Inside Lines - Sunday 3rd July 2016

Today at Henley

Finals day at Henley. It’s what four days of intensive racing amongst a record breaking 629 crews boils down to. 40 crews, 20 races and one stunning setting with the River Thames bathed in sunshine for the final day of head to head racing on the water.

Gloucester’s glory

In a hugely competitive first race of the day, Headington School took on Gloucester Rowing Club who were going for their third win in a row in The Jubilee Challenge Cup. The crews were level at the end of the Island before Headington took a small lead. Gloucester clawed back to lead by a canvas at the ¾ mile mark which had stretched to a length by the time they’d reached the Regatta Enclosure. They maintained the pressure and became the first winners of 2016.

Coach Tom Pattichis said: “It feels surreal to have the hat trick of Henley wins. The last couple of years we’ve come into the Regatta trying to win as the favourites; this year we came through the qualifiers with no real expectations. The girls have just got better and better each round. It’s a bit of a surprise to win, but a very good one.”

German strength

In the Britannia Challenge Cup, RTHC Bayer Leverkusen were too strong for Sport Imperial Boat Club from the start. They were exceptionally quick off the start and never allowed Imperial the chance to get on terms at any time. At the barrier, they had set out a three-length lead and the victory was never in doubt.

Bowman Fabien Weiler said: “This is huge for us. We’ve prepared years for this and we have also failed in finals before. So to finally clinch it is an indescribable reward.

“The support that you get here when you walk out of the tent and put your boat in the water is something that we don’t have in Germany. TV paints one picture but can’t describe the atmosphere when you actually get out there. That sort of support is huge for us and we greatly appreciate it.”

Grasshopper find winning ways

The Wyfold Challenge Cup was another closely fought race between local crew Upper Thames and Grasshopper Club of Switzerland. Grasshopper led from the start and steadily pulled ahead, but Upper Thames stayed in contact throughout, attacking along the Regatta Enclosure to close Grasshopper’s winning margin to a length.

Coach Thomas Balmerino said: “After that race I like London a bit better. I coached the Suisse LTA four at London 2012 Paralympics and we came second to GB. I’m very excited to have a win in Great Britain.”

Bowman Alois Merkt added: “We had a cool solid race. We were convincing off the start and ahead in the first 250m. I’m very happy after five hard races at Henley to rest my legs.”

Victory for Dutch crew en route to Rio 

It was Holland versus France in The Silver Goblets and Nickalls Challenge Cup, with Dutch pairing of Braas and Steenman taking early command over Demey and Jonville in gusty conditions. The Dutch pair looked powerful, as you would expect from an Olympic crew and rowed home with a three and 3 1/4 length victory.

Stroke Mitchell Steenman said: “We’ve had some good sessions here in Henley and the choppy water has been good preparation for Rio. It’s been much easier racing this event with my correct partner and as a settled crew.”

Brookes are back

Two previous winners of The Temple Challenge Cup went head to head in today’s final with Harvard University’s Junior Varsity 8 taking on Oxford Brookes.

Brookes were determined to regain the trophy they won in 2014 and there was nothing Harvard could do to stop them. They got off to a terrific start and by the barrier the door was firmly shut and Brookes enjoyed an imperious win.

Brookes Assistant Coach Rory Copus said: “Just like the win in 2014 it seems to be a two-year project. Not just the 8+ but the squad as a whole have been very driven after last year’s loss. On the day, the boys put on a class demonstration of top quality rowing and the club as a whole is immensely proud.”

Scheenard sculls to success

It was the second victory of the day for Holland as Lisa Scheenard enjoyed a significant victory over German Anne Beenken in The Princess Royal Challenge Cup. Scheenard was in control throughout the race and was never threatened. She said: “Winning this was actually really high on my bucket list. Three years ago, I debuted in the Remenham Cup and lost the final, the year after another one and to finally win, it is huge for me.

“It really means something to me to be in a list with people like Knapkova. I came here to race and would only allow myself one day off to do something myself. The house I was staying in and my time here was fantastic. I enjoyed my time here and the race from start to finish.”

Princely Princeton

It was a scene of American dominance in the Remenham Challenge Cup with Princeton Training Centre commanding the race against Leander Club and Tees from the very start, and extended it steadily throughout. Leander and Tees pushed hard but couldn’t pull anything back and Princeton finished strongly.

Princeton cox Kendall Schmidt said: “We’ve been training for four years for this. Henley is a totally unique experience. It’s loud and exciting and it should be on every rower’s bucket list.”

Spoiling the party

In the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup, Leander Club were going for their seventh consecutive win in this event against a Schuylkill Navy HPC crew who were making their Henley Royal Regatta debut.

Schuylkill though hadn’t read the script and pushed hard from the start taking an early lead which they maintained and extended. However, Leander weren’t going to give away their title easily, and clawed their way back into the race making for one of the tightest finishes of the 2016 Regatta. Schuylkill edged it though, with a victory of just four foot.

Coach Sean Hall said: “Wow! What a race! Off the start, we saw Leander had a slight lead but we knew we had the strength to give them a competitive race to the end. We have absolutely loved racing here and will be sure to race again. The course is beautiful and the atmosphere is amazing.”

Dramatic racing

Another Leander crew were back on the river after the disappointment of the Prince of Wales, this time against A.S.R. Nereus of Holland in the Ladies Challenge Plate. It was a thrilling and dramatic final with an extraordinarily close finish and even more drama after the finish line as Leander appealed the result.

The appeal was upheld and A.S.R Nererus were disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct, not from the crew, following a lengthy review by the umpire.

Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Henley Royal Regatta Committee, said: “Really sad result. But there are standards and procedures that all crews need to abide by, and A.S.R. Nereus stepped over the mark. The Umpire is the only person who is in charge of the race and needs to be adhered by.”

Shock result in memorable contest

Olympic Champion and five times World Champion, Mahe Drysdale was chasing more records in the Diamond Challenge Sculls as he looked to equal Stuart MacKenzie’s six wins in the event.

Belgium Hannes Obreno led off the start and each time Drysdale challenged he matched the pre-race favourite. The second half of the race they were level, before Obreno stepped up his rate and pulled away from the Olympic Champion to win by two lengths in what will be remembered as a classic race.

After the race, Obreno said: “I feel amazing, when I crossed the line, just wow! I came here in preparation for Rio with no expectations but the heats were smooth and I have felt good throughout the week.

“Today I managed to always keep ahead. Every time he pushed his rate up I responded. I know I have a fantastic sprint but so does Mahe, but today my boat was faster and I was able to hold him off.”

Drysdale added: “Obviously I’m a little disappointed how I rowed today. I really wanted to win that one, but I’ve learnt a few things here this week that I can now take into my preparation for Rio, which will hopefully aid me in being successful in six weeks’ time.

“I’d love to come back to Henley. It is no surprise that the record has stood for so long. It’s immensely competitive every year here. We’ll see what happens after Rio.”

Happy Hollandia

It was certainly the day of the Dutch at Henley today as Hollandia Roeiclub took on Austrian crew Wiener LIA & Villach in The Stewards’ Challenge Cup in the first final post lunch.

The Dutch crew dominated from the start with a lead of a length at the barrier and doubling that by the time they’d reached Fawley, scoring a third Dutch victory of the day.

The crew said: “Henley teaches you how to win; you can’t make a mistake and we try to make every race as difficult as possible so we’re incredibly proud to win. The atmosphere is fantastic. When you row out, people are clapping and cheering for you, so to win makes us as proud as a peacock.”

Leander lead  

The Queen Mother Challenge Cup saw Leander Club make their third appearance of finals day against California Rowing Club.

Leander took an early lead which they extended up to the barrier. California tried to get back in the race, but Leander were too strong and extended further ahead for the win.

Stroke Andy Joel said: “Really happy, over the moon in fact. It’s a bit of a fairytale. We came into this event wanting to challenge ourselves, not really expecting too much but as we got through the rounds we really started to believe in ourselves. We knew they would be fast, but our race went according to plan and I’m really proud of the lads.”

Lucky 13 for Eton

In the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, it was defending Champions St Paul’s against 2014 winners Eton. Between them the schools have 18 victories and it was Eton who took their tally to 13 with a clear victory.

They quickly moved into the lead and commanded the race throughout. St Paul’s challenged strongly at the mile but they could not match Eton’s strength and power.

Coach Alex Henshilwood said: “That was a great PE final. St Paul’s were worthy opponents and we had to rise to the challenge. We always produce our best performance here and that was so important for the crew. We hadn’t won anything so far this year. All credit to the boys, they’re the ones who have to pull the oars.”

GB double dominance

Promising GB double of Nick Middleton and Jack Beaumont faced Fistravec and Fridman of Slovakia and Israel respectively in The Double Sculls Challenge Cup. The duo who are fast emerging as world class contenders dominated the race winning by 4 1/2 lengths.

Jack Beaumont said: “I couldn’t be happier with how that race went. We knew we would get a run for our money, but we also knew we could win this. We feel great as a pair and I love rowing alongside my teammate Nick. We train on this stretch of the river every single day, so to win this cup makes the early mornings and tough training sessions worth it.”

Molesey make it six

Molesey Boat Club were looking to make it six wins in the Thames Challenge Cup against N.S.R Oslo. Molesey, who are celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, last won the event in 2012 but made sure of the win today with a strong show against the Norwegians.

Chris Haywood of Molesey said: “As a crew we felt really confident going into the final. We knew that as a crew we could win this very easily after watching Oslo battle through all of their races. Oslo put up a great fight but in the last stretch we gave it everything and stuck to our game plan. When we reached the grandstand we decided to push through and finish on a high and I think we did exactly that. It was my first win at Henley so I’m over the moon and hopefully will be back next year.”

Thames take Visitors’

Defending champions University of California, Berkeley, were up against Thames Rowing Club in The Visitors’ Challenge Cup. Berkeley made a strong start taking the lead and building along the course.

Thames though attacked at the Stewards Enclosure, and closed the gap. The race was heading for perhaps the closest finish of the day when there was disaster for Berkeley, as they hit the booms just before the line and stopped rowing. In the end the victory belonged to Thames. 

Thames Head Coach Ben Lewis said: “It’s not how you’d like to win a Henley final, but they never gave up and never made a mistake. We pushed Cal to the point that they made a mistake. The Cal guys were very sportsmanlike about it.”

Smooth Rio preparations for Hollandia

Nautilus Rowing Club – a British Rowing development eight – had the daunting task of taking on the Dutch Olympic eight, Hollandia Roeiclub, in the Grand Challenge Cup. The young British team kept in touch with their opposition losing by just ¾ of a length in what was an excellent race.

Hollandia Head Coach Mark Enke said: “We controlled the race the whole way, and felt very comfortable. It is lovely to come to Henley and be able to race and win prior to Rio. This will be a big mental and morale booster for the crew and myself and we can only hope for the best in Rio.”

Reading and Leander stun U23 World Champions

AZS Warszawa & Wisca Grudziadz of Poland are the reigning U23 World Champions, but Reading & Leander got the better of them in the Princess Grace Challenge Cup with a hard-fought victory. The Polish crew had pushed at Fawley and the mile and eighth, but were unable to sustain it.

Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne becomes the first Reading winner at Henley since back to back Wyfold wins in 1934 and 1935. She said: “That was really good. It was my third time at Henley and the previous two visits were quite stressful. I really enjoyed this Henley.”

Claires Court in close contest

The penultimate race of the day was the Fawley Challenge Cup between Claires Court School and Windsor Boys’ School. It was a superb race with the lead changing hands several times before Claires Court piled on the pressure and built up a lead which they maintained to the finish.

Johnny Cameron, sitting at number three, said: “Brilliant! Awesome to have done the triple, especially considering that three years ago we didn’t have a J18 here. To now have a full squad and winning all three is incredible.”

Edinburgh elation

Newcastle University and Edinburgh University A had the honour of bringing the 2016 Henley Royal Regatta to a close contesting the final race of the day, The Prince Albert Challenge Cup.

Newcastle University are twice previous Prince Albert winners, but Edinburgh took an early lead before Newcastle assumed command of the race with a length lead at the barrier. Edinburgh refused to give up and struck back to level with Newcastle and took a slight lead, before extending it to take the victory.

Finally...

Double Olympic Champion and cyclist turned jockey, Victoria Pendleton CBE, was the prizegiver today and in closing the 2016 Regatta, Sir Steve Redgrave said: “This has been a record breaking Henley Royal Regatta in every sense of the word. We get bigger and bigger, and it has been a fantastic event. I would like to pass my congratulations on to all of today’s winning crews, and say a huge thank you to everyone involved in making this such a very special event.”