Greg Searle, Olympic champion and Henley Steward
Laura - welcome back to day number two of the Henley Royal Regatta, the afternoon session is just minutes away, and we have lots more to bring you. First of all though I’d like to welcome the rather tall – as ever here at the Regatta I’m dwarfed by most of my interviewees - Greg Searle, Olympic champion and double bronze medallist, and of course Henley Steward here. Regatta is back. How happy are you?
Greg – Regatta is back, and I’m delighted, so happy for all the athletes. Just speaking to people, particularly the juniors, the students who train so hard, they look forward to the Henley Royal Regatta. And they might have missed it, either in the lower sixth, or year 11, now they’re getting to race on the Henley course and they’re loving it, and we’re loving putting the event on and seeing so many people engaging with that.
Laura – in 2019 we saw the Regatta modernising. We’re seeing now post/during the pandemic, the Regatta adapting to those challenges as well. How are you seeing that from the inside?
Greg – I’m seeing it from the inside, and I’m sometimes seeing it from the launches as well going along the course. It’s lovely seeing the athletes together on the other side, on the Fawley Meadows side. It’s a different experience for the athletes there but I’m hoping that’s something they’re enjoying, rubbing shoulders with each other in a different way. Then you come to this side of the course, and obviously the area that used to be the boat tent enclosure is the spectator area. Big screen set up, there was a lot of fun on the picnic tables yesterday, people enjoying the atmosphere in a different kind of way. In a more relaxed kind of way. Less jackets and ties, and seeing Henley as learning and growing off the water as well as what’s happening on the water with the events and so on.
Laura – well yes we spoke to AnnaMarie Phelps about those new events yesterday. Three new women’s eights. How important is that for the Regatta?
Greg – I think it’s vital for the Regatta. We want to see rowing developing, we want to see young girls, students, and young women getting an opportunity to row, and seeing a real target to go for, alongside the other targets there they have of course the Henley women’s and so on. But to actually say, yeah, race at Henley Royal Regatta, totally equal platform, and it’s fantastic to see that coming through. They’re creating memories for a lifetime. Because these are memories for a lifetime that people could have missed out on had we not put the Regatta on. So you know, it’s such a special opportunity to race here and I think people will get that now. It’s brilliant.
Laura – we’re just in front of the launches and indeed the press box just over my shoulder. Greg you’ve been doing commentary here too. How is that, how are you enjoying your commentary?
Greg – the commentary is fantastic because you get to have the best view in the house. Sat there, the commentary box looks straight down the course, all 2,112 metres. Then we’ve got the screens in front of us, it’s just fantastic you feel like you’re inside the boats. And for the races we’ve had plenty of thrills and spills, sometimes it surprises, when the crews are coming together. We had that close finish in the morning with the singles, and that three foot between the crews. We get to see that up close and we really enjoy trying to bring it to people’s homes. We know we’ve got people tuning in from the United States, crews come over here who have actually made the trip, they’ve made it happen, and we love bringing this to life for them. So I’m looking forward to getting into the commentary boxes and talking about it.
Laura – and I’m finding some of the shots that we’re seeing – the drone and the hoist, absolutely jaw dropping. It’s stunning isn’t it.
Greg – yes it is. And you get to see some of the nuances, some of the intricacies of rowing with that drone shot over head, all those real closeups, and you can actually see what’s making a difference. You can see this is why that crews going faster, and not just that it is going faster. You can see the angles, you can see the movements, you can see the shoulders, the kind of looks on their faces, even people talking. And hopefully people get more of a feeling of what makes the boat goes fast.
Laura – and for those just tuning into Henley for perhaps the first time, and indeed an Olympic rower like yourself, this kind of match racing head-to-head, one crew vs another, so different to six-lane Regatta racing.
Greg – yes, it’s a gladiatorial race. You can get in front and try and finish the others off, get out of sight. Maybe once you get out of sight you get a little bit further up, maybe you can be a little bit pushing it with the rudder, letting the boat drift out, letting the waves come out there, making it a little bit harder for the other crew once you’re ahead. They just feel the wash, you can’t get your paddles in front of them, but you can feel the wash. You’re just out of sight, so it’s a real mental game in a Henley race, to actually stay in it. So if you’re in a crew and think you have a chance, you’ve got to out as hard as you can. The problem is if both crews do that, you both go as hard as possibly can to try and get in front, and then you’ve still got half the course to go, and they’re still beside you. And those are those kind of special moments you train for. Where you’re just rowing along, and there’s a crew side by side with you, and you’ve already given what you think is all you’ve got, but you imagine they’ve given all what they’ve got and that’s when it gets really interesting. And I hope that’s what we’re going to have some of this afternoon, where you’ve got crews side by side, toughing it out, trying to keep the technique together, trying to keep mentally strong and then dig as deep as they can physically. It’s those three things – that technique, the mental side and the physical side, and bringing those together as a team is what gets you through these races.
Laura – and they are those memories that we love watching both from the television and spectators from the bank. As a gust of wind almost took my hair right across the camera shot there, how challenging are these conditions? We’ve got quite a strong head breeze.
Greg - yes it’s been a building head breeze, both days actually getting a bit stronger throughout the day. At the moment, I don’t think it’s bad, I don’t think its going to cause people too many problems. If anything, it might make things harder physically, but not necessarily technically. With the headwind things almost move a bit slower, a bit easier. The tail wind almost blows you off your feet and you need your technique needs to be stronger. In this head wind it’s more of a physical challenge, the race goes on a bit longer, you need to be a bit stronger and sit up a bit taller. So at the moment these aren’t bad conditions, times won’t be particularly slow, I think everyone who’s here will be able to handle them really well.