Henley Royal Regatta – The Open Events Preview

It’s nearly time for the most important regatta of the year….at least for British club and student rowers. For the internationals it’s probably an interesting variation to the normal 6 abreast racing they do. But whatever your approach there is no denying the Henley is a truly unique event and I for one absolutely love it! I’m also really excited as I’ve got the opportunity again this year to be part of the Regatta Radio commentary team…I can’t wait.

Anyway…onto my look at the entries, starting with the open events…

 

The Diamond Challenge Sculls

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23 scullers entered and this was whittled down to 14 via qualifying with the successful scullers being Harold Bradbury of Jesus college Cambridge, Anthony English of Nottingham Rowing Club, Ertan Hazine of Kingston Rowing Club, Mark Mitchell of Bexhill Rowing Club and Laurence Wells of Thames Rowing Club.

They will now go into the main draw where they face some fearsome competition. Last year’s winner Aleksander Aleksandrov of Azerbaijan is not back to defend his title. But the man he beat last year, Alan Campbell is back to try and win his 4th Diamonds title. ImageThe Ulsterman didn’t race at the World Cup in France as he had other priorities having just become a father! But, he did race at the European Championships finishing outside of the medals. I’ve mentioned before that Alan’s not had the best of results since the Olympics and I’m beginning to suspect that this might be his last hurrah in the 1X. I would imagine the GB team management will be pressurising him to move into a crew boat. Henley offers Campbell a much needed boast in confidence (not something he lacks to be honest!) But, that’s only if he wins and it’s not going to be easy.

One of the principal challengers to  Campbell will be Roel Braas from the Netherlands (racing for Hollandia Roeiclub). Braas won the Holland Beker last year and is defending his title this weekend. He raced at Aiguebelette finishing 7th which was, perhaps a little bit of a disappointment for him, he would have been hoping for an “A” final finish given that he finished 5th at the World Championships in 2013. But at 6ft 7 and 16st 4lbs he’s a formidable figure in a single scull. Image(and out of it!)

But, the biggest “name” in the draw is the Olympic champion…Mighty Mahe Drysdale…like Campbell he’s trying for his 4th Diamonds title Image

Mahe raced at the World Cup a couple of weeks ago and to be honest I wasn’t expecting too much from the Olympic Champion. He’d been beaten three times by Hamish Bond during the New Zealand racing season and I was expecting him to be building slowly to the World Championships. But how wrong I was. He started slowly but relentlessly overhauled the previously unbeaten Ondrej Synek to record a fabulous victory. So, the upshot is he’s got a lot more speed at this stage of the season than a lot of people expected. Also, in terms of Henley, he’s a brilliant match racer and will surely start as favourite.

Another Kiwi entered is George Bridgewater…Imagethe Beijing Olympic bronze medalists is returning to international competition following a break of 6 years. He’s also racing at the Holland Beker this weekend so we’ll get a better idea of his form after that, but he’s been in the UK for a while training at the Tideway Scullers School in London.

There’s been a few internationals withdraw from the event which is a shame…Peter Graves from the USA, James Thompson from South Africa and France’s Thibaut Verhoeven.

But, there are still a few more scullers with international pedigrees to highlight. The first is Israel’s Dani Fridman (racing for Tiberias Rowing Club). He was 9th in the M1X at the European Championships in Belgrade.

There are three Australians in the draw (the same three who are racing at the Holland Beker). Nick Purnell (National Training Centre Australia), John Linke (also from the Aussie NTC) and Sydney University’s Hamish Playfair. The pick of this bunch is probably Purnell who raced in the 1X at the Worlds last year.

Of the local scullers Mark Mitchell won Elite LM1x at Marlow last weekend and Laurence Wells finished 5th in Elite M1X one place ahead of Ertan Hazine. I don’t think it’s any disrespect to these scullers to say that GB’s best chance of making the weekend racing lies with Alan Campbell!

So who do I think will win? I’m hoping the draw will give us another Campbell v Drysdale final…these two are currently 1 all in head-to-head finals at Henley so it should be a mouthwatering prospect. But that assumes they both get there…which is no guarantee. But, if I had to choose I’m going to go for Mahe.

 

The Double Sculls Challenge Cup

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17 crews entered, reduced to 12 via qualifying. But with a number of withdrawls and no-shows only one crew (Parks & Scholefield of Loughborough Boat club) miss out on the main draw. Just a comment on the withdrawls, some are a bit disappointing as it includes the Portuguese  LM2X Nuno Mendes and Pedro Fraga and also Will Geffen and Storm Uru from Keble College. Anyhow….who is racing. Favourites must be the current GB men’s heavyweight double, John Collins and Jonno Walton

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Collins won this event in 2012 partnered by Alan Sinclair. Now with Jonno Walton this duo finished 5th at Aiguebelette and are steadily building momentum towards the Amsterdam World Championships and beyond.

But, the British were beaten at the European Championships by the Dutch, Thijs van Luijk and Dirk Uittenbogaard.

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I would expect the draw to put these two into the final which will be an intriguing prospect. The heavywights will have a torrid time against some top lightweight doubles, the pick of which are the French Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou

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These two are the reigning European Champions and won the 2nd world cup in some style ahead of Germans and Norwegians.

Another lightweight double that’ll harry the big boys are the South Africans John Smith and Lawrence Ndlovu – racing as Tuks Rowing Club. These two were part of the South African LM4- that won a spectacular gold medal at the London Olympics. It’ll be interesting to see if these two continue in the 2X for the rest of the season.

A couple of other crews to highlight, the Japanese are always fun to watch. Racing as Mitsubishi Boat club are Yuta Hamada and T Shiina. Hamada raced at the World Championships last year finishing 13th.Also a quick comment on the veteran Hugh Mackworth-Praed…the 42 year old could well be the only competitor in the 175th regatta who also raced at the 150th regatta!

 

The Silver Goblets and Nickalls Challenge Cup

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14 entries to be reduced to 12.The OUBC pairing of Karl Hudspith and Mike DiSanto withdrew so just one pair miss out, Leonard and de Souza from Greenwich Boat Club of the USA.

This is shaping up to be a GB v Netherlands battle. The original entry for GB are Nathaniel Reilly O’donnell and Alan Sinclair (racing as UL and Leander) but at the draw it now appears that Sinclair is being partnered by Scott Durant and not Noddy.They will be up against Rogier Blink and Mitchel Steenman (racing as Hollandia Roeiclub)

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The Dutch finished 2nd at the European Championships (surprisingly beaten by the Serbs) beating the British into 4th. Both Sinclair and Durant were in the M8 for the 2nd World Cup where they finished 2nd. 

The draw potentially has these two meeting in the semi-final which (if it happens) will be a cracker. The South Africans David Hunt and Vincent Breet (Tuks Rowing Club) made the final last year before being blown away (as are most pairs) by the Kiwis on their way to equaling the course record. Breet and Hunt went on to win the U23 World Championship title. The South African’s have also entered their senior M2- Shaun Keeling and Lawrence Brittain (also racing as Tuks Rowing Club) . They lost to the Kiwis in the Semi final last year and went on to finish 8th at the World Championships. 

The Greeks have entered Apostolas Lampridis and Christomanos Konstantinos (racing as Nautical club of Volos and Nautical Club of Ioannina). At the European Championships these two finished 11th.
Selected in the bottom half of the draw are the French duo of Laurent Cadot And Valentn Onfroy.These two have been racing as the M2- for France all season and have big shoes to fill with the previous pairing of Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette being the Olympic silver medalists. The new French pair haven’t yet hit those heights and finished 7th at the Europeans and 4th at the 2nd World Cup. The draw has them meeting the winners of the Greeks v Hunt & Brittain which will be a tough challenge.

 

 

So who will win…this is actually a really open event (with the Kiwis staying away). I think the Dutch might just get it but they’ll have a torrid time against the British in the semi-final.

The Stewards Challenge Cup
stewards
5 crews in the draw and the British are the overwhelming favourites.
GB M4- Euros
The new line-up of Andy Hodge, George Nash, Mo Sbihi and Alex Gregory have raced twice so far this season and no-one’s been able to get within a length. They have quickly set out their stall as one of the top boats in world rowing. Racing as Molesey and Leander they should win quite comfortably. What’s particularly impressive about them is not just the power they show (some of Jurgen Grobler’s 4- in the past have been accused of “bullying” the boat along by sheer power) this iteration of the M4- row with a seemingly effortless style very reminiscent of the Sydney “Redgrave” 4. Barring illness or injury I can see this crew dominating the rest of the Rio Olympiad.
Leading the charge against the British at Henley are the heavyweight and Lightweight French national crews.
The heavyweights (Julien Montet, Matthieu Moinaux, Benoit Demey and Edouard Jonville) raced at Aigubelette and finished 10th out of 10 crews. The lightweights (Thomas Barouke, Franck Solforosi, Augustin Mouterde and Guillaume Raineau) fared a little better finishing 5th in the “A” final after picking up a bronze medal at the European championships.
The German crew from Rendsberger and Hurther are an interesting new combination, they include Hannes Ocik who was in the M8 that lost to the British at Chungju. He’s joined by Lauritz Schoof who won silver in the Men’s quad at last years world championships, and two former U23’s Robin Ponte and Alex Thiefelder. They have the makings of a good crew and could potentially meet the British in the final.
The final crew in the event are the Chinese from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The crew is(I think) Yukan Cai who last raced internationally in 1998 (in the M1X finishing 12th), Jin Long (14th in the M1X at the 3rd World Cup in 2009) Hao Gong (22nd in 2- in 2011) and L Kong of whom I know little about!
As mentioned above this should be a relative formality for the British.

The Queen Mother Challenge Cup
queen_mother
5 crews. The British will, like in The Stewards, be starting as favourites, but this is likely to be a bit more of a challenge that the Stewards for the British. 2nd at the European Championships and winners of the World Cup the crew of Pete Lambert, Charlie Cousins, Sam Townsend and Graeme Thomas are rapidly becoming strong contenders for top honours in this boat class.GB M4X
The World Championships in Amsterdam are going to be very interesting for this outfit and will be one of the favourites for gold. At Henley the first face the unselected Americans from the Craftsbury Sculling centre. The Americans are no slouches and include the two of the Graves brothers – something of a rowing dynasty in the States. Peter Graves raced in the quad at the London Olympics and younger brother John was 10th in the 2X at the Worlds last year with Ben Dann who is also in the Quad at Henley. The final member of the crew is Steve Whelpley who was the US representative in the M1X last season. Whilst I don’t think the Americans will be able to beat the British they should give them a good test.
In the bottom half of the draw the seeded crew are the Australians (racing as the National Training Centre) They have Rhys Grant, Cameron Girdlestone, Kieran Kobelke and Christopher Morgan all of whom raced at the first World Cup in Sydney. The Aussies will meet either France or Holland. The French have the same line up that finished 10th out of 10 at the 2nd World Cup. The Dutch have the quad that finished 12th at the Europeans (Harold Langen, Peter Van Schie, Derk Noordhuis and Meindert Klem). My expectation is a GB v Australia final with the Leadnder/Agecroft composite winning quite comfortably.

The Grand Challenge Cup
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A straight final between the British (racing as Leander/UL) and the French. Both these crews met at the World Cup in Aigubelette and the French beat the British in the heat and then the Brits got their own back in the final where they took silver. Both of the crews show a tendency to inconsistency. The British are still tinkering with their line-up so there’s actually no word yet on the official line-up for next week. The French have put all their top guys into the 8 and showed flashes of brilliance in the heat at Aigbuelette but then dropped off in the final. I would expect the British to win a 1 on 1 contest, but anything can happen at Henley!

Onto the Women’s open events…

The Princess Royal Challenge Cup
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8 Scullers. Olympic champion, Mirka Knapkova of Slava Praha is back to defend the title she won in 2013. She will start as strong favourite
Knapkova
She’s not had it all her own way though this season. A win at the European Championships was followed up by a somewhat disappointing 4th at the 2nd World Cup, being beaten to the bronze by Austria’s Magdelena Lobnig (the first time the young Austrian has ever beaten Knapkova).The draw potentially will lead to a semi final between the Knapkova and GB’s great young sculling hope, Jess Leyden, the current World Junior 1X champion.
Jess Leyden
It’s a great opportunity for the young Mancunian sculler to test herself 1 one 1 against the Olympic Champions but I expect Knakova to be too strong for Leyden this year. Give it another couple of years and it might be a very different story.
In the top half of the draw the favoured sculler is Julia Michalska-Plotkowiak of Tryton Poznan. She last raced internationally at the London Olympics picking up a bronze medal in the W2X behind the British. She then took time out getting married and having a family before returning to the international rowing fray. She’s likely to face a semi-final against Krisztina Gyimes of Danubius Nemzeti Hajos Egylet Hungary. The young Hungarian was 7th in the W1X at the U23 World Championships last year.
There are other British challengers including GB trialists Margery Pepper from Leander, Liz Polgreen of Wallingford and Imperial College’s Mel Wilson.
My pick for the win…it’s hard to choose anyone other than Knapkova to win her 4th title.

Princess Grace Challenge Cup
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15 crews entered and this was reduced to 8 with the successful clubs being Leander/Reading, Molesey/Strathclyde, Reading/Cardiff and Tees/Bath.There is only one overseas entry this year, the Japanese of Mitsubishi Boat Club. The Japanese have a couple of scullers with international experience, Takada Shudo who was in the LW4X in 2012 and former junior international Shoko Ueno.
So it looks highly likely that the trophy will remain in the UK. It’s going to be an intriguing showdown between the senior openweight quad racing as Leander Club & Gloucester, the senior Lightweight quad Molesey & Putney Town and the U23 quad racing as Gloucester & Northwich and then add in the “wild card” of Leander & Reading and you have some great racing in prospect.
The senior W4X must start as favourites, the crew of Beth Rodford, Lucinda Gooderham, Kristina Stiller & Vicky Meyer-laker have had a relatively slow start to the season with 5th places at both the European Championships and the 2nd World Cup. But they are a talented bunch and will be focused on long-term progression to Rio rather than too much this year. Henley offers the much needed boost of some silverware for new GB quad.
The lightweights of Molesey and Putney will pose a strong semi-final challenge for them though. The crew of Ruth Walczak, Ellie Piggott, Brianna Stubbs and Charlotte Taylor are all world medalists and given the right conditions could give their openweight rivals a real run for their money.
In the bottom half of the draw the selected crew are the U23’s Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, Holly Nixon, Joesephine Wratten and Lucy Burgess. Another hugely talented crew with plenty of U23 international experience already and also won Elite quads at Henley Women’s regatta this year. They should progress through to the final, but their toughest challenge will come from the “wild cards” of Leander/Reading. This crew includes the multi-world medalist Debbie Flood and national team aspirant Fran Rawlins. They may not beat the U23’s but they will definitely give them a good race – no-one in the event knows the course better than Debbie Flood!
So my picks…it “should” be a Senior GB W4X v U23 GB W4X final and it’s hard not to go with the senior girls to take it quite comfortably.

The Remenham Challenge Cup
remenham
11 crews were asked to qualify for just two available spots and the successful crews were Cambridge University and the Newcastle/Nereus composite. They join the 6 pre-qualified crews in an 8 boat event.
This looks to be one of the events of the regatta with the British national team (racing as Leander Club and Imperial) up against the Australian national squad (racing as the National Training Centre) and the Dutch W8 (racing as Hollandia).
The British won a silver medal at the European Championships behind the Romanians and followed that up with a bronze at the World Cup. They are developing into a very strong unit and will be in the mix for the medals at Amsterdam (although the US look very very strong favourites for the gold).
The Aussies have a new look crew that contains four of the crew that finished 5th (1 place behind GB) at the 2013 World Championships. In the stroke seat is the Olympic silver medalist Kate Hornsey – making her international return after a post-Olympic break. Also in the crew is London Olympian Pauline Frasca. The draw should have the Aussies meeting the British in the semi-final which could be the race of the regatta.
In the top half of the draw the Dutch are the stand-out crew. They have made two changes from the crew that finished 5th at the World Cup with Monica Lanz replacing Lies Rustenburg and Marleen Verburgh returning to the crew she raced in at the Europeans. In their half of the draw the semi-final is likely to be against the GB development 8 racing as Imperial and Leander (as opposed to the senior crew racing a Leander and Imperial….confused yet??). They raced at the Henley Women’s Regatta beating Yale University in the final….They also face Yale again in the first round at Henley Royal…it’ll be interesting to see if the longer course makes any difference to the result. The Dutch face the Cambridge Blue Boat in round one with the Oxford Blue boat (or at least part of the Oxford Blue Boat – now in a composite with Reading) facing the Australians.
I would expect a Leander/Imperial v Holland final with the GB team taking the win.

So that’s it for the Open events. I’ll move onto the Intermediate, club and Junior events over the next couple of days.
really excited about this year’s regatta…the 175th (I wonder if the competitors will get a commemorative medal like those of us who raced at the 150th did…
150th medal
And that’s the only Henley medal I ever got!!

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