ACE Series, Part 11: Henley Royal Regatta Begins with a Draw

Photo: Hannah Wagner

The Henley Royal Regatta draw took place Saturday afternoon, in a room with no air conditioning. Fate and the stewards smiled upon some crews, and seemed to laugh at others (Cornell vs. Syracuse in the Temple Challenge Cup on day one—one assumes that had St. Joe’s or Drexel come this year, they’d have gotten Temple first).

Not many things in life are decided by a Commander of the British Empire in a blue blazer with five Olympic gold medals picking your name out of a goblet, but Henley isn’t like a lot of things in life.

First off, the Temple. The wording of eligibility used to exclude anyone that made a "blue"—i.e., made one of the top two eights of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race—or the American equivalent. This was typically enforced as no one from an EARC or PAC-12 first varsity eight.

That was replaced with "won a U23 medal."* Never say never, but it's now conceivable that any of the top American collegiate crews with just the right blend of foreigners (or none at all—Wisconsin, we’re looking at you) can take a whack at the Temple. Entries will always remain at Stewards' discretion—one doubts that an eight that won IRAs without any U23 medalists in it (still possible?) would not be corralled into the Ladies Plate—but this year alone, entries from Washington, Cornell, Yale, and Syracuse all feature (per gossip) at least one first-varsity oarsman.

"Not many things in life are decided by a Commander of the British Empire in a blue blazer with five Olympic gold medals picking your name out of a goblet, but Henley isn’t like a lot of things in life."

Banter says this was done to level the playing field against Oxford Brookes—too fast, and too deep! But that rising tide may be lifting other boats as anyone on the banks of the Thames this week will have seen some sharp-looking Newcastle University crews pass by.

And that's the big shake-up. Perhaps more relevant to the arc of this series, though, are the rules regarding the club events.

Thames Rowing Club won the Thames Challenge Cup Eight in 2015 and 2017; the latter being of particular note for being a Thames 'A' vs. Thames 'B' final. In the 'club' events—the Thames eight, Wyfold four, and Britannia coxed four—there are restrictions regarding previous winners, not unlike the club events at the Head Of The Charles. Namely, no more than two members of any of those crews may have won any of these three events previously—the logic presumably being that if you win one of the Henley club events, your crew ought to be bumped up to the next level. Except for two guys. Whatever.

Thames is relevant specifically because they won last year, and have seven (seven!) entries in the regatta this year, and that's not counting composites. Our Wyfold four will face them on Wednesday, secure in the knowledge that no more than half that crew won the event the year before. Phew! At least we didn't have to qualify (both of our entries were selected and were thus able to bypass the time trial qualification races Friday afternoon and evening). And our Wyfold crew was seeded, which hopefully bodes well.

Thames Cup crew members (Left to right: Matt Kleber, 5; Matt O'Donoghue, stroke; David Watson, 4; Michael "Smiles" Cunningham, 3) Photo: Hannah Wagner

Meanwhile, the Potomac eight draws the seeded Cork Boat Club on Wednesday. There are plenty of cards we'll keep close to the chest, but there's no reason to hide the fact that of course we have not only worked out what the various paths forward and sets of competitors we'll face are, but are, even as I type, working up full due diligence reports on all of them.

Of Thames, Leander, NSR Oslo, and Cork—the four seeded crews in the Thames Eight—the first two are both fairly known quantities in our event. Even NSR Oslo seems a safe bet for the weekend given their consistent speed focused on one event these past few years. Most of the rest of the British field can be estimated as 'x' seconds back from those crews based on various regattas over the past few months, and any major gaps can be filled in by watching the qualifiers or lurking in the bushes during daylight practices.

What do we know about Cork, though? Well of course there's Instagram and social media. And there are results from Head of the River, the Metropolitan Regatta, and the Cork Regatta last week; we've already devoted a fair bit of computing power to cross-referencing the lineups and readying ourselves for the publication of the day one schedule, so we know as much about who we're up against as best as possible.

Except none of this matters. One. Bit. If we had somehow determined that this was a crew that for all intents and purposes should have raced as IRL1 and won the Linz world cup, what about our race plan would have changed? Or what if we found out this was some massive error in seeding the event and in fact this was a recreational eight that was seeded based on an Excel typo at town hall?

You can give all due credit and respect to your opponents while at the same time acknowledging that some draws are better than others. All the same, the goal is still to win every race.

Unless you're racing St. Paul’s, because... wow.

*Specifically: "No oarsman shall compete in this event if he has won a medal at a World Under 23 Championships."

-Peter Clements

Coming up next: It Begins...

Note: This series will be regularly published throughout the 2018 Henley Royal Regatta. View all posts in this series by clicking the label 'ACE Series.'


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