There’s a lot of it about this year — medical withdrawals, that is. After Emma Twigg withdrew on Thursday for medical reasons, on Friday morning she confirmed that it was Covid (using the microbe emoji) which came as no surprise to onlookers who had spotted the entire Kiwi team wearing masks wherever they went. Shortly after this news had landed, Grace Prendergast and Kerri Williams (neé Gowler) withdrew from the regatta too, though only one of them was affected. The Kiwi entry for Lucerne could end up being quite slim if this continues, since they are running out of athletes.
Separately Ukraine-born Diana Dymchenko, who is now racing for Azerbaijan (she is a dual national) was able to scull over serenely before lunch when GBR sculler Hannah Scott withdrew due to an injury. American W1x Kara Kohler remains hale and hearty in the same side of the draw as Dymchenko, with the other Kiwi, Lucy Spoors, now facing the intrepid and frequently unbeatable lightweight Imogen Grant in the semi-final. The first outing for Olena Buriak and Agnieszka Kobus-Zawojska in their combination UKR/POL double was a solid though close win for them over the Redhead Scullers duo. Kobus-Zawojska pointed to the POL/UKR peace heart on her suit as they finished, though it was later upstaged by the perennial outsize floating duck coming downstream accompanied by the singing Elvises and wearing a peace symbol around its neck.
A lot of selected crews went through smoothly on Friday, but there were upsets for the German men’s pair, pushed out by Oxford Blues Ollie Cook and Liam Corrigan in the Goblets, and Denmark’s W2- in the Hambleden pairs, who lost to two of the Leander squad. Australia’s M1x Barthelot took out newly selected US sculler Ben Davison after levelling with him at the Barrier, while Vesta calmly dealt with Sydney’s aspirations in the Wargrave to win by three-quarters of a length. It was not a good day for lightweights (breeze blustery and variable but mostly cross-head) so the Kiwi LM2x tried but failed against the French/Dutch international combination of Guillaume Turlan and Wibout Rustenburg, and their female counterparts were undone by France’s excellent openweight Olympians Elodie Ravera and Helene Lefebvre, who were unaccountably not selected by the Stewards but are likely to win the whole Stonor event.
China’s women’s eight, over in Henley with their men’s eight and both quads, very nearly had a disaster after their Remenham Challenge quarter-final against a Leander/TSS composite. The Chinese clearly didn’t notice when they swished through the finish line a cool four lengths up on the GB development crew but carried on at a belting pace, clearly still thinking they were racing and heading straight for an unsuspecting cruiser above the course. Luckily the cox realised in time to do a face-saving and very rapid emergency stop to avert a tragedy.
This was lucky for the Chinese team’s performance director, also known as Henley Royal Chairman Sir Steve Redgrave, who may have forgotten to brief them due to being on the river doing a teatime 1981 anniversary row-past with Eric Sims, his partner in crime when winning the Double Sculls. Rowpasts were the order of the day, finally resuming after three years gap and with lots to catch up on. There were a total of fourteen on Friday, of which the most venerable was the 1975 winners of the Wyfolds, Thames Tradesmen, though a neat gender-equality option nowadays is to have a boat club centenary rowpast done by a mixed crew.
Another eight’s cox had a better time, Yale’s Esha Bhattacharya successfully navigating her first ever race with the Yale men’s varsity eight, having steered the women’s second crew for most of the season. They defeated Molesey and Mercantine in the Ladies’ Plate (for elite men’s eights) and will now meet Leander, the last remaining British crew in the event. The Bulldog women beat Washington’s JV to progress to a semi-final meeting with UL in the Island student eights. Meanwhile an eight made up of the Belgrade GBR W4-, W2- and two spares racing as Imperial/Leander progressed to meet a very similar national squad based team from Princeton and ARION USA (the Advanced Rowing Initiative Of the Northeast) on Saturday.
A British winner is guaranteed in the Princess Elizabeth schoolboy eights, after St Paul’s School beat King’s School Parramatta in a brilliantly judged race. The Londoners left nothing to chance, blasting off so strongly that the Australians simply couldn’t find a way back, clawing to overlap but never quite able to level with them. The eventual verdict was 3/4 of a length, the tightest of the day in the event and pits St Paul’s on Saturday against fellow Tideway natives KCS Wimbledon who disposed quickly of the only other overseas entry left, Woodrow Wilson High School. On the other side of the draw Saturday will feature one of the great classic match-ups: season’s leaders Eton (who beat King’s Chester) against the unknown quantity of the latest Radley eight who had made Shrewsbury look slow earlier in the day.
After the drama of the Brookes/Vichy re-row the day before it was a quieter time for steering issues, though several winning crews both coxed and coxless earned reprimands from Steward umpires for infringing the rule about staying in one’s water. No false starts were awarded this time but it was clear that might happen in future if they continued to stray carelessly across to wash their rivals’ down. Some of the best racing was reserved for the end of the day, when Thames narrowly beat Taurus in the Wyfolds, and Oxford University B outdid their A crew (and the Blues combination from Cambridge) by reaching the semi-finals over the bodies of Oxford Brookes A, though the latter is not their top crew. Oslo in the Wyfolds beat Upper Thames by a canvas, clinging on to a slender lead as they came under fire from the local club, and Windsor Boys’ B crew capitalised when Dolphin Club (USA) crabbed badly near Fawley and then lost heart.
The remaining semi-finals are on Saturday, the regatta narrowing down to the real business as those who have been beaten finally remove their boats to the trailers.