Friday Racing Sessions

Morning Session 
9am – 12.20pm

Off the Water Raw – the Friday interviews

You could feel the tension rising with the headwind as day 3 began and the Diamond Challenge Sculls (men’s single sculls) and Junior Women’s Eights produced some Regatta classics. 

The early races suggested there might be some of the steering problems of the Thursday’s evening session, but things settled down quickly. 

Graeme Thomas, from Preston and rowing for Agecroft in Salford Quays in Greater Manchester, had a good workout in his first race back since his fourth-placed finish with John Collins in the lightweight men’s double sculls in Tokyo. Back in the single sculls he was pushed all the way to the line in race 15 by u23 GB rower, George Bourne (The Tideway Scullers’ School). Thomas is favourite for the DIAMOND CHALLENGE SCULLS, in which was runner-up in 2012. 

“George is an up-and-coming star, it definitely was not going to be easy and I had heard a lot about his strength in the first 1000 metres,” Thomas said. “I had to use gears early on in that race just to wrestle control of it, trying to do a few little pushes and eke out a safety margin as we all know at Henley anything can happen. It was a great race. There were crabs yesterday and plenty of pleasure boats out there so you never know when a rogue wave’s going to come out of nowhere and make you lose a bit of time. 

“The Diamonds is something that has eluded me. Peter Lambert, my colleague and friend in the quadruple sculls beat me in that final in 2012, so it’s one that’s always slipped away from me and I’m coming here to win. But I’m also on the back of a massive peak.

“When I saw Henley on the calendar…previously my rowing has been laser-focussed, especially with COVID restrictions. I’ve basically lived like a hermit for the last 18 months, and to get out there and just to put the fun back into rowing – see other crews, have a laugh out on the water, it’s been great. I’ve absolutely loved my mornings, just chatting to crews, seeing people on the bank. It’s bringing my love for the sport back, not that it was ever in doubt but an event like this is fantastic. It has so much prestige and heritage, it’s a great day out. When it moved I just thought, I’ve got to be part of that.”

It gave Agecroft something to celebrate too after their eight was disqualified for veering and causing a clash of blades near the start of their race in the Thames Challenge Cup (men’s club eight) on Thursday.

The Diamond has a powerful field and we had one of the races of the regatta half an hour later with an epic gladiatorial scull between two experienced internationals in race 22. 

There is a brutal simplicity to the sculls; two rowers, 2112 metres – and today into a headwind. There are not many places at Henley Royal Regatta that you can be on your own, the sculls are one of them. 

Simone Martini (Associazione Sportiva Dilettantistica Canottieri Padova, Italy)

who qualified for Tokyo in 2019 and then lost his place for 2021, led Dara Alizadeh (Cambridge University) but never by more than half a length – almost nothing in an agile single scull – for nearly the whole of the race. 

Alizadeh, a former Cambridge president who has been training alongside the eight this season, represented Bermuda in Tokyo and is force to be reckoned with. Sometimes a leader is sitting on opponent, sometimes that opponent is biding their time. Alizadeh pounced past the mile, passed a couple of hundred metres from the finish and won by a length at the end. 

Alizadeh will meet Seb Devereux in semi-final tomorrow. In race 25, Devereux (Leander), an u23 world champion in the double sculls, a Regatta winner in the Prince of Wales (men’s quad) and fourth in the GB Olympic trials was mighty impressive. He had a rowover yesterday, and took this one against by the scuff of the neck from the start against one of the favourites Tom Graves (Long Beach Junior Crew, USA), who won silver at the US Rowing National Championships in 2019 and was a runner-up in the Diamond in 2018. He has competed at Henley Royal Regatta 14 times (2021 is 20-year anniversary from his first competitive appearance).


The inaugural Junior Women’s Eights already looks like an established Henley Royal Regatta event that has people running out of the enclosures to the river bank. Race 22 produced a classic Regatta finish with underdogs Shrewsbury School finishing less than canvas behind national champions, Lady Eleanor Holles School (LEH). 

LEH took an early lead, but could never just sit on Shrewsbury, who kept hunting all the way and it was clear at the finish that both crews had given absolutely everything. 

Shrewsbury have only recently to come together as an eight by combining the quad and four, and with the headwind picking up and making it a longer harder race for the crews, it perhaps favoured their strengths. Headington College, who won race 4 comfortably, will have been watching with interests. They were not at the national championships but are many people’s favourites after winning by a margin at the Henley Women’s Regatta in June and the British Rowing Junior Championships in July.

Nereus, Netherlands closed the session in classy fashion, controlling the race from start to finish against a powerful Edinburgh eight in the TEMPLE CHALLENGE CUP (student men’s eights). 

Afternoon Session

The afternoon session began in dramatic fashion as a highly-anticipated quarter-final in the Temple Challenge Cup (student men’s eights) between many people’s favourites, Utrechtsche Studenten Roeivereeniging TritonNetherlands and Oxford Brookes University. Like Shrewsbury and LEH in the morning in the Junior Women’s Eight, it was a Henley Royal Regatta reference race of crews giving everything they have. 

Both went out hard and were level at the quarter mile. Brookes did their club trademark second push – the “go again” which cracks most opponents, who have given their all just to stay with them at the start. 

Brookes were three quarters of a length at the mile, but they could not get clearwater and Triton looked the more relaxed. This was not how it was supposed to be. But that is the added excitement of having international crews who you haven’t been racing against during the season. We knew Triton were fast, but that does not always translate in a gladiatorial contest in Henley conditions. 

Triton began to the climb the ladder, edging back seat-by-seat and the hunter became the hunted. With 250 metres to the line and the noise from the Enclosures rising to fever pitch, it was clear something was not right in the Brookes boat. They were slowing and then the stroke’s oar began trailing in the water. If his crew, club and coach needed to know what he was prepared to give in a push to the line, there it was. 

Triton stretched away and into the semi-finals, where they will meet their Dutch counterparts, Nereus. 

Henley’s match racing format has a sometime brutal simplicity with half the competitors going home every day. 

The next race, 37, had a similar billing, but the Oxford University quad proved too strong for the American quad, TBC Racing, USA in the Visitors’ Challenge Cup. Oxford took an early lead, pulled away, got clearwater, took their rating down and that was that. It went like clockwork. They had a four-length lead by the mile mark and though TBC Racing, USA kept charging and finished just three quarters of a length down, the result was never in doubt.

The quality of the inaugural Island Challenge Cup (student women’s eights) has been immediately clear, and a Cambridge University crew featuring seven of the eight from the winning Blues boat in the Boat Race was too strong for Durham University in race 49. In the modern era, fully-formed Oxbridge crews are not normally at Henley Royal Regatta, so this could be a collector’s item. The extra 112 metres of the Henley course troubles some, but not a Boat Race crew who train for a far longer challenge and they had also the speed to pull away. 

Friday saw the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup come alight and in the afternoon Westminster School and Shrewsbury School provided a Regatta great in race 42. Shrewsbury took an early lead and were three quarters of a length up by Barrier (1:53), but a spirited Westminster crew would not give in. They edged back seat-by-seat until they were just a canvas behind at Fawley (1,047m, 9m short of halfway), and then a third of a length up at the mile. By the finish they were two thirds of length ahead, but every seat was hard won and they have hard semi-final tomorrow.

The last race of the afternoon would decide who they faced as two of the heavyweight favourites squared off. It was one of those highly-anticipated encounters that people look forward to for a year – or two in this case. In the end, St Joseph’s Preparatory School, after a hard-fought victory over Shiplake College the night before, did not have enough against St Paul’s School. St Joseph’s are the US National Champions and undefeated this year, but it was a massive commitment travelling from Philadelphia and quarantining in a time of COVID and that plus steering issues meant that a 2½ length deficit at Fawley was too much to bridge. They edged back a length, but St Paul’s are no ordinary schoolboy eight ad responded to attacks in unflustered fashion. Another final against Eton College looks on the cards. 

Evening session 
5.30 - 7.30pm

After a day of international quality through the field and overseas crews showing the mettle, the evening session was supposed to be bathing in Olympic gold medallists. 

It was all going to script by race 61 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. 

Fifteen minutes later a 19-year-old from Leicestershire rewrote the script. Lauren Henry (Leicester Rowing Club) 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).

From one and 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.

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. 

It was evening of high class single and double sculling and in one of the best contests Maggie Fellows (Long Beach Junior Crew, U.S.A.) caused something of an upset by beating  Pia Greiten (Ruderverein Osnabrücker, Germany) after eyeballing and bowballing each other for 2,112 metres. Greiten, who qualified for the German Women's eight at their Final Olympic Qualification Regatta, but then was cut from the boat for Tokyo, had been one of the favourites for a high-quality and open Princess Royal Challenge Cup (women’s single sculls).