Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Henley Royal Regatta, 2012: RR Picks and Predictions

View from the enclosures, HRR (Photo: © B. Kitch)
Picks and predictions for Henley are notoriously difficult in Olympic years, especially with a huge entry of 499 crews, but at RowingRelated we’re here to give it our best (some would say educated?) guess, despite the fact that the Stewards’ press release describes the entry as 'fascinatingly unpredictable!'

With Olympic crews away on training camps ahead of the Games, the open events that usually witness the big players of the international circuit in match racing mode, tuning up for Lucerne, are instead somewhat more 'open,' featuring a mixture of non-qualified international crews, or top level university or club entries sensing their moment to try and claim one of the most prestigious prizes in rowing. Another element that’s accentuated in Olympic years is the discretion of the regatta Stewards, as their aim for a high standard of competition across the board will have inevitably led to some cajoling of certain entries into events above their station to try and engineer this (see Brown stepping up to the Grand and also, in our opinion, potentially the decision to move the Hansa Dortmund entry in the Thames Cup up to the Ladies).

There are also fears that the conditions this year will play a part in many races. The Thames Valley had, similarly to much of Britain, experienced three of the driest winters on record. However, since April that shortage has been completely reversed and has seen widespread flooding across the UK. Conditions similar to those of 2007 are therefore a possibility, when leads of a full length entering the Stewards’ Enclosure were overturned in the final stages as the crew on the Bucks station were left exposed to the stream in the middle of the course. If this is the case, it will undoubtedly lead to some different race strategies being seen and potentially some difficulties for steersmen of small boats.

And now, without further ado, here are our picks for HRR 2012:

Open Events

The Grand Challenge Cup – M8+

Pretty tricky one to call first up! The Dutch and Italian crews are their countries respective lightweight eights, whilst the Australian and German entries are U23 selections preparing for the forthcoming championships in Lithuania. Many of the combinations will not have any racing experience in these lineups, so obviously there’s no form guide as such we can refer to. For the romantic in us, we would like to see the entry from California Rowing Club, formed from guys who made huge sacrifices in their attempt to make the U.S. Olympic eight take the prize – for many of this crew, this may well be their final opportunity before heading back to their chosen vocations… Brown have been encouraged by their alumnus and recently appointed HRR Steward Jamie Koven to step up to this top level event, instead of the Ladies Plate, so it will be interesting to see how their undeniable speed from this season matches up against international opposition.

The Remenham Challenge Cup – W8+

Again, U23 crews are the cream of this crop–a highly talented field including Germany, Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, France, and a GB composite (Leander and Sport Imperial)–making predictions all but impossible. Look for Radcliffe to make the second round, as the Black and White are set to race Thames and Henley (whom Radcliffe defeated by a 1 and 1/2 lengths at Henley Women's Regatta).

Stewards’ Challenge Cup – M4-

This looks a straight showdown between Australia and New Zealand’s U23 crews. Unfortunately, given the controversy regarding the Boat Race this year, we cannot see the Oxford University entry, featuring their top four athletes, challenging either of the antipodeans.

The Queen Mother Challenge Cup – M4x

Providing they have continued training with the same focus and intensity, the Danish M4x who missed out on Olympic qualification at Lucerne look like the pick of the entries here. Their main challengers, the Australian and New Zealand U23 crews, are unlikely to be peaking given their forthcoming championships, so look for the Danes to walk away with the medals in this event.

Princess Grace Challenge Cup – W4x

Another host of U23 crews are on show in this event, including Australia and New Zealand. It’s a little strange that the crew from Leander has been overlooked for selection however, given it is looking to be selected for the European Chmpionships and features Rachel Gamble-Flint, GB’s entrant in the W1x at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta as well as Sarah Cowburn, fresh from NCAA victory with Virginia.

The Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup – M2-

A large number of international lightweight pairs have entered this year, but predictably given the format of the regatta and the unsettled forecast for this year’s regatta, we are again picking the best of the HWs as the likely contenders. Dan Ritchie, stroke of the GB M8+ for the two previous seasons, but who’s injury plagued winter marked the end of his Olympic challenge, teams up with fellow squad member Tom Broadway having publicly announced his ambition at claiming this event. We expect their main challengers to be Christomanos & Lampridis, the second Greek pair from the recent World Cup regattas, Molina & Lang, who were in the French crew that failed to qualify for the men’s 8 at Lucerne. Little has been seen of Ritchie and Broadway this season apart from their efforts at the final British Olympic trials, but if they’re on the start line, anything apart from victory in the final will be further disappointment for them. Also, keep an eye on the U.S. combination of Jamie Koven and Mike Blomquist, both of whom were training all year in hopes of making the U.S. squad for London.

The Double Sculls Challenge Cup – M2x

Undoubtedly the weakest of the Open events this year, the Leander crew of Collins & Sinclair are probably favorites given their recent form, knowledge of the course and focus on this event. We potentially expect the two Norwegian crews from Oslo Kraftsenter (featuring individuals who were trialled for the World Rowing Cup III champion Norwegian M2x) to challenge, but their apparent doubling up in the Queen Mother gives us concern over their focus - racing or merely coming for the experience?

The Diamond Challenge Sculls – M1x

For us, Graeme Thomas’s 4th place finish at the recent Munich World Cup makes him clear favorite. Andrew Campbell and Duncan Grant, two of the world’s top lightweight scullers that did not make the Olympics are also in attendance and will certainly want to add their names to the prestigious list of previous winners. Look for young British scullers Johnny Walton and Luke Moon to try and progress through a round or two.

The Princess Royal Challenge Cup – W1x

Similarly to the Diamonds, Sanita Puspure’s achievement in reaching the A final in Munich, in addition to her success at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta, make her the obvious selection. However, the presence of Laura Schiavone and 2012 C.R.A.S.H.-B Sprints champion Kaisa Pajusalu, two of Puspure's competitors in Lucerne, suggest that the racing will be tight.


Intermediate Events

The Ladies Challenge Plate – M8+

An interesting recent addition to the entrants has been the Hansa Dortmund crew that were initially in the Thames Cup. Believed to be a German U23 development crew, the Stewards’ decision to enforce this change can be seen in two lights. Firstly, as they fully admit that the crew are initially formed from seven different clubs and are therefore a composite in all but name (a bit of a giveaway given that Hansa Dortmund is the racing name of their national training center!), but also secondly that the level of competition in the Ladies Plate is potentially somewhat lacking due to the loss of top crews from the Grand, and could do with strengthening to ensure that the weekend races are suitably competitive. On this line however, the bottom half of the draw is somewhat lopsided as the Army/Thames entry has been (very surprisingly) afforded a bye to the Saturday. We expect a strong Leander crew featuring world LM2- champion Kieren Emery in the stroke seat, backed up by many U23 medalists to make the final where they are likely to face a Harvard crew extremely similar to the one they knocked out last year – a bit of a grudge match beckons!

The Visitors’ Challenge Cup – M4-

In our view, the clear favorites for the Visitors’ are the Brookes/Molesey entry. However, as the crew represented Great Britain at last year’s European championships, we feel it’s slightly controversial that in a year where numerous U23 crews have been ‘invited’ to step up to the highest level, they are able to continue to race against predominantly domestic crews – a large margin of victory, contrary to the Stewards’ desires may result. Last year’s Wyfold winning crew from London RC are reunited in their assault on the next level, but as lightweights will be up against the expected conditions. The selected crew from Nereus look the pick from the top half of the draw.

The Prince of Wales Challenge Cup – M4x

Leander have made this event their own over the past few years, but we feel they may have a formidable adversary this year in the form of Melbourne University. Coached by Alex Henshilwood, who led Eton to successive PE victories before returning last year with the dominant Upper Yarra crew in the Thames Cup, success is a continuing theme for crews under his tutelage. They look set to face the Leander crew, featuring two of last year’s winning members as well as Jamie Fraser-McKenzie from Zimbabwe who will be racing the M1x at the Olympics, in a Saturday showdown that is likely to decide the eventual winners.


Club Events

The Thames Challenge Cup – M8+

Without Hansa Dortmund, it now looks far likelier that a British club will reclaim the Thames Cup. The inconsistent form of the main competitors means there is no stand out favorite, but expect to see Thames, Molesey and Upper Thames fighting it out by the weekend, with each of these crews the lead boat created from the respective squads of these large clubs. The returns of Myles Neary and Jack Shepherd from Washington and an extremely favourable draw which will not see them face any of their main adversaries until the final make Molesey clear favourites in our eyes however, whilst Thames must overcome a potentially tricky Sport Imperial crew on the first day of the regatta ahead of a potential meeting with Upper Thames on Saturday. Also of note will be our OTW series' own Potomac Boat Club (USA), with an entry made up of several members of their semifinal crew from 2010, and having been selected by the Stewards.

The Wyfold Challenge Cup – M4-

This looks the most difficult of all the club events to predict, and that’s without factoring in the likelihood of issues with steering this year! The clubs of seven different nations make the 32 boat line-up, however ANA Rowing Club from Western Australia are the sole selected overseas crew despite the presence of a crew from Upper Yarra, last year’s Thames Cup winners in this event. The crew from Griffen Boat Club (Abingdon School Alumni) have caused some controversy, as in addition to being a school alumni club, some of the crew had spent most of the year training as part of the development squad at Leander, who continue to be outlawed from club events due to the vast chasm in resources that exists between them and all other British clubs. Little is known about ANA however, and it is also uncertain whether the selected Star entry is the quicker half of last year’s eight that lost the final of the Thames Cup.

The Britannia Challenge Cup – M4+

The 2011 Thames Cup runners-up Star Club who lost out to last year’s outstanding Upper Yarra crew were expected to be the front-runner in that event again. The same speed hadn’t been forthcoming this season however, so the decision has apparently been taken to prioritise the ‘Brit’ in the search of the long sought after win. Similarly to last year, little has been seen of Star, and this has not gone unnoticed by the Stewards who have not selected them, although their selection in the Wyfold suggests that they could have changed their focus to this event. The main other crews to look out for are Taurus, featuring former world erg champion Graham Benton, London and an Eton Vikings (Eton School alumni) crew with PE winning pedigree, although the Phoenix RC entry from Adelaide has also been selected.


Student Events

The Temple Challenge Cup – M8+

The standout crew is clearly the unbeaten Washington frosh, but as many before have encountered, plenty can happen over the five consecutive days of match racing. The IRA lightweight champions Harvard are, on paper, their closest opposition, but the Crimson may find conditions against them if the expected stream and headwind sets in. Racing from the Friday onwards will be hugely competitive in this event as other U.S. entries battle it out with European entries such as Nereus from Holland and interestingly this year, St Petersburg from Russia. The top British crews of Durham and Oxford Brookes will be dreaming of making the weekend, but will more than likely find the speed of their overseas opponents a little too hot to handle.

The Prince Albert Challenge Cup – M4+

The draw this year has neatly split the selected crews, with the British (Newcastle and Imperial College) occupying the top half and their U.S. counterparts (Harvard and Brown) the bottom. However in our opinion, a big omission by the Stewards has been the non-selection of the University of London ‘A’ crew in the bottom half, who displayed some serious speed at the Holland Beker in Amsterdam recently. We feel they have the potential to overcome the U.S. opposition and make their way to the final, potentially against Newcastle in a rare all-British HRR student final.


Junior Events

Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup – JM8+

Abingdon and Hampton the form British crews, with Abingdon the home country favorites in the event this year. U.S. entries likely to show some speed are Belmont Hill (whose M4+ recently took a very close silver at the USRowing Youth National Championships, and who won both the first and second Boys' Fours at the 2012 NEIRA Regatta), and Groton (who also had podium finishes in the Boys Fours at NEIRA). Tabor Academy and Philips Exeter Academy finished in silver and bronze medal position, respectively, in the Boys First Eight grand final at NEIRA, and BC High also made the final, placing 5th overall. It will be interesting to see how these NEIRA crews, accustomed to racing over 1500m, respond to what will likely be very slow racing conditions on a 2,112 meter course.  Ridley College of Canada, coached by Canadian Olympian Jason Dorland, is also a crew to watch (and is one of the selected crews for the event), having had a very successful domestic season this year.

Fawley Challenge Cup – JM4x

Sir William Borlase are the hot favorites from Britain, but an Australian crew usually comes along to take this event away. Sydney RC, previous winners, know what is required in this event so must be fancied. Conestoga High School (USA) should also be very competitive, coming off a very close bronze medal finish at the U.S. national championships (less than 0.1 from second place).

Junior Women’s Quadruple Sculls – JW4X

This is a new event, and a first one for junior women at Henley Royal. The selected crew from Canford School is our favorite to win the event.

There you have it! Good luck to all crews and we look forward to seeing how our picks play out over the course of the regatta!

-The RR Editorial Staff, in combination with the RR International Research Department

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