HRR 2017: Thames wins the Thames

After the two wins at Henley Women’s Regatta, including the Bremont award, it was going to be hard to match at Henley Royal. However, I think we just about did it. Our aims were to get four crews selected and through to the weekend as well as the 4th 8 through the qualifiers. Bay F of the boat tents filled up with Thames crews and by Saturday there were just four shells left in the bay, all ours. This is how our crews fared.

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Women’s Pair
Also known as the ‘Bremont Pair’, Nat and Lowenna did not have to go through qualifiers as there were eight entries. They were drawn against the spare Kiwi pair. Naturally this was going to be a tall order, so they were told to go out as hard as possible for as long as possible. It did indeed take the Kiwis until well after Fawley to be able to start lowering the rate as Nat and Lowenna proved once again why they won Elite Pairs at the Met and Elite Lightweight at HWR. They looked extremely good doing it but the Kiwis are a class act – even their spares!

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Women’s Double Sculls
After a big injury scare which hampered Jordan’s HWR campaign, the project to qualify for the new HRR event hung in the balance. After a few trips to the physio, much strapping and painkillers, Suzi and Jordan blazed down the track at qualifiers into the head wind, looked very good doing it and got into the Regatta. They were drawn against the current GB W2x but like the Bremont Pair, gave it as much gas as they could for as long as they could. Again it wasn’t until Fawley that GB were able to reduce their effort. It was shame both crews had internationals in the first round but also, where else can top club domestic athletes race against internationals? The double, as well as the pair, looked technically very good and were worthy competitors at the world’s best regatta.

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Silver Goblets & Nickalls Challenge Cup
The two old warhorses of Ant Lester and James Padmore underwent a strict training regime of precisely three weeks, including a win at Reading Regatta. Much to everyone’s surprise there were only nine entries so it meant they would at least get to race. And race they did, leading an Aussie pair containing a 5:39 ergo, for possibly a stroke somewhere up the island. Luckily James had the sense to reduce the rate at 1/4 mile before his heart and lungs completely gave out and they were able to row at a decent state for the next seven minutes, showing that form is temporary but class is forever.

Britannia, Thames and Wyfold Challenge Cups
The 4th 8 had to go through qualifiers and got in for the fourth year in a row. Led by TRC stalwarts Andrew Curry from the two-seat and Hannah Watkins on the rudder strings they got into this strong field of club crews. They were drawn against York City, nicknamed ‘Dad’s Army’. This crew were certainly mature and experienced, with a few former winners on board, but not very fit. We knew full well that York would try and put as much distance on us as possible before they blew and by the Barrier had opened up a length and a half lead. They maintained this well until the bottom of the enclosures before they ran out of steam. Unfortunately, we ran out of river to catch them, the verdict being 1/2 a length. The lads were devastated not to get through a round like last year’s crew but consoled themselves over beers, having done their best and been in a great race.

Thames Cup B

Thames Cup B

Thames Cup C. Photo Mark Ruscoe

Thames Cup C. Photo Mark Ruscoe

The 2nd 8 was split into 2 fours, one for the Wyfolds and one for the Brit.

The Wyfold four contained three old hands from the TRC programme: 2015 Thames Cup winner Jamie Palmer, Harry Dorrance-King and Will Downey, known for their superb ability to scrap it out when it matters. They were joined by TRC newcomer Luke Wertheim. All four of these guys just failed to make our top 8 but knew a shot at the Wyfolds was on the cards. Stepping up throughout the regatta season and with a strong finish at Marlow they were among four British crews selected as well as some foreign crews. The two opening rounds were easy enough but we knew that Commercial on the Friday was going to be a belter. The Irish crew shot out as we had expected and we were open water down at Fawley, which isn’t ideal. Like their club mates last year in the Visitors in the same position, the four attacked, and kept attacking until they drew level in the enclosures. They managed to sneak in front but failed to break Commercial who had an amazing last sprint. However, Thames managed to hold on and snuck our bows over the line a few inches in front, though there was a tense wait for the photo finish.

The next day we came across the class crew of the regatta in this very strong field, Sport Imperial. The lads gave it a good go but Sport Imperial just had too much pace and inched away over the course to a two length win. They went on to beat Scullers in the final by 2 1/2 lengths. While obviously disappointed, the crew at least got to enjoy the Saturday night and Sunday knowing we had pushed the eventual winners hard.

The Britannia 4+, essentially our third-ranked boat, rowing in a decade old Empacher but with a superb attitude all season, were rightly selected and we thought the semi-final should be within reach. This proved to be the case as this fairly inexperienced crew blew away the opposition in the first two days. The semi saw us facing a crew from from NSR Oslo which contained some very experienced athletes and we knew this was going to be tough. Despite nearly a length lead at the Barrier and Fawley we just couldn’t quite ‘break the string’. Oslo made a big assault approaching the mile, and despite a brave effort by our crew we couldn’t hold them off, Oslo winning by 1/2 a length. They went on to win the final by a length.

The Wyfold (back row) and Britannia (front row) crews

The Wyfold (back row) and Britannia (front row) crews

Both the fours were coached primarily by last years Visitors’ winning steersman, Nick Pusinelli. They have all been great fun and raced hard and though disappointed not to make the final, they were a superb support team for the coaching staff that night and their club mates in the Thames Cup final the next day. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of this lot.

The plan with Thames B, the 3rd 8, was to try and be the best club 8 after our own 1st 8. To be fair, they never beat Leander at any of the Dorney regattas but were close. All the training running into HRR was to set us up for a race against Leander should we come up against them! The crew was coached by Henry Hilder, a former TRC rower who has now become a great coach able to unite and inspire his crews.

As it turned out, we got selected and had a good draw in the top half which contained all the top domestic club crews with the foreigners plus Leander and our own 1st 8 in the bottom half. Having beaten all these crews at Marlow, some quiet thought was given to perhaps being able to make the final but as ever, we insisted we took things one day at a time. This was just as well as a poor row versus a spirited and good Kingston crew nearly saw us taking an early shower. Luckily, our hard training and constant race practice saw us slip through by 1/3 of a length. Strong words of encouragement were had from the coaching staff. On Friday and Saturday the crew showed they had learned their lesson by getting out early, stamping their authority and then closing it out in the 3rd 500 against both Royal Chester and Agecroft. They were in the final!

Thames A, our 1st 8 which we had been building, tweaking and tuning since December, very nearly did not go to the script. The big pressure race against an unknown Oslo crew appeared on the Friday. Oslo were losing finalists last year but were back with a stronger crew and meaning business. In an almost carbon copy of the 3rd 8’s race against Kingston, we failed to put the nail in the coffin where we should have done and a few mistakes and tension saw Oslo hanging in there despite being down by a length at Upper Thames. Instead of drawing away from Oslo after Remenham, the Norwegians began to close fast. Very fast. By the progress board the lead was down to a few feet but, as in the races against Commercial and Kingston, we managed to ‘win ugly’.

Lessons were learned and slightly politer words of encouragement were had and the crew were under no illusion they had to row better the next day to beat a powerful and fit, if inexperienced, Leander crew. They nailed it. Leander hung on for longer than they had done during the earlier regatta season but passing Remenham the Thames crew stepped on the gas and broke clear in their best row of the season, having not made a single mistake and stepped on brilliantly from the day before.

So, two crews in the same final! Some sort of first for our club and possibly a first in an 8 all round? The crews were both invited to the pub for a drink with the coaches but instead went home. The coaches made up for it, ably assisted by the two fours who had been knocked out that day.

Sunday was naturally, a very relaxed and enjoyable day. Despite great ideas in the pub about ‘matched 8s’ or a staggered start, the crews were told to go and show the rowing world the best this club could produce. They did that in fine style, with the B boat going all out to try and lead from the word go. However the 1st 8 produced yet another storming row and were too good for their gutsy club mates. They attacked the course relentlessly and never seemed to back off to enjoy the enclosures. We challenged them to row even better than the day before and see how close they could get to the Grand time – ultimately 13 seconds, just half an hour after the world record holders raced.

What an end to another incredible season. We had a lot of new faces, both rowers and coaches, in September 2016 but as ever we kept the training and racing ethos at the core of everything we do and it all paid off with two wins at Henley Women’s (in record time), two boats in one final at HRR as well as two semi-finals and an Intermediate Women’s 8 that seemingly came out of nowhere. With verdicts of 1/3 length, a canvas and a foot, our crews have proved that they can now win the close ones, even on a bad row.

Skye Landon, one of the men’s captains, came through the ranks as a Thames novice rower and is now a Henley winner just four years after taking up the sport. Seb Tyrie came through the juniors and is now a Henley finallist having stroked the 3rd 8 to their historic campaign.

As ever, it all boiled down to one thing. Teamwork. A great group of coaches who helped each and every crew, backed up by a committee that all want the same thing – a thriving, happy club, that wins on the river.

Ben Lewis, head coach