|It's nearly time...|
The second year of Sir Steve Redgrave’s tenure as Regatta Chairman has seen a record entry of 629 crews, including 165 foreign crews—in itself a record, and up 45% on last year’s figure of 114.
The last twelve months have seen two key factors that have contributed to this. Firstly, the award winning live coverage of 2015’s event has been widely lauded, with the same live streaming on YouTube on offer for this year. Aside from the Olympic Regatta perhaps, no other coverage has ever captured the sport in such idyllic style, with the aerial drone coverage illustrating both the unique nature of the course and the beauty of this famous stretch of the River Thames.
A long-called-for change to the entry rules for the Club Events has also been introduced, enabling previous winners of the Thames, Wyfold or Britannia Challenge Cups to again race at this level, with a restriction of two oarsmen in the Thames Cup for eights or a single oarsman in the Wyfold for coxless fours. The Britannia Challenge Cup for coxed fours retains its previous status, rubber stamping its previously perceived status as the lowest ranked of the three events.
Such strength of international interest, combined with the increased numbers in the club events; meant that last Friday’s Qualifying Races represented an extremely expensive head race for some who will now face a week on the bank.
The cumulative effect of these revisions and additional entries? An increase in the standard of competition from both domestic and international crews and a further enhancement of the event as the world’s most prestigious regatta.
While many of the international crews are away, the Dutch are coming to Henley in force and look likely to feature prominently in a number of the top events, including the Grand Challenge Cup for international eights, that looks set to come down to a fight with the Italian eight who narrowly missed out on Rio qualification at Lucerne earlier this year. In addition to this, the top coxless fours and pairs events, The Stewards Challenge Cup and The Silver Goblets & Nickalls’, also looks likely to go to the Rio-bound Dutch crews who have both medalled at this year’s World Rowing Cups.
For strength across the board, the Diamond Challenge Sculls presents a diverse wealth of talent and experience with the 16 entrants heralding from 11 different nations. The top name on the list will take some stopping however, as Olympic Champion Mahé Drysdale finishes his Rio preparations looking for a record equalling sixth title. Look for some tight racing and interesting tactics as the scullers look for any edge over their opponent on what will be real tests of endurance as the scullers fight against this year’s stiff stream as a result of the recent rainfall in the Thames Valley.
On the women's side, any crew coming out of the Princeton Training Center (US) is likely to be a force to be reckoned with—this selected crew is mostly made up of athletes that narrowly missed selection for the Olympics, most of whom won gold at the world championships—including Heidi Robbins, Vicky Opitz, and Olivia Coffey—last year in the women's eight, quad, or four. Needless to say, that'll be a crew we'll have our eyes on as the racing gets underway.
While the depth of some of the Open Events may fluctuate, tight contests in the intermediate events are standard fare and regularly pit the best US crews against varying challenges from the best European University crews to the quickest combinations preparing for the U23 World Championships. Following Yale’s impressive victory over Washington in the Ladies Challenge Plate last year, the entry from the US is sparser in the eight-oared event this time around, with a solitary crew from California entered, which we understand to be mainly composed of their IRA bronze medal-winning 2V.
An interesting match-up on Saturday awaits with the home crowd favourites from Leander, containing five of the crew who were turned over by the Cal second varsity eight in 2014’s final. The final looks likely to be against an outstanding ASR Nereus crew, many of whom won the Temple Challenge Cup last year in record times and who have gone toe-to-toe with international opposition earlier in the season. We can see Leander having too much for the Cal 2V, but a tough race on the Saturday may leave them short of the margin needed against Nereus in the final.
The Visitors Challenge Cup for coxless fours looks set for a battle between four of Cal’s varsity eight and a Dutch combination with vast international experience, while it is hard to look beyond a Leander crew in The Prince of Wales Challenge Cup (M4X), such has their dominance been in recent years.
The strength of global interest in the regatta can really be seen in the club events, where an array of international entries, particularly in the Thames Challenge Cup for eights, will have everyone listening out for the timings announced at the key landmarks down the course from Wednesday onwards, trying to make a meaningful comparison and find reassurance in their crew’s chances! Home interest looks likely to come from Molesey Boat Club in their 150th Anniversary year, but the strength of the competition across the draw makes this one extremely difficult to call. Sydney Rowing Club rarely come away empty handed from the regatta, while a number of junior internationals across the other seeded Dutch, Swiss and German crews means a potential winner could be lurking from any part of the draw!
The standard is similarly high in the Wyfold Challenge Cup for coxless fours and the Britannia Challenge Cup where Thames Rowing Club’s leading entries will be looking to continue on from the work of their Thames Cup-winning eight from last year.
While the American entry in the Ladies Challenge Plate for eights is not as great as in recent years, nine crews out of the 32 on offer in the premier student event, the Temple Challenge Cup, come from the US. It is hard to look past the crew from Oxford Brookes, however, who narrowly lost to the eventual winners from Nereus last year, and with seven of last year’s crew returning are favoured to emerge victorious on this occasion.
Along with the Club and Student events, the bulk of the junior events get started tomorrow, with Westminster School’s eight again on the cusp of securing the final element of a triple, having won the Schools’ Head and National Schools’ Regatta, as per last year.
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-The RR International Research Department