Medical issues are rare at Henley Royal, but can happen at any regatta, and on Friday the lifeguards and paramedics were in action twice within three hours as two rowers needed to be taken out of the boat at the finish. Worrying for supporters and parents, who can now watch everything live on-screen but due to the boat tents move, are unable to do anything to help or reassure. Fortunately neither incident resulted in any concerning medical problems but they were dramatic interruptions to the day.
The first came mid-morning, as Shrewsbury’s junior women’s eight put on an incredibly spirited assault on Lady Eleanor Holles’ slender lead, the entire length of the course. The race looked as if it could have gone either way, with never more than a third of a length lead for LEH, closing to a foot in the Stewards Enclosure as Shrewsbury made their last and biggest attack. But LEH clung on, and as the two crews drifted after crossing the line, on video it could be seen that Shrewsbury 6-seat Maya Gruen was lying back, clearly unwell. The lifeguards immediately got her to the bank for the medics, but had to fly into action again for the first race after lunch.
This was witnessed by most of the Stewards’ Enclosure, since it happened mid-race, the stroke of Oxford Brookes University’s fifth crew in trouble passing the Progress Boards as they were holding off Dutch students Triton in the Temple. The Brookes boys were winning until William Denegri’s blade started to waver, then he collapsed, leaving Triton to shoot ahead and Brookes to drift over the finish line as the lifeguards were already zooming in to help. Fortunately he was conscious as they got him out of the boat, and after some medical attention on land he along with Gruen was said to be “recovering well” in a statement put out later by the regatta. If you’re going to row yourself to a standstill then Henley Royal is a pretty good place to do it.Interestingly because Brookes did pass the line under their own power a margin of victory was given (3.5 lengths), rather than the “not rowed out” result given for technical issues.
Friday’s racing is often amongst the best, as crews bid for semi-finals but there are still 162 of them in action. Amongst the close races were a canvas win for London over Hannover in the Britannia plus a tight 3/4 length for Lea over Nottingham in the Wyfolds, while there were triumphant wins for St Edwards’ School over Abingdon and Westminster over King’s School Wimbledon, overturning the finish order in both pairings from the National School Regatta in May. St Paul’s diligently vanquished the US youth national champions St Joseph’s Prep, who won their first and only HRR trophy in 2000, though they have made the final three more times.
There were ‘A’ vs ‘B’ crew match-ups for Oxford Brookes in the Prince Albert and Island Cups (of which more in Saturday’s report) and also for Tideway Scullers A and B in the new Wargrave women’s club eights. But this time there were no upsets, As beating Bs comfortably. The biggest upset of the day — at least in theory — came in the Princess Royal women’s singles where newly crowned Olympic eights champion Andrea Proske ran out of gas against UK squad hopeful Lauren Henry. It was a superb row-through: Henry, who had finished fourth in the W1x at the Sabaudia World Cup and is not yet in the full GB senior squad, undaunted by Proske’s talent and achievements, and simply standing on the pedal and powering past in mid-race as Proske reached her limit. “If I can’t show her how to win at least I can show her how to lose [gracefully]”, said Proske. “I hope she goes on to win, I only want to lose to the best.”
The days of video coverage at HRR have made appeals a little more likely, because everyone knows that the Stewards can pore over the footage afterwards. Two Wyfold appeals on Friday were turned down on the water, the first from Richard Phelps after Nottingham and Lea had steered into each other on neutral water (this after Nottingham had fixed their steering problem from earlier in the week, when the steering shoe kept getting caught on bolts), and the other a half-hearted appeal from Minerva Bath after they and Kingston moved closer together in the last few strokes. Matt Pinsent told them that had he needed to flourish the flag he had been reaching for, it would have been to warn both crews, as he had earlier in the race, so there was no grounds for a disqualification.
And so we move on towards the weekend, the 26 trophies glittering in the Prizes Tent, waiting to be picked up on Sunday afternoon. We were two years waiting for this, and now it’s going past in a flash.