of the strength of our community and especially the support of our Members.
“The Stewards mandated the Committee to do everything in our power to stage the Regatta this year, with public safety the top priority. Our focus is to look after our competitors, everyone involved in the staging of the Regatta, and the wider Henley community. We will put on the best possible event in the context of both the ongoing pandemic, and all of the disruption and complexity that it has created for the organisation and safe hosting of a major rowing competition.
“It is obviously not business as usual, but our pre-emptive decision in February to move the Regatta back six weeks from its traditional place in the calendar, has given us welcome flexibility. It has allowed us time to plan, reconfigure and create three separate Covid-protocolled zones for competitors, Members, and now ticketed supporters – who we envisage largely being the friends of family of competitors for a mainly ticketed event this year.”
In prioritizing public health, traditional arrangements have been refined as needed. Those competitors who will be required to qualify will race this year on Dorney Lake instead of the Regatta course, on Saturday August 7. The draw will take place on Sunday, August 8 at headquarters and will be livestreamed, the first time ever it has not been held in a packed Henley Town Hall.
New women’s events
The Regatta continues to reflect the strength of rowing programmes in Britain and internationally, with three new events in 2021 – all for women’s eights. The introduction of the Wargrave Challenge Cup (Club), Island Challenge Cup (Student) and Junior Women’s Eights brings the total number of events to 26.
There will be plenty to cheer for those enjoying Henley-on-Thames or watching the race at home on the Regatta’s YouTube channel. For obvious reasons, the number of international crews is down from the record of 159 that came in 2019. But fresh from the Olympic Regatta in Tokyo this week, where they race in the Lightweight men’s doubles sculls, Ireland’s Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy will have their work cut out as they tackle the open class event in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup. O’Donovan was a finalist in the event with his brother, Gary, in their first Regatta in 2018.
British Olympians returning from Tokyo will be hopping into their club boats. Graeme Thomas (Agecroft Rowing Club), the winner of the Double Sculls in 2019, and fourth at the Olympics in Tokyo with John Collins, has entered the Diamond Challenge Sculls.
Olympic silver medallists in the quadruple sculls, Harry Leask, Tom Barras and Jack Beaumont, will join a teammate from Leander in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup.
The motivation of missing out
With the next Olympics - Paris 2024 - just three years away there is no time to lose for the many pressing for selection.
No one knows that better than Jess Leyden, who will be racing with Georgie Brayshaw in the Stonor Challenge Trophy for women’s double sculls. Leyden was in the British women’s quadruple scull but sadly contracted COVID-19 and didn’t make the team. The Stonor has one of the highest quality fields and also features Britain’s Saskia Budgett and Holly Nixon, who have plenty of their own motivation after just missing out on selection to race in Tokyo. Saskia, daughter of Richard Budgett, Henley Steward, Chief Medical Officer for the IOC and 1984 Olympic gold medallist, is in Tokyo as a reserve.
In the Remenham Challenge Cup, the event for Open women’s eights, the Dutch national women’s eight, Hollandia Roeiclub, Netherlands, will not hold back after also missing out on selection for the Olympics by one place at the last Olympic qualifying regatta in Lucerne in mid-May.
In the Stewards’ Challenge Cup, the men’s coxless fours, the next generation of British and Dutch rowers look likely to battle it out.
Shocks on the water?
And could this be the year of the underdog? With form so uncertain this season, the presence in the Diamond Challenge sculls of Matt Brigham, the Leeds University student, who knocked out New Zealand’s double Olympic champion and six-time Diamonds winner Mahé Drysdale by three and a half lengths in 2019, will remind of great shocks past.
Domestically, a very strong entry across a number of events including Oxford Brookes University who will be looking for their best ever Regatta. The junior events will not disappoint either as the entries have remained relatively high and we are expecting some great races. A school crew from St Joseph’s U.S.A. is looking to rattle the cage of Eton College and St Paul’s in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup (eights).
Henley Royal Regatta, founded in 1839, is the best-known rowing regatta in the world, renowned for its match-racing. It is one of the highlights of the summer sporting and social calendar in the UK, as well as the rowing calendar internationally. More than 300 races are staged at the Regatta, featuring Olympians and emerging stars from around the world.
Henley Royal Regatta is returning to the water after being cancelled in 2020 for the first time in its 182-year history outside of the World Wars.
Henley reawakening video
Spectator COVID-19 code of conduct video