Tokyo’s Golden Rowers Aim for Henley Silverware

The precision, pace and pressure hit Olympic level on day four of Henley Royal Regatta on Friday as the best rowers in the world got onto the water.

There were eight Tokyo Olympic gold medallists from Australia, China and New Zealand across the events making their first appearances this year at the Regatta, alongside a host of World Champions and medallists from previous Olympics. All made it through in some style to set up some much-awaited contests on Semi-Finals Day on Saturday. 

For the junior and development rowers who watched or faced them on the water it was evidence of the unique pathway that the Regatta provides. 

"It's a really exciting day because we started to see the Tokyo gold medallists and other world-class athletes alongside the other quarter-finalists in some of our events."

“It’s a really exciting day because we started to see the Tokyo gold medallists and other world-class athletes alongside the other quarter-finalists in some of our events, and the top domestic school, club and university crews going head-to head with the best from around the world,” Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Committee of Management, said. “To have them all rubbing shoulders on our riverbank and in the boat tents, competing against and learning from each other is what makes the Regatta special. You can start here as a 15-year-old and think that could be me.”

Sir Steve Redgrave back in the Double Sculls  

The talent pathway even continues to the post-Olympic phase at Henley and there was time for Sir Steve Redgrave to get out on the water during the Tea Interval for a Celebratory Rowpast. He was winding back the years with Eric Sims, with whom he won The Double Sculls Challenge Cup (Men’s Double Sculls) in 1981 for Maidenhead & Marlow Rowing Club. “We didn't quite taper our training for the Regatta right this year,” Sir Steve Redgrave said. “The great thing about rowing is that you never stop learning.”

China’s golden quad

The Draw left Leander Club, the holders of The Princess Grace Challenge Cup (Women's Quad Sculls), facing a formidable Friday challenge against the favourites, the Chinese National Rowing Team. The Chinese quad included three of the crew that won gold in Tokyo - Yunxia Chen, Yang Lyu and Xiao Tong Cui. The fourth member of the crew is Shiyu Lu, who raced in the Women’s Coxless Four in Tokyo.

"We would like to win."

“It’s quite meaningful for us, we have a lot of fun here,” Yang Lyu said. “It’s great to have the audience here and it’s very exciting. We would like to win.”

The Chinese quad became the first Chinese boat to win at the Regatta in 2019 and they look like repeating the feat. They are beautiful to watch and as dominant in their event as Shiplake College look in The Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup (Junior Women's Quad Sculls). Shiplake were similarly untroubled in beating Lea Rowing Club on Friday and led by two lengths at Barrier in a time of 2:17 - the Chinese were there in 2:11. For Shiplake schoolgirls it is a clear pathway of the standard they could reach. 

The USA-Australia Olympic combination 

One of the attractions of Henley for competitors and spectators alike is the chance to see combination boats, particularly when they have a boatful of experience and medals between them. The USA-Australian pair of Meghan Musnicki and Jessica Morrison, racing for California Rowing Club, looked in great shape as they beat the Yale University, USA pair in The Hambleden Pairs Challenge Cup (Women's Pair) despite spending a bit of time on the booms halfway up the Course. 

USA’s Musnicki is a two-time Olympic gold medallist (London and Rio) five-time World Champion. She was fourth at the Tokyo Olympics in the Women’s Eight. Australia’s Morrison won gold in the Women’s Coxless Four in Tokyo.

“It was pretty tricky, really windy, we had to correct our steering off the start but Megan did a great job,” Morrison said. “Naturally with Henley there’s always a challenge to stay off the booms. It was a good confidence-boosting race and our first race together.

"Both of us are not just representing our countries but the club that got us here."

“It’s wonderful, I’ve never raced here before, I have been a spectator once before but this is such a world-renowned regatta so I’m glad we took the opportunity we had and we’re very grateful for the support we’ve had. Both of us are not just here representing our countries but the club that got us here. Sometimes, it’s a case of always striving to race at the world stage for your country, so to be on a different side of it and to be able to enjoy it makes it all really fun.”

Musnicki, on her third appearance at Henley, explained that the new pairing was a moment of May inspiration. “It’s awesome to be here, great to be back… it’s Henley you know, there’s nothing like it,” She said. “We thought it would be fun. We’re both based in the San Francisco Bay area and about five weeks ago we thought ‘sure why not?’ and hopped in a boat! Luckily California Rowing is where we row out of and they’ve really helped us get out here, so it’s an amazing opportunity and an amazing event.”

Poland / Ukraine double win hearts and minds 

They were not the only international pair winning hearts, minds and racing. The day began with huge cheers before the racing had even started as the Poland/Ukraine double of Olena Buriak and Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska took to the pontoons. They made it through to the semi-finals in the Stonor Challenge Trophy (Women’s Double Sculls) in fine fashion beating the American duo of Meena Baher and Hailey Mead (Redwood Scullers, U.S.A.) in the second race of the day. 

Kobus-Zawojska and Buriak, racing for Ukrainian Rowing Federation, Ukraine and

Akademicki Zwiazek Sportowy Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego Warszawa,

Poland, have only been training together for six weeks, but led from the front with a powerful start and held off a late comeback. 

Buriak, the former European champion has been living with Poland’s Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska, a silver medallist in the women’s quadruple sculls in Tokyo, since Kobus-Zawojska invited Buriak and her family to stay in Warsaw at the start of the war. 

Wearing kit designed specially for this Regatta by a Ukrainian friend, who escaped with Buriak, in the colours of two countries with a Ukrainian heart inside a Polish heart, they were roared over the line. 

"We have had a lot of messages of support for Ukraine."

“It’s a great experience, it’s like no other place in the world and I’m so happy to be here rowing with Agnieszka,” Buriak said. “It was a big honour to race with you Agnieszka. We have had a lot of messages of support for Ukraine.”

“It may have looked easy but for us it was very tough because it’s our first race but we know we’re racing  for something more than rowing,” Kobus-Zawojska said. “It’s funny because before the race I said to my husband ‘I have an Olympic medal but for this race I am more nervous’ but I think if we want to do something really good there’s always going to be a little bit of stress.”

Read about all action on the water here.

Highlights include:


Notes to the editor


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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