Henley Royal Regatta begins tomorrow (Tuesday, 27 June) and with less than a year until the Paris 2024 Olympics, a growth in scale and quality of the women’s entry, and a rule change, the racing promises to be as competitive as at any time in its 184-year history.
There are 420 crews qualified from 17 nations at every level of rowing - from junior to open - contesting 394 head-to-head knockout races across 26 events over six days on the famous 2,112-metre Course on Henley-on Thames.
"We're expecting great racing conditions on the water and strong competition."
“The Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta are looking forward to the start of this Regatta and welcome all of our athletes and supporters from home and abroad,” Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Committee of Management, said. “We’re expecting great racing conditions on the water and strong competition from Tuesday morning until Sunday afternoon. Today’s tailwind is forecast to swing round into a headwind tomorrow, and on the Regatta Course that will find out whose winter training has been thorough enough.”
Over 300,000 spectators will line the river, and rowers attest that there is no experience quite like emerging from the tree-lined banks out in front of the Enclosures, 400m from the finish.
The Draw has set up some fascinating contests from the first morning session and throughout the week with a host of Great Britain crews, Olympic medalists and at least 19 world champions competing.
Later in the week, Helen Glover, Britain’s double Olympic champion, will be a headliner in The Town Challenge Cup (Women's Coxless Four), along with the next generation of Olympic hopefuls, whose Henley pedigree is already known and may become much more familiar to the world after Paris.
Newark Rowing Club, who have four boats in the Regatta, are celebrating their 150th anniversary and will be third on the water on Tuesday morning in The Wyfold Challenge Cup (Club Men's Coxless Four).
Watch out for: The times to Barrier
Even on day one the times to Barrier, just past the quarter-mile, are a way to gauge the form of crews across the events. They blast out at top speed and after that, if they have achieved clear water, they try to pace themselves to conserve energy for the next round.
At 9.15am, in Race 4, there will be an early look at the strength of one of the American entries into The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup (Junior Men’s Eight), as Deerfield Academy, Massachusetts, takes on Latymer Upper School from west London. At 9.45am Brisbane Boys’ College, one of the favourites from Australia, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their win in 1993, face Monmouth School.
And even more eyes will be on Race 47 in the afternoon session as heavily fancied Marin Rowing Association, USA - a new name in the PE after the change in the rules this year allowed clubs to enter as well as schools - take on Dulwich College, from south London.
The Henley thread
One of the threads running through Henley Royal Regatta’s unique tapestry of junior to Olympic talent is the strength of connections that bind the whole rowing community. Lea Rowing Club, based in East London are a particularly strong example of that this year. “We believe that we are the only club at this year’s Henley Regatta to have qualified crews for club men, club women, junior men and junior women’s events,” Gill Parker, Lea’s senior performance coach, said, “We couldn’t be prouder.”
"I'm so proud of the number of women we've got in Henley."
Founded in 1980, Lea were Henley winners in the 1980s. “I’m from there and rowed in one of the clubs that founded Lea, we’ve always had the kids from Hackney and Walthamstow,” Parker said. “And in the 1980s those people didn’t go to university, they stayed and rowed and got a job in the City or on building sites.” Lea, one of many beneficiaries of the Henley Stewards’ Charitable Trust, which was established in 1988 and has granted over £4.8m to encourage youth rowing, is enjoying a resurgence now, which Parker puts down to growing interest after the London 2012 Olympics. “That took place ‘in our manor’ and numbers have doubled or trebled particularly among women,” she said.
“We’ve got 450 rowers at all levels in the club, including 100 juniors and I think women are in the majority now. Our club is so inclusive and diverse. There’s a big Hasidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill, where we’re based, and we’ve got about 30 women from there who have signed up because of our outreach work. And I’m so proud of the number of women we’ve got in Henley. I didn’t get to row and I would have loved it, it’s so important to have that representation.”
Look for the orange in training
The influence of the club stretches out beyond their waters: “We had three in the Boat Races this year, with two winners and Arianna Forde is the 3 seat in the Oxford Brookes first eight, is from Lea.” Parker said. “What’s really nice is you see it outside the racing in Henley and elsewhere - look for the orange in training, people still wear their kit and come and say hello.”
Lea’s number one men’s boat at the Regatta will be their first on the water in Race 8 at 9.40am in The Wyfold Challenge Cup (Club Men's Coxless Four).
The family connection
Family history also weaves its way through the history of Henley and two sisters with a surname from Henley’s past came through the Qualifying Races on Friday to make it into the main draw. Isabella and Olivia Cassidy are in different boats but both are racing for Thames Rowing Club and will be keeping one eye on the progress of the other. They have great rowing and Regatta pedigree with father, Adrian Cassidy, a former Great Britain rower and winner of The Grand Challenge Cup and mother Siobhan, an under-23 Great Britain rower and winning Stroke for Cambridge University in the 1995 Boat Race.
"During our childhood our parents always spoke of their time rowing very fondly."
“During our childhood our parents always spoke of their time rowing very fondly and of the great friends they made through the sport.” Olivia said. “We have watched Henley since we were young and being around it all made us keen to try it once we had the chance at University.”Olivia, 23, races in The Wargrave Challenge Cup (Club Women's Eight) on Wednesday, and Isabella, 25, is in The Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup (Women’s Pair) on Friday. Both have made it to the weekend in the last two years and it was their first time coming through the fire of the Qualifiers. “It is my first time racing the pair, with just over two weeks in the boat prior to Qualifiers,” Isabella said. “It was great to qualify for the Regatta, and I’m very excited to be in an open event. I got to watch Olivia’s time trial so that was lots of fun as I had so much confidence she was going to qualify.”
Notes to the editor
About Henley Royal Regatta:
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. Nearly 400 races are staged at the Regatta, featuring Olympians and emerging stars from around the world.
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