Records fell on day three, the Thursday of Henley Royal Regatta, and contrary to the forecast it was a wet start for the early racers, but the sun soon appeared as did a helpful tailwind. An American junior crew in the Prince Phillip were the first to capitalise on the fast conditions. On route to their 2½ L win over Hinksley Sculling School, Winter Park Crew set a new record of 7:13 and lowered the times to the Barrier, and Fawley.
The Thames Challenge Cup is 153 years older than the (new) Prince Philip but that didn’t stop Royal Chester and Molesey ‘A’ hunting a Barrier record, which has been held since 1994 by Brown University. Reports from the launch suggest Royal Chester spiked the rate to the timing point but were still pipped by Molesey, who went on to win by 1 ¼ L. Agecroft’s run in the Thames ended at the hands of Thames R.C. in the first race of the day. Thames R.C. will now face Germany’s Münchener R.C.
Uniquely, Thames R.C. have a guaranteed spot in the final of the Wargrave Challenge Cup, after successful progression from their ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ crews in one half of the draw.
Aussie Aussie Aussie
After yesterday’s disappointment of a no re-row, straight DSQ for Melbourne’s University in the Visitors, Aussie supporters welcomed (in full voice) a run of strong performances. First up, the thumping eights-rhythm of Melbourne Girls’ Gramma School put paid to Latymer Upper School’s progress in the Prince Phillip, and shortly after Sydney R.C. dispatched Molesey’s second eight in the Thames.
“It’s tight. There’s nothing in it,” said Don Cech, the Sydney R.C. head coach who won South Africa’s first Olympic medal (a bronze in the M2- at Athens 2004). He’s right – the Sydney M8+ clocked 1:46 to the barrier (just 1 second off the record) a second quicker than Molesey ‘A’ and Thames R.C.
Buoyed by the national effort Cara Grzeskowiak continued the green and gold run in the Princess Royal, with a hard-fought first round win over the selected British sculler, Matilda Hodgkins-Byrne. Olympian Hodgkins-Byrne has taken time out since Tokyo 2020 to start a family, she was pragmatic after her Henley defeat.
“It was a good race. I put everything into it but I don’t have the fitness to turn around so quickly after the Holland Beker. I’ve got speed but I need more training to do repeat performances.”
Hodgkins-Byrne returned to international racing last weekend at the Netherlands’ Holland Beker regatta. She won a bronze medal behind the reigning Olympic champion Emma Twigg and European medallist Roos de Jong, who were in respective first and second places.
Hodgkins-Byrne son Freddy, who is approaching his first birthday, helps keeps things in perspective. “It’s a nice reality check. It can be easy to come off [the water] when it doesn’t go your way and be quite down but he’s still happy. It makes it easier to pick yourself up. I know there’s more to come. It makes you switch off from rowing which I’m really grateful for.”
Later, an entirely different family adventure almost ended in disaster. A hired pleasure boat failed to follow the circulation rules and began chugging up the course towards two oncoming junior women’s quads who were racing past the stewards enclosure. The boat, Redwing, was back on the right side of the booms as Australia’s Pymble Ladies’ College crossed the finish 3 L ahead of Sir William Perkins’s School.
It was the first day for the open W1x, whose eyes are for the Princess Royal Challenge Cup, to race down the famous boomed course. Another minor surprise came late in the day when former New Zealand W4x sculler Samantha Voss lost to Cate Porter of Virginia University, USA.
Poland’s Olympic silver medallist Marta Wieliczko made lightwork of Nottingham University’s Sinead Turner-Frick. Swapping from sweep to sculling, Freya Keto, Cambridge’s 2023 Boat Race winner, cruised through Hazel Wake.
Azerbaijan’s Diana Dymchenko looked relaxed during her winning performance against Jen Titterington. Canada’s Cassidy Deane, who beat the Twickenham R.C. sculler, will likely provide a tougher test. Dymchenko will hope to progress beyond the semis having previous lost three of them in 2018, 2019 and 2022.
One of the tougher match-ups came in the penultimate W1x race: A humdinger between Germany’s Marie-Sophie Zeidler and hometown hero Georgie Robinson Ranger. Robinson Ranger, who learnt to row at Upper Thames before moving to Henley Rowing Club, and now races for the University of London, crept out to a narrow lead. Zeidler amped up the pressure in front of the enclosure crowds, but Robinson Ranger held tough for a 1L victory. (It brought a tear to the eye to one longstanding Tyrian stalwart.)
Zeidler has struggled with long Covid but still hopes to race at Paris 2024. Olympic pedigree runs in the family: Her grandfather, Hans-Johann Farber, is a double Olympic medallist and a member of the great “Bear Four” which won gold at their home Olympics in 1972. Her aunt, Judith, is a double Olympic champion. Her father, Heino, is junior world champion, and her brother is Ollie Zeidler, the former European and reigning M1x world champion.
Brookes ‘A’ continued their Island march, setting new records to the Barrier and Fawley, before soundly beating Edinburgh by 1L, nevertheless it was a solid effort from their north-of-the-border opponents. Brookes ‘C’ fell to the Texas Longhorns, and gladiatorial efforts were on show between Brookes ‘B’ and Penn.
Just before the tea break, Penn pushed Brookes ‘B’ all the way to the finish but not enough to deny Brookes their place in the quarterfinals. It was a good day for Brookes who also enjoyed dominant performances in the Town and Prince Albert, the Dutch scullers from Utrechtsche Studenten Roeivereeniging Triton were unable to spoil the Brookes party.
International Under 23 talent was on show in the Prince of Wales, the Danish scullers representing Bagsvaerd struggled with their steering early in the race and were unable to reel in the Dutch quad from Hollandia Roeiclub.
Late in the day D.R.C. Hannover, whose eight is a combination of German and Ukrainian athletes saw off the Lea R.C. If they don’t win the event, they are still in the running for best dressed athletes, with their blue and yellow dachshund decorated sock. Woof!
Lastly, the sight of Poland’s quad boating as a ‘trod’ (a quad without the fourth sculler present) caused excitement in the press box.