Henley Women’s Regatta 2016

As the pinnacle of the women’s rowing calendar, Henley Women’s Regatta (HWR) stands alone as an iconic event. Not only is it unique in its picturesque setting, but the side-by-side racing, the narrow un-buoyed course, the booms, and the competitive draw make the coveted red boxes a real challenge to win. 2016’s HWR proved to be a very positive end to the season for the Thames women’s squad. Good conditions over the weekend allowed the five TRC crews – Senior 8+, Senior 1x, Elite 2-, Club 4+ and Club 8+ – to enjoy a few days of great racing at a well-organised regatta.

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Senior Eight
The women’s 1st 8 came out of a strong head season, finishing sixth overall in the Women’s Eights Head of the River, and continued their success into the summer regattas with 2 wins in the Senior 4+ and some second and third place finishes in the S8+ and S4-. The self-named ‘Ocho’ – stemming from its formation on training camp in Seville – had sanguine expectations for some tough racing at HWR, and was excited to see what a new line-up was capable of.

In the first race of the regatta on the Friday, the girls took on Grand Valley State University from Michigan. They lead off the start and were able to respond to pushes from Grand Valley quite comfortably throughout the race, reflected in the verdict of 1-1/2L. This served as good preparation for Saturday’s quarterfinal against Princeton University’s 2nd 8 (Princeton’s 1st 8 were racing in the Elite event).

Thames vs Princeton ‘B’ was a tight and gutsy race: Thames maintained overlap throughout the course – the commentary remarked several times, ‘Thames aren’t letting go” – but were outrowed by an excellent Princeton unit who won by 2/3 length and maintained their composure throughout the regatta to win the GP Jefferies Memorial Trophy for Senior Eights.

Determined to qualify for the Remenham Challenge Cup at Henley Royal the following week, after some well-deserved hours of rest the women’s 8 were back training on the course that same evening. Sadly they missed out on a spot in the event, coming up against some very strong competition, but were second-fastest non-qualifiers and recorded a faster time than the high performance centres of University of London and Newcastle in the process, as well as Tideway Scullers School. It wasn’t quite the tour de force they wanted and had trained so hard for, but nevertheless they can be proud of how they ended the 2015-2016 season. Credit must go to coach Jamie Croly for his belief and hard work throughout the year.

Senior W1X/ W2X
After the Women’s Eights Head of the River Sophie Theodorou and Meghann Jackson decided to get back into their singles for the regatta season: Meg was intending to earn a place on the Canadian national squad, and Sophie’s goal was to win Senior 1x at Henley Women’s. Following a series of satellite trials, Meg was selected to represent Canada in the LW4X at the World Championships in Rotterdam in August but unfortunately did could not finish her brilliant season at Thames RC and in Canada due to a back injury. However, Meghann and Sophie can look back on some good quality racing over the summer, she and Sophie won the WELI2x at Met Regatta; Sophie also won in her single at the same regatta, putting her in a great position for HWR.

In her first side-by-side tussle at Henley Women’s, rating 26 and making a little detour into the neighbouring lane, she showed that she was in good form. One minute into the race Sophie was half a length ahead and with her long and effective strokes she won over Molloy from Minerva Bath easily. Unfortunately, Sophie met the overall winner of the event, Proske from Victory, Canada, in the quarterfinal and wasn’t able to present enough of a challenge to overhaul her opponent. Sophie again faced some steering difficulties at the beginning of the race, which impeded her progress, but should be pleased with a determined effort. Look out for Proske on the international circuit soon!

Elite Pair
In the early days of the season Vicky and Irene got together for some casual early morning outings in a pair. Having spent the Seville training camp and Wallingford Regatta trying to master the art of sculling in the quad, six weeks before HWR they decided that they preferred rowing with only ‘one stick’, even if it meant having to enter the elite event.

In the first round of the regatta the pair faced UL -a combination they had raced at both Met and Reading – and with a 1-1 record it was all to play for. After a safe start, the steering in first half of the race proved a struggle for both crews. Eventually, heading into the enclosure area the Thames girls started to straighten up but by this point they were half a length down: turning on the so-called ‘V6’ engine, they managed to pull out a length’s lead over UL. At this point YouTube supporters were treated to some gems as the commentators described their move as “a phenomenal push reminiscent of the French pair at the Sydney Olympics in 2000…they’ve just stolen the heart from this race…terrific rowing from Thames!”. Irene and Vicky were into Sunday’s semi-final.

It would have taken an exceptional row for the pair to overhaul Sunday’s opposition – a composite crew from OUWBC/Reading who had donned GB vests earlier in the season. The girls threw everything at the race, and although OUWBC/Reading won as expected, they crossed the line with a smaller lead than against CUWBC in the final.

The spirited pair kept training for another few weeks and earned a place on the England team for this year’s Home International Regatta in Cardiff. Here they finished second behind the Scottish pair, marking the end of a very eventful and successful season for Irene & Vicky! Thanks to coach Jack Clark for his tireless enthusiasm and patience.

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Club 4+
The Club 4+ of Segolene Bourland, Charlotte Orrell, Sally Hodgson and Katrine Eskander faced a turbulent run-up to Henley Women’s Regatta. With five sessions as a crew behind them and with a former stroke enthusiastically watching from her hospital bed, the four were keen to reflect Thames’ versatility and depth as a squad.

The crew had beaten Twickenham by two seconds in the time trial and went on to face them in the first round. Expecting a close race, the crew rowed a patient race, and eventually pushed away to win by a comfortable distance of 1 ¾ lengths.

On the Saturday, the Club 4+ had a tough draw against Wallingford RC and whilst they raced hard, Wallingford finished ahead by 1 ½ lengths in the fastest of the four quarterfinals. Saturday’s racing was regarded as some of the crew’s best and most mature racing to date and reflects the potential of the crew members in the future. Thanks to coaches Sheena Cassidy and Jamie Croly, whose efforts throughout the season are much appreciated.

Club 8+
This year’s Thames Club 8+ comprised girls from the novice squad, with most of the crew taking on the exciting challenge of racing their first Henley Women’s Regatta.

Entries to the Club Eights event have increased considerably in recent years, so the first task for these girls was to qualify in the top 16 out of a strong pack of 25 crews in the time trials. They left their ‘novice’ titles behind them and came together as a competitive crew to record a time that would put them in 11th place, ahead of many established intermediate crews and proving the worth of a year of hard training and commitment.

In the first round, Thames were drawn against Sons of the Thames: a strong and more experienced crew who came eighth in the time trial. Sons had a quick start and took an early lead, but due to a courageous fight from the Thames girls, couldn’t quite pull away. In the last 300m of the race, a big push from Thames closed the gap slightly, but Sons responded and crossed the line a length ahead.

Plucky racing to be really proud of, and a sign of the great things to come from these girls as they will step up into the intermediate squad next year. A big thanks goes to coaches Jo Harris, Mark Thompson and Pauline Rayner.

By Marieke Bal, Vicky Brock, Charlotte Orrell & Clodagh Loughnane