Henley Saturday Report

Henley Royal Regatta 2023

3 minute read
Words Tom Ransley and Rachel Quarrell
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 01.07.23

Underwhelming weather (grey and chilly, with a fluctuating cross-headwind for the racers) welcomed spectators but some epic contests more than made up for it. If the doppios, cortados and americanos didn’t kick last night’s revellers back into life, the full blooded of roar at the finish, in the second race of the day, from Thames A probably did. An aggressive, full-force club eights race saw Sydney outgunned by 1¼ L.

Row360 coverage of Henley Royal Regatta 2023

Before Sydney’s exodus the morning started with the local Leander boys overhauling the Dutchmen from A.A. S.R. Skøll in the Prince of Wales. The first victory of the day for Leander, this one by 1L. They’ll hope to repeat their performance in the final tomorrow, when they face Hollandia Roeiclub, who beat Thames also by 1L.

Not to be outdone the Leander women delivered a gutsy effort in the Town. They pitched into race six at 40spm a minute and stole an early lead from their Stanford adversaries: but the Americans weren’t ready to fold. By Fawley Stanford had fought back to level-pegging, and led at the Mile. Leander started winding early, building their rate to claw back half a length.

A roaring crowd in the stewards enclosure worked its magic, the gap narrowed, and the pink palace retook the lead. Leander blasted past the enclosures at 42spm with a ½ L at the progress boards, extending it to 1L by the finish. “It was a tough one, but we managed to pull it off,” said Leander’s bowwoman, Daisy Bellamy. “We were confident that we had a good sprint on us.”

In the other semifinal comeback queen Helen Glover enjoyed a second win at her third Henley Royal. As expected the reshuffled British four (Rowan McKellar in for Samantha Redgrave, with Heidi Long and Glover moving to two and three respectively) cruised to the final despite the best efforts of the UL and Leander, who looked utterly spent at the finish.

Shiplake fortunes were amiss today: Tideway Scullers beat them in the Jubilee (1¾ L) and in the P.E., St Paul’s rowed them down and won by ¾ L. The boys were “all fizzed up” said one Shiplake insider, who praised the dogged-yet-defeated crew. St Paul’s coach Bobby Thatcher said he had not expected his crew to lead Shiplake off the start but “the plan worked either way”. His rowers, “spent some time sitting on the result but are now ready to give their all in the final,” added Thatcher.

The second semifinal of the Queen Mother saw Poland’s M4x dismantled the Canada’s Ridley College and Maple bay Rowing Club, winning by 1½ L. (The Maple Bay team name is used for the part of the Canadian national rowing team training out of Ontario and Shawnigan Lake for those training out of British Columbia.)

Afterwards the Polish bowman, Dominik Czaja, said racing at Henley was an opportunity “to show our power” and he was confident going into the final. They will race Great Britain, who an hour earlier had the simple task of sculling over because Austria’s W.R.C. Donauband had withdrawn.

There was disappoint for the Dutch competitors in the Princess Grace who fell to the Brits, and Canada’s Shawnigan Lake School dissected the Dutch quad from Hollandia Roeiclub in clinical fashion, to claim a 2 L victory in the last race before lunch. Hollandia Roeiclub also dropped out of the the Ladies Challenge Cup, soundly beaten by Leander. But beware of Oxford Brookes A warned one Brookes rower, who reckon the burgundy boys are “on song” for a great final.

A gusty, headwind and bouncy water made life tough for the small boats but Diana Dymchenko wasn’t fazed. She built a 1L lead in the first half of her race against Australia’s Cara Grzeskowia. The Ukrainian-turned-Azerbaijani sculler fended off Grzeskowia’s attacks in the second half to win by 1½ L.

After the race Grzeskowia said she was happy with her efforts, had not expected to make the Saturday of Henley, and thoroughly enjoyed her farewell European tour. She wished Dymchenko luck in the final.

Dymchenko meets Poland’s Marta Wieliczko in the final. The Polish Olympian dug deep in her semi to row through Sophia Luwis late in the race. “I was carried by the spectators, the moment I heard ‘Go Poland!’ somewhere in the middle of the course, I thought ‘they believe in me more than I believe in myself, I’ve got to go now’ I strengthened my strokes, turned to look at my opponent, and thought, ‘let’s go!’”

Wieliczko was unexpectedly racing her single after an injury to her teammate, Kasia Zimmerman. “Merely racing here is a mark of huge prestige for me, and a way to go down in history, I have dreamed about competing here, and I absolutely cannot believe I have gotten this far, to the final, I’m really still mulling that through on the inside, but… damn, this is great but yeah, I’ll have to go hard and risk everything in the final.”

In the Temple’s duel between Oxford Brookes A and Washington’s various-varsity mix, Brookes shot off the start like scalded cats to put their noses in front along Temple Island, then sat on a half-length lead until the half-mile when it slid out further. Washington threw in punch after punch but were always on the back foot against a crew — and a club — which knows exactly how to win. Brookes spent as few energy pennies as possible, which was fortunate since Syracuse trounced their ‘B’ crew in the other semi-final and look set to be serious opposition in the final.

Headington School’s run came to an end at the hands of Greenwich School Connecticut, who were runners-up in the US school’s championship this season.  The British champions took a length’s lead off the start, but Greenwich, who know they are slow to begin races, simply started a push soon after the quartermile which built and slowly consolidated into a full-steam charge.  

Headington, who seemed to be stuck in a rate-34-35 rhythm they couldn’t escape, were unable to find a new gear and were agonisingly rowed down by Greenwich who levelled them at the ¾ Mile and dragged out a mere ½ L over the rest of the course. Greenwich now meet Deerfield Academy in an all-US final after Deerfield defeated higher-rating Floridians Winter Park Crew with a more powerful and steady rhythm in a race where the two swapped the lead several times. 

Sitting in the launch for Greenwich was their spare Phelan Bryant, a relative novice, who has become their lucky charm after following each of their victories here. The British crew was watched by local MP and former Prime Minister Theresa May, who takes a great interest in the regatta since her constituency includes the entire Berkshire bank including the Stewards’ Enclosure, Upper Thames RC and Remenham Lane. 

An unexpected drama livened the afternoon when one of the tea-time row-past crews on the way downstream failed to cross quickly enough to miss the Goblets semifinal in which British M2- Ollie Wynne-Griffith and Tom George were leading Yalies Harry Geffen and Miles Beeson by 3 L after Yale had clipped the booms early on.  

Umpire John Hedger stopped the race, fearing a collision, the row-past eight backed hastily out of the course area, and after a wait to check the veterans had gone, Hedger gave the pairs a free restart.  This did not change what had been going on before the stoppage, which was a predictably steady trouncing of Yale by GBR, one of the top pairs in the world this season. There was an unexpected red flag at the finish, perhaps to give the umpire time to check that no re-row was needed, before the Britons were adjudged the winners by 2.5 lengths (rating 24 at the finish).

The other Goblets semi was a total classic, featuring a new young Canadian pair (Jack Walkey and Joel Cullen) against Dutch development athletes Eli Brouwer and Pieter van Veen.  In one of the relentlessly tightest races for many years the two pairs charged up the first 2000 metres never more than a quarter-length apart, the Dutchmen leading at first then the Canadians taking over.  They stretched their lead to ⅓ length at Fawley but that just inspired the Dutch oarsmen to fight on, closing the Canadians down to a canvas before Remenham.  It was toe-to-toe from then on, prizefight material, before Walkey and Cullen managed to move away in the closing strokes for a ½-length victory. 

In the Diamonds Olli Zeidler steam-rollered Canada’s Trevor Jones. Meanwhile the floating Elvis impersonators serenaded stewards merrymakers with a rendition of The Wonder of You. “You give me strength to carry on…” A beleaguered Jones carried on to the finish where Zeidler waited: easily verdict, easily achieved for the German champion.

Evening was drawing nearer as the second Fawley semi set off, and the next seven minutes provided a classic junior quads race, no holds barred between Windsor Boys’ School and Leander. The Pink Palace’s seat-shuffle since National School, where Windsor Boys beat them by nearly three seconds, seems to have done Leander no harm, as they got their noses in front then held off push after determined push by WBS to cross the line three feet in front. 

A rendition of God Save The King concluded the day’s racing, for the first time since 1951.

Row360 coverage of Henley Royal Regatta 2023