The wet and windy weather which greeted spectators and athletes alike upon arrival at the opening day of the 2016 Henley Royal Regatta failed to detract from a superb schedule of racing. The 2112m course bore witness to the full spectrum of sporting emotion as tough conditions made for close contests.
Racing began at 8:30 am with a superb contest between Waikato Rowing Club of New Zealand and London Rowing Club of Putney, London. The much-fancied Kiwis showed their class, stretching out to a few lengths advantage after the barrier and refusing to budge despite repeated and concerted efforts from London. “A win is a win and it’s a great start,” said the crew. “We’re pleased and excited to be over here racing, but we’re here to take the trophy back to New Zealand with us.”
In the bigger boats, Sydney Rowing Club, Westminster School and Oxford Brookes University ‘A’ looked impressive in the Thames, Princess Elizabeth and Temple Challenge Cups, despite an early hiccup from the Australian crew. “It wasn’t the cleanest of starts,” conceded Sydney cox, Kendall Brodie. “We had to deal with the conditions and be clean and crisp in the headwind.”
Gloucester Rowing Club upset the odds to beat National Schools’ Regatta silver medallists, Glasgow Schools Rowing Club, in the first race of the extended Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup. “We’re really pleased with that,” commented coach Tom Pattichis. “It’s a tough result on Glasgow, as they’re easily a semi-finalist standard crew, but that’s the nature of Henley.”
The closest verdict of the day will possibly stand for the entire regatta, as Stratford-Upon-Avon edged out Kingston Rowing Club by a single foot in the Britannia Challenge Cup. SUABC chairman Stephen Haighton, said: “That was one of the tightest margins I’ve seen in my 40 years at the Regatta, and I think we’re just delighted to be on the right side of it.”
As the day wore on into the afternoon, conditions steadily deteriorated which led to some wayward steering down the course. Several boats had unplanned encounters with the booms, including Lady Elizabeth Boat Club in the Wyfold Challenge Cup. The crew from Ireland crashed only 600m in, leaving Tideway Scullers ‘A’ to cruise away to a comfortable win. The Chiswick-based club have a frustrating relationship with the event for club coxless fours, having been losing finalists in 2014 and 2015. “The conditions are ridiculous, with a very strong current and wind but when our opposition crashed, it allowed us to shut down the race and secure the win,” explained the crew.
Crews from across the pond regularly provide a substantial number of entries, and an all-American clash ensued after lunch as junior varsity champions Harvard defeated the University of Michigan. Cox Jacqueline Goodman said: “We had the race under control relatively early, which allowed us to get ready for tomorrow. I’m just loving the English summer!”
Winners after the tea break included Eton College, Imperial College and Headington School, the latter of whom defeated Australian schoolgirl champions Ruyton of Australia. Director of Rowing Ryan Demaine said: “It was a good race for the girls, and nice to have the first run down the course against a strong crew from overseas in challenging conditions.”
The University of California, Berkeley, were winners of the Varsity eight at the IRA State Championships and have brought their junior varsity crew to compete against the best of the British, Dutch and Irish. They were winners in their opening round against Oxford Brookes ‘B’, but realise sterner tests lie ahead. Coach Patrick Schulkers commented: “Only one person in the boat has raced here before so I was very impressed with the crew’s performance as a whole. Let’s just hope the weather improves and hopefully we can win on Sunday.”
On a day of firsts, Sarah Winckless became the first woman to umpire a race at Henley Royal Regatta, shortly followed by Fiona Dennis. In a fantastic breakthrough for the broadcast project, BT Sport began broadcasting on the Henley site at 1.00 pm, using the footage that's also being streamed across the world on YouTube and will continue throughout the Regatta.