Friday saw Henley Royal Regatta hit Olympic levels of racing as some of the best rowers in the world made their entrance. Great Britain and Canada have arrived with powerful teams and German giant Oliver Zeidler won his first race in the Men’s Single Sculls in defence of the title he won last year.
There was no relaxing for any of the crews though as a strong headwind blowing directly down the river caused tricky steering conditions on the challenging gladiatorial 2,112m Course at Henley-on-Thames. The rise in pace and precision needed to make it to the weekend of Henley was clear, as one of the 2022 champions fell and Eton were sent home on Friday for the first time anyone could remember.
Olympic gloves off
There was a first sighting of Britain’s double Olympic gold medalist, Helen Glover, and the rest of GB women’s four in The Town Challenge Cup. Glover, Heidi Long, Sam Redgrave and Rebecca Shorten, racing as Leander Club and Imperial College London, comfortably beat Northeastern University, USA after taking a large lead almost from the start.
It was just a second Henley Royal Regatta for Glover, as she prepares for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
"If I can, and while I'm still physically able, then I really should. There'll be a day I can't and that day isn't now, so I want to keep doing it.
“I think it's my second time, lots of my crew have been going for years and years, it felt amazing,” Glover said. “You know, it's a really unique opportunity for us, we spend most of our lives as international rowers, and don't get the same kind of crowds and noise and atmosphere. Just to see so many people and hear so many shouts, it's incredible.
“We had a comfortable win, but we're still in the early rounds, so we're definitely not going to feel too comfortable just yet. We've got hopefully two more days of racing where I'm sure we'll get closer and closer, but yes, it was a good fun race.
“In terms of where we are in the season, we're actually flying out on Wednesday to go and race our next world cup. So we're right in the thick of racing at the moment. And I think this just throws in that reminder of why we do it.
“It's fun. It's got much less pressure on than the world cup and the world championships and next year's Olympic Games. So actually, it's quite a refreshing reminder of our love for the sport.
“This is my second comeback to hopefully my fourth Olympics. I think I've come to the conclusion that if I can, and while I'm still physically able, then I really should. There'll be a day I can't and that day isn't now, so I want to keep doing it. And I feel like the longer I go on, the more I feel backed by the people who have been with me the whole way. (Maybe) people who are looking at this comeback will feel inspired to go and do whatever they want to do.”
“My husband Steve is massively supportive, and often one of us is walking in the house to hand the kids over to the one that's walking out of the house. But it's definitely a team effort. I've got twins that are three, and an almost five-year-old. And they'll be coming on Sunday to cheer, so one of my biggest motivations will be watching them, and hopefully inspiring them.”
Enter the Zeidler
"I come to Henley because it's the most fun event of the year, actually. And I don't want to miss it.”
Oliver Zeidler, the men’s single sculls world champion, won his quarter-final in style and has similar feelings for Henley to Glover, having also arrived with family (his grandfather and sister - who got knocked out yesterday). The 26-year-old, 6ft 8in Zeidler, who is the defending champion in The Diamond Challenge Sculls, was ahead from start to finish against Canada’s Liam Smit.
“I'm feeling good, It's great being back here,” Zeidler said. “It's a very different experience to all the international races we are doing all year. And I really enjoy this head-to-head racing against one other guy and then only one going to the next round. It's unique.
And the atmosphere here is really great. I think you don't see it anywhere else in the world. That's why I come to Henley because it's the most fun event of the year, actually. And I don't want to miss it.”
Thames tide rises
Thames Rowing Club started Friday with 12 crews and 77 athletes still in the Regatta and have been to club racing what Oxford Brookes have been to the university events. Always strong, they seem to have built further on the success of last year and have been so dominant in the Wargrave that they have all four boats in the bottom half of the Draw.
“Even when I arrived at Thames, when I was the men's coach under Ben Lewis, the aim was to have a women's programme just as strong as the men's,” Sander Smulders, the Thames head coach, said.
“When I started as women's coach in 2018/2019, there was no Wargrave. There were rumours that it was coming in at some point. So we were already training and gearing up for it. It did create a lot of excitement in our squad, and I also noticed that a lot of women who retired from the sport a year, two years ago decided to come back. It's been super good for the sport.
“There’s no real secret (to Thames’ success). It's just we always talk about good fundamental rowing, good fundamental training and really executing the rowing you do in training at a race. And we’re super flexible because our rowers are often working 9-5 or more.
The boathouse position in the heart of the London’s clubs at Putney is both inspirational and also great for preparation, especially when conditions get trickier like today.
“Yes, the beast of the Tideway,” Smulders said. “Well, it's a beast sometimes. You can't tame it. It's a river that makes you actually quite tough. (At Regattas) when people say there's a wind and complain we feel the water is quite still, to be honest.”
“It’s an inspiring position. At the moment London (Rowing Club) is doing a terrific job of really building their programme, so it's pushing us a lot. Obviously, you know, we feel the pressure. We embrace that pressure to step up and to look at ourselves and continue to look at what we can do better.
Durham win north-east knockout
"We knew there was a job to do but nothing we couldn’t handle. The blinkers were on and we were in our own game.”
Durham University won their north-east grudge match against Newcastle University, in their quarter final in race 14. In only the event’s third year, The Island Challenge Cup (Student Women's Eight) has produced some brilliant racing, and Durham, now entering into the semi-finals on Saturday, have found their rhythm after being knocked out in the first round of the same event last year.
After having lost the same encounter with Newcastle at Boat Race of the North, Durham were keen to show some new speed and were 1 ½ lengths up at the Barrier and eased away from Newcastle.
“We travelled all the way from the north just to end up racing Newcastle again,” Hermione Hill, Durham women’s first eight cox, said. “But it was nice to turn the tables on the Boat Race of the North and have one last run against them this season.
“There was a fair amount of pressure, we knew there was a job to do but nothing we couldn’t handle. The blinkers were on and we were in our own game.”
To top off the excitement, it was Hill’s 21st birthday, but she said she might save the celebrations for the finals on Sunday.
Teddies over Eton
It should not have been such a surprise because St Edward’s School are the national champions but the manner of their victory over Eton in The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup (Junior Men’s Eight) seemed like the end of an era. St Edward’s, last champions in 1999, led from start to finish. After Eton, champions four times from 2014-21, were shocked in the semi-finals by Radley last year, this exit in the quarters feels like the Princess Elizabeth is more competitive than ever.
Oars clash in photo finish
The race of the day saw London Rowing Club win a nailbiter on the line after a clash of blades with K.A.R.Z.V. De Hoop, NED in the closing strokes to the finish of their semi-final in The Wyfold Challenge Cup (Club Men’s Coxless Four). De Hoop, many people’s favourites, were being warned for their steering by the Umpire and London had their hands raised in protest as they came across the line together.
London’s four of Eduardo Marshall (23) , Zac Baxter (29), Tom Westbrook (25) and George Cowley (22) held their nerve after trailing for almost the entire 2,112m. The crew have developed a strong bond; Baxter is an NHS doctor and Marshall, Westbrook and Cowley live together above London Rowing Club. They are now favourites to lift The Wyfold Challenge Cup on Sunday.
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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