Henley Royal Regatta 2022 ended on a high note as the unforgiving headwind finally dropped, leaving the door open to some faster times. Just in time for real rowing enthusiasts, the sun came out to grace Sunday’s finals and the 171st prizegiving beside the now-calmer waters of the Thames.
With Covid restrictions lifted in the UK plenty of internationals came on a pot-hunt, a successful one for most, though the Danish women’s four had to go away empty-handed after being ground through by the impressively persistent New Zealand women’s four. 2019 world champion Oli Zeidler bagged his second pineapple cup and Diamonds title, beating the Australian spare sculler David Bartholot but having to work to do so, a newly confident Bartholot on fire after finishing seventh at the second world cup regatta.
There were mixed successes but some cause for elation for each of Australia, Britain, China and the USA. The biggest successes of the regatta for Team GB were clear-water victories in the two prestigious eights events: the Grand Challenge Cup and the Remenham Challenge Cup for international men and women respectively. The biggest surprise may have been the women’s win: watched by their coaches and performance director in the launch the GBR four and both pairs (for Lucerne) combined to form a fast and indomitable eight which were initially led by the Australians — fourth at the Poznan world cup — but then confidently rowed them down. Grabbing the lead (appositely) at Remenham Club, the British crew quickly pulled through to claim a clear victory only one second outside the quick course record, which put to bed the team worries that a GB eight might be uncompetitive internationally. Most of these oarswomen will be busy in small boats for the rest of the season and it is not standard practice for GBR to put all its eggs in one basket, so don’t expect them to suddenly swap boats for the Europeans. But their convincing speed opens the door to two interesting possibilities: perhaps now a good enough eight can be constructed from the spare pair and the remaining sweep rowers, or maybe doubling up might just be considered an option.
The GB men’s eight was also brilliant, and also just outside the course records (1, 1 and 3 seconds respectively at the Barrier, Fawley and finish). Britain won the first world cup against low-key opposition and Australia had finished only two seconds down on winners Germany at the second world cup, so it could have been a close contest. But in a change of personality after making it look tough against the Americans the day before, the Brits raced to their full potential, claiming half a length inside the first minute and then simply motoring away. Australia were far from slow but their only real challenge came at the Quartermile, repelled because the send on the GBR finishes gave more run to the British boat. Given that this crew will definitely be strengthened once the decision about the pairs is made, Project Eight is showing all the hallmarks of being a classic GBR success, an encouraging sign for the Paris Olympics, and the Australians should also be aiming for medals this season.
To compensate them for losing the eights, Australia did manage to claim two HRR trophies, in the men’s doubles and fours, both by close margins. The Double Sculls pitted Australia’s Caleb Antill and Jack Cleary against Brits Matt Haywood and George Bourne, two crews who have both finished several seconds behind the star Croatian Sinkovic brothers this season. Either might have been forgiven for thinking they would win, but the Aussies managed to take enough of a lead by the Barrier to assure their win despite the British duo pushing them all the way. The final sprint up the Enclosures saw the margin closed from 1.5 to 0.3 lengths in a very short space of time, but despite the extra 112 metres Haywood and Bourne couldn’t quite manage to upset the form in their final strokes.
The Stewards’ Challenge Cup was an exceptional race, one of those worth remembering for years. Australia were obvious favourites as 3/4 of the Olympic champion crew, up against a British four changed recently due to ongoing illness, and therefore effectively a scratch combination although bow and stroke had won at the first world cup with different crewmates. Australia’s crew set off like bats out of hell and raced the entire course at 39 or above, holding the best part of a length’s lead most of the way and briefly clearing the GB crew during the middle section. But Freddie Davidson never knows when he is beaten and mounted a huge charge up the Enclosures, rapidly bringing the British bowball closer and closer to an upset while the Aussies looked increasingly ragged, nearly catching a crab twice in the final strokes. The photofinish replay showed that the GB four had indeed gone ahead just before the line, but on the last stroke they took the catch a fraction after the Australians, meaning the latter were surging forward across the line and got it on the nose. A one-foot verdict to Australia, absolutely amazing.
There was delight for China’s quads, not only the women’s quad containing three Olympic champions winning the Princess Grace in a tight contest against Australia by a narrow margin, but also the men’s quad defeating the new US crew by two lengths. To make up for that the US women’s duo of Meghan Musnicki and Lucy Morrison won the Hambleden Pairs easily against Leander, and the US women’s lightweight double, Michelle Sechser back with her partner Molly Reckford after the latter recovered from Covid, beat the Aussie LW2x of Anneka Reardon and Lucy Coleman by a similar margin to that they achieved in Poznan last month. Kara Kohler, who is about to go back into the US W2x for Lucerne, became only the third American sculler to win the Princess Royal Challenge Cup, beating British lightweight Imogen Grant by 2.25 lengths, Grant making it hard for Kohler despite the difference in power.
An enthralling Goblets battle saw Ollie Wynne-Griffith and Tom George of the GB national squad lead initially against Matt Macdonald and Thomas Mackintosh from New Zealand. Each pair has won one world cup but not met until now, so when the Kiwi push began soon after halfway, the outcome was not clear. In the end rate made the difference, the New Zealanders keeping the rate at 36 or above the whole way, and upping it to rip strongly through GBR (racing as Cambridge) as they passed Upper Thames. They then managed to hold off George’s final sprint to the line. The final margin was a rather generous 2/3 length but it will be very interesting to see what happens when the two meet again next weekend.
Thames had an exceptionally good week, claiming three of the four club trophies and their Wargrave club women’s eight setting increasingly large records to every marker as they defeated Leander by nearly two lengths. Max Gillard, bowman of the Thames RC Britannia coxed four which held their nerve to stay narrowly ahead of Leander’s Enclosure charge, won the trophy thirty years after his father, David Gillard having won the same event with Goldie as a prelude to becoming U23 world champion in the summer of 1992. The title which eluded Thames was the Thames Cup for club men’s eights, a re-run of the 2021 final between them and Molesey keeping spectators at the riverbank for the last race of the regatta. This time it went Molesey’s way after the west London club came back through Thames’ early lead and fended off numerous sprints from Thames to win by 2/3 length at the line.
Leander did have some consolation, taking the Ladies’ Challenge Plate (in past years a frequently controversial event) a calm length ahead of California Berkeley, with one substitute the undefeated varsity eight and US national champions. The Pink Palace put the Golden Bears on the back foot for the first time this season and then reaped the rewards of Cal’s subsequent lack of confidence, able to cruise just ahead of Cal’s unsuccessful pushes and then consolidate the win in the Enclosures. Leander also won their tenth Prince of Wales elite quads title, nine of them having been claimed within the last 12 years. This time they had an easy win against Reading University, one of the less dramatic races in a good finals day.
It wasn’t a great regatta for Cal, who also had to suffer the ignominy of their freshmen losing to Oxford Brookes in the Prince Albert student coxed fours, the university equivalent of the Britannia. Oxford Brookes also took out the Temple Challenge Cup for student eights, beating the University of Washington who had done well to get to the final, by a commanding 4.5 lengths. This was Brookes’ 25th win as a non-composite club and their fifth Temple win in the last ten years. However the Visitors’ Challenge Cup for elite coxless fours went to half of Washington’s varsity crew, after they won an absolutely extraordinary race rowing through Tideway Scullers/Molesey very late in the race to take the win by only three feet.
US universities did score another success in the women’s student eights, Brown University beating Yale by nearly two lengths in the Island Challenge Cup. But the smooth-rowing Winter Park (US) couldn’t quite get past the much rougher St Catherine’s Australia in the Prince Philip Cup for junior women’s eights, despite a superb sprint to the line. St Paul’s School upset Radley’s chance of breaking their 26-year drought in the Princess Elizabeth for schoolboy eights, taking an early lead and fighting off all Radley’s attempts to row through them to win by 0.3 lengths with a J15 and two J16s on board. Claires Court School managed to get through Redwood Scullers (US) narrowly to claim the Diamond Jubilee junior women’s quads in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, holding their nerve as Redwood went ahead and then grinding through them in the last third of the race for a 2/3 length verdict. In the Fawley junior men’s quads Windsor Boys A were pitted against their B crew, with no surprises as to the result, but congratulations to the club for being the first ever in the junior quads to have two crews in the final.