It’s that time of the year again….the first weekend in July, time for what Sir Steve Redgrave calls “best-known regatta in the world” – Henley Royal Regatta – 2112 meters of side-by-side racing unlike anything else in the world. It’s an event that every rower should try to attend at least once in their lifetime – even if it’s just as a spectator.
Last year, under Sir Steve Redgrave’s chairmanship, Henley launched a live streaming service on YouTube produced and managed by the sports broadcaster Sunset+Vine. The resulting footage produced some of the most stunning sports coverage ever produced – certainly the best rowing race coverage ever produced. This success has sparked the interest of more mainstream broadcasters with the result that BT Sport have secured the rights to broadcast every day of racing. The footage gets anywhere near as good as it was last year it’ll be a great advert for the sport.
Anyway…for any readers who are unfamiliar with the set up at Henley let me briefly explain.
The events are split as follows:
Open, Intermediate, Club, Student, Junior.
In this first part of my preview I’m going to cover the Open events;
The Grand Challenge Cup – For men’s international standard eights
The Remenham Challenge Cup – For women’s international standard eights
The Stewards Challenge Cup – For men’s international standard coxless fours
The Queen Mother Challenge Cup – For men’s international standard quads
The Princess Grace Challenge Cup – For women’s international standard quads
The Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup – For men’s international standard coxless pairs
The Double Sculls Challenge Cup – For men’s international standard Doubles
The Diamond Challenge Sculls – for men’s international standard single sculls
The Princess Royal Challenge Cup – for women’s international standard single sculls
In Olympic year there’s always a concern that the entries for the open events at Henley will suffer as the international crews go off to their pre-Olympic training camps. But fortunately this year seems to have escaped the slump, indeed there are a record number of entries and a record number of overseas crews, including a significant number who will be racing in Rio.
The Grand Challenge Cup
The top event for men’s 8’s sees crews from Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, The USA, GB and Canada. The favourites must be the Dutch, racing as Hollandia Roeiclub. They have brought their full Olympic crew to Henley. They’ve had a great season so far including their first win against the Germans since the Athens Olympics and have installed themselves as strong contenders for a medal in Rio….20 years after they won gold in Atlanta.
Another crew likely to be “selected” (seeded) by the Stewards are the Italians (racing as Team Italia). They narrowly missed out on qualifying for Rio, finishing 6th in Aiguebelette in 2015 and then 3rd at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta missing out to the Poles by just 3/10th of a second. They have made one change to their line-up with Cesare Gabbia replacing Domenico Montrone. Their best race of the season so far was an excellent silver medal behind the Dutch at the Varese World Cup.
The USA crew, racing as the New York Athletic Club and California Rowing Club, is a mix of current and recent internationals with the likes of Ben Dann, Nareg Guerian, Ambrose Puttmann and Anders Weiss. The US have a very strong record at Henley but it remains to be seen if this crew does race as listed. Guerian and Weiss have just won selection for the Olympics as the USA M2- so they may well wish to concentrate on prepping for the pair rather than racing in an 8 at Henley.
The British crew, racing as Nautilus, looks to be a potential U23 crew. The make-up of this crew is interesting as it reflects the increasing influence of US Collegiate rowing on the future of British rowing. No fewer than six of the crew are currently studying in the US – Arthur Doyle at Harvard, Jacob Dawson at Washington, Morgan Hellen at Cal and Sholto Carnegie, Robert Hurn and Ollie Wynne-Griffith at Yale (winners of the Ladies Plate last year).
The Germans have also brought their U23 boat racing as Crefelder & Dorsten. Their line-up includes three of the crew that won the U23 World Championships last year, Malte Daberkow, Laurits Follert and cox Jonas Weisen. The boat also includes U23 medallists Finn Knueppel, Jacob Schulte-Bockholt and Marc Leske.
The Spanish have brought their senior men’s 8 for a shot at glory in Henley. They have made two changes to the crew that finished 7th at the European Championships, with stern pair Jaime Canalejo Pazos and Javier Garcia Ordonez coming in from the M4- that finished 8th in Brandenburg and just missed Olympic qualification after finishing 4th at the FOQR.
The final crew to mention are Victoria City Rowing Club from Canada. This is another U23 boat with five U23 medallists on board including 2014 U23 World Champions Martin Barakso and Troyfm Anderson. Given that Canada haven’t boated a senior men’s 8 throughout this Olympiad perhaps with this boat it’s the start of 2020 campaign?
So who’s going to win….you have to go for the Dutch. Depending on the draw I reckon it’ll be a Netherlands v Italy final, but some of the earlier rounds pitting U23 crews against each other are going to be really interesting to watch.
The Remenham Challenge Cup
19 crews for 8 places
Princeton University come into Henley on the back of a successful Henley Women’s Regatta campaign, with a win in the Elite 8’s. This comes after a superb domestic season which saw them take the Ivy League Championships. At Henley Women’s Regatta they defeated a strong British composite boat and they may well face them in the final again at Henley Royal. The British, racing as Leander Club and Tees, include world silver medallists Becca Chin and Holly Norton and senior internationals Caragh McMurtry, Donna Etiebet and Katherine Douglas. The Brits will be very keen to get their own back on Princeton, and over the longer course they may well do it.
There is also a very strong US boat entered racing as Princeton Training Centre, this crew includes three world champions with Heidi Robbins from last year’s gold medal W8, Kristin O’Brien from the 2015 W4- gold medal crew and 2103 W4- World champion Emily Huelskamp. This crew also includes 2013 U23 World Champion Kendal Schmidt.
The Dutch have a superb women’s 8 that will be contending for medals in Rio. However at Henley it’s an U23 boat that’s racing based around the 5th place U23 crew from last year.
Another international crew to watch out for are the Czechs, racing as Slavia Praha & Slavia Decin. This is a somewhat curious boat with a mix of lightweights, openweights and U23’s. The stern pairing of Martina Stillerova and Katerina Kopecka raced the W2- this season finishing 9th at the European Championships.
Only three crews made it through qualifying, with Molesey, Oxford Brookes and the Oxford University/Reading Rowing Club composite.
Brookes were winners at the BUCS regatta and made the semi-final of Elite 8’s at Henley Women’s Regatta (losing to eventual winners, Princeton).
The Oxford University/Reading composite is the likely GB U23 boats with Blues Lauren Kedar, Anastasia Chitty and Maddy Badcott.
My picks…Depending on the draw this could come down to a Princeton University v Princeton Training Centre battle, although the Leander/Tees composite could make the final depending on the draw. I think this will be a win for the Princeton Training centre crew.
The Stewards Challenge Cup
Another event which will see the Dutch start as favourites. Like the 8 in the Grand, the Stewards four are heading for Rio. The crew of Harold Langen, Peter Van Schie, Vincent Van Der Want and Govert Viergever finished 6th at the 2015 World Championships and took bronze at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups this season.
Up against this senior medal winning boat are four U23 crews, two German, one Austrian and one British. The Frankfurt crew (Jan Kruppa, Philipp Nonnast, Moritz Bock and Jonas Kilthau) are 3 of the line-up that finished 7th at the U23 Worlds last year. One place behind the Germans at the 2015 Plovdiv U23 Worlds were the Austrians (Max Kohlmayr, Florian Walk, Gabriel Hohensasser and Joerg Auerbach) racing as Ruderverein STAW & Villach
The 2nd German boat, racing as Tegel & Essen has the junior world champion gold medal pair from 2015 at bow and stern, Olaf Roggensack and Rene Schmela. In the two seat is world M2+ silver medallist Jakob Schneider.
The GB boat, Newcastle University and Robert Gordon University, has James Johnston and Lewis McCue from last year’s U23 silver medal 4 along with Tom George and James Rudkin who represented GB in the U23 2- last year finishing 4th.
This should be a comfortable win for the Dutch but the battle of the U23’s will be interesting to see. My money is on the Brits to win the battle to face the Dutch (depending on the draw).
The Queen Mother Challenge Cup
This looks to be an intriguing battle between the Czech senior M4X, the British LM4X and Canada’s world champion U23 quad.
The Czechs, racing as Dukla Praha have three of the crew that finished 8th at the European Championships, Vojtech Rimak, Martin Basl, Adam Sterbak with Matyas Klang replacing Ondrej Hollas.
The British, Leander Club and Oxford Brookes, were winners at the Holland Beker and are heading for the World Championships in Rotterdam later this year. They are all experienced lightweight internationals with Jamie Kirkwood, Jamie Copus, Charlie Waite-Roberts and Zak Lee-Green.
The Canadians, racing as Victoria City have three of the crew that won gold at the 2015 U23 World championships, Matthew Finley, Graham Peeters, and Karl Zimmerman. The 4th member of the crew is Lucien Brodeur who raced at the Junior World championships in 2014.
Another crew to mention are Leander, the likely GB U23 4X and winners at Marlow Regatta, Harry Leask, Rowan Law, Harry Glenister and Andrew Joel. They perhaps were hoping for a spot in the intermediate Prince of Wales event (the event which Leander have won for the last 6 years). But they are in the top event and that will be a real challenge for them.
There’s a very interesting entry from California Rowing Club which will have a distinctly Germanic feel to it with Swiss lightweight international Silvan Zehnder and German internationals Lars Hartig and Patrick Leineweber. The 4th member of the crew is the only American on board, Michael Clougher.
The German’s, Leipzig and Hanauer have three of the crew that won the B Final at last year’s U23 World Championships along with 2014 junior World Champion Johannes Lotz.
My pick…I’m going for the GB LM4X (Leander & Oxford Brookes).
The Princess Grace Challenge Cup
25 crews for 8 places
This has all the makings of a classic lightweight v open-weight contest. Reading Rowing Club & Leander have three of the GB W4X who narrowly missed qualification for Rio with Jess Leyden, Mel Wilson and Holly Nixon. They are joined by Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne who is likely to be the sculling spare for the Olympic team and who also narrowly missed out on qualifying for Rio in her own right in the W1X
Up against them are the likely GB LW4X racing as Wallingford and London. This crew has Imogen Walsh, Brianna Stubbs, Emily Craig and Ellie Piggott. They will be relishing the opportunity to go up against the open-weights and see if they can give them a bloody nose.
The Poles, Warszawa & Wisca Grudziadz, are the reigning U23 World Champions – Marta Wieliczko, Olga Michalkiewicz, Krystyna Lemanczyk and Katarzyna Zillmann – all of whom are still eligible to race U23’s again this season.
Hannover & Crefelder of Germany are also the likely national U23 team with Frauke Hundeling, Juliane Faralisch, Franziska Kampmann and Michaela Staelberg. Kampmann is the reigning JW4X world champion and her three crewmates have all raced at U23 level before.
The US have a strong crew, racing as the Schuylkill Navy High Performance Centre. This boat includes senior internationals Stesha Carle and Lindsay Meyer.
Another strong crew are Leander, this boat includes one of GB’s most experienced oarswomen, Debbie Flood along with World silver medallist Lucinda Gooderham. They are joined by Fran Rawlins and Emily Carmichael. They might not have the firepower of the national team boats but they will definitely give them a run for their money and no-one knows the Henley course better than Debbie Flood.
My picks…Reading/Leander for the win with the GB LW4X chasing them hard.
The Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup
25 pairs for 12 available places
There are 10 different nationalities represented in this event with 12 of the 25 boats coming from overseas. There are crews from Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Serbia, France, Austria, China, Greece and Italy.
The favourites will be the Dutch, Mitchell Steenman and Roel Braas. Steenman last raced at Henley in 2014 when his regular partner, Rogier Blink withdrew through injury on the eve of racing. Canada’s Julien Bahain (who is also Steenman’s brother-in-law) stepped in at the last minute and they went on to win.
This season things look much more stable for the Dutch, they were bronze medallists at the European Championships and silver medallists at the Poznan World Cup.
Chasing the Dutch will be the British pairing of Ollie Cook and Callum McBrierty. They raced as the M2+ at Lucerne taking the gold medal. McBrierty also successfully subbed into the top GB M4- at Poznan when Stan Louloudis was ill. I would expect these two crews to be kept apart until Sunday.
There are two German U23 boats racing, both of which have come out of the U23 World Champion 8 from last year. Lukas Duhncrack and Nico Merget (racing as Frankfurt) also raced at the Poznan World Cup finishing 8th. The 2nd German pair is Malte Grossmann and Michael Trebbow (racing as Favorite Hammonia Hamburg and Wandsbek)
Another German pair are the Celler ruderverein and Beliner Ruderclub pairing of peter Kluge and Clemens Ernsting. These two raced together in Poznan finishing 8th having failed to qualify the boat for Rio at the FOQR. Racing at Henley is a definite consolation prize for this pairing and they will probably be the strongest of the German boats competing.
The Aviron Grenoblois and Cercle Nautique D’Annecy pairing of Benoit Demey and Edouard Jonville were part of the French M4- last season that finished 15th in Aiguebelette.
Other crews to mention include the Greek pairing of Ioannis Petrou and Stefanos Ntouskos who just missed out on qualifying for Rio in the LM4- and the Serbian M2+ bronze medallists from 2015 Viktor Pivac and Martin Mackovic.
My picks…I’m going for another Dutch win ahead of the Cook/McBrierty pairing.
25 doubles for 12 places
Another potential heavyweight v Lightweight battle could emerge here. The heavyweight favourites are likely to be Leander Club with Jack Beaumont and Nick Middleton. These two have raced a number of times for GB this season. They raced as GB2 at both Varese and Lucerne finishing 6th on both occasions (although in Lucerne Beaumont also had to sub into the M4X which hurt them in the M2X final. At Lucerne Beaumont raced as the no.2 GB M1x finishing a very respectable 7th overall.
For the Lightweights it’s the Belgians who will get the most support from impartial observers. Tim Brys and Nico van Zandweghe qualified for the LM2X in Rio at the European Olympic Qualifying Regatta but have had to forego their place as Belgium also qualified the M1X at the same regatta and the rules state that only one boat per gender can qualify through that route. Their place has gone instead to the Danish Olympic Champions. This apparent injustice prompted an outcry from many quarters with Mahe Drysdale leading the call for the Belgians to be allowed to keep their spot. But it wasn’t to be. This event has seen some superb races between the lightweights and heavyweights, most notably in 2014 when the French duo of Jeremie Azou and Stany Delayre narrowly defeated the GB double of John Collins and Jonno Walton.
The German double of Philipp Syring and Max Appel look to be the likely crew. Racing as Ruderclub Magdeburg, Syring was the winner of the German small boat championships and raced as the no.1 M1X for Germany this season missing finishing 12th at the European Championships. His partner, Max Appel was Jm2X world champion in 2014 and finished 7th in the BM4X in his first year as an U23.
The Dutch also have what looks like an U23 pairing with 2015 medallists Abe Wiersma and Daan Klomp.
Qualifying was tough in this event with just 5 crews getting the nod. Those successful on Friday were the Norwegians of Christiana Rokklub, the evergreen 40 year old Tim Male and Mark Mitchell of Tideway Scullers School and Bexhill, Neal & Jacob of Old Collegians Ireland, Jack Thompson and Tom Carter of Upper Thames and Tietz & McKall of Rob Roy.
My picks….a win for the Leander pairing of Beaumont and Middleton
The Diamond Challenge Sculls
41 scullers for 16 places.
This looks to be an outstanding field with New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale (racing as West End RC) defending his title and aiming for a 6th Diamond Sculls title to equal the record set by Australia’s Stuart MacKenzie. It’s a mark of the regard that Henley holds for Drysdale that he has included it in his preparations for Rio.
Another sculler headed for Rio is Belgium’s Hannes Obreno (Brugse Trim en Roeiclub). He’s had a great season so far with bronze in Varese and a 4th place at the European Championships. He then secured his place in Rio by finishing 1st at the final European Qualifying Regatta in Lucerne.
Also using Henley as their final race before Rio is Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk. He will be representing Poland at the Olympics, but at Henley he’s racing for the University of California where he has just completed his Sophmore year. He’s spent most of this season in the stroke seat of the Cal Varsity 8 and helped them to win the IRA championships. He’s only had one race so far this season in the M1X finishing 5th in Varese. Henley will be an important staging post for him to get some single scull racing under his belt.
Runner-up in this event last year was Hungary’s Gabor Csepregi (Danubius Nemzeti Hajós Egylet) and he’s back again for another battle down the Henley course. Csepregi hasn’t raced internationally this season and at last year’s World Championships he finished 8th in the LM1X. He’ll be hoping to take a few heavyweight scalps in Henley.
One of the breakthrough scullers so far this season has been Stefan Broenink of Hollandia Roeiclub. The Dutchman is in his first season as an international single sculler and after confident, if unspectacular performances as Varese and Brandenburg he stepped up in a big way at Lucerne finishing 4th. He’s not heading to Rio but he could well be establishing himself as a contender for Rio.
Another Hollandia Roeiclub entry is Rueben Knab, one of three scullers who had to come through qualifying. Last year rowed in the M2X with Broenink at the Lucerne World Cup and at this year’s Varese World Cup he was in the NED 2nd M2- that finished 14th. His international career seems to be tailing off somewhat after being part of the M4- that raced in London and then the M8 throughout the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Cedric Berrest (Aviron Toulousain) already has a Henley winner’s medal in his trophy cabinet. Along with partner Julien Bahain he won the Double Sculls title back in 2010. After spending 2014 and 2015 in the French M8 Berrest has now moved back into the single but missed out on qualification for what would have been his 4th Olympic Games.
Another lightweight sculler hoping to give the heavyweights a bloody nose is Slovenian Rajko Hrvat (racing as Veslaški Klub Argo Izola). He’s one of the best lightweight scullers in the world and won silver at last year’s world Championships. So far this season he has medals from Varese and Brandenburg and also made the final at both Poznan and Lucerne World Cups.
Denmark’s Sverri Neilsen was the unlucky one at the European Olympic Qualifying Regatta when he finished 4th with only the top 3 qualifying. He missed out by just 2/10th of a second. Also this season he has raced at the European Championships, finishing 6th, and at the Poznan World Cup where he finished 8th. Denmark aren’t renowned for their heavyweight men’s sculling so Nielsen is a good find for them and at just 22 could well feature heavily in the Tokyo Olympiad.
Another young sculler who could do good things in the next Olympiad is the Czech Republic’s Michal Plocek. Having narrowly missed qualifying the M2X for Rio he switched to the M1X for Poznan (when World Champion Ondrej Synek decided not to race) and finished an excellent 4th. It’s looking likely that the 22 year old Plocek is being groomed to take over the mantle from Synek should he retire after Rio.
Germany have two young scullers in the main draw with 2014 JM4X world champion Henrik Runge and reigning U23 2X champion Tim Ole Naske both racing for Rudergesellschaft “Hansa” Hamburg.
Jean-Benoit Valschaerts is racing for Belgian club Royal Sport Nautique de Bruxelles but is actually a Luxembourger by nationality and raced under that flag at Lucerne this year finishing 9th.
Wales’ Tom Barras was the only home nation sculler to be pre-qualified and has been a member of the GB U23 M4X for the past couple of seasons.
Two other scullers made it through qualifying with Rueben Knab. The first was Potomac Boat Club’s Greg Ansolabehere and the 2nd was the only other GB sculler to make the main draw, Molesey stalwart Dave Bell.
So who will take the title? It’s difficult to see anyone stopping Mahe from getting his 6th pineapple cup but it’s not going to be easy for him with a number of world class scullers in the field.
EDIT: prior to the draw taking place Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk withdrew meaning one place is available. But, due to one of the scullers falling in and impeding two others during qualifying there will be a race off on Wednesday between the two fastest non-qualifiers – Josh Bugjaski of Oxford University and Tom Graves of the Crafstbury Sculling Centre USA
The Princess Royal Challenge Cup
19 entries for 8 places
All 8 scullers in the main draw have international representative honours. The favourite will probably be Lisa Scheenaard of Hollandia Roeiclub. She was part of the Dutch W2X which finished 6th at the European Championships. At Poznan she raced in the single scull finishing an excellent 4th.
Chasing Sheenaard will be GB’s sole representative in the draw, Tina Stiller (racing for Tees RC). Stiller was part of the GB W4X for the past couple of seasons which was one of only two GB boats to miss out on Olympic qualification. Stiller’s been a member of the senior GB team for almost 10 years. Her most outstanding achievement was winning the U23 W1X silver medal in 2008. A Henley medal in the Princess Royal would be a nice way to end what has been ultimately a disappointing Olympiad.
Ireland’s Monika Dukarska (Killorglin Rowing Club) was one of 8 scullers asked to qualify for 2 places. Although she hasn’t raced internationally this season she’s got a huge amount of sculling experience having finished 11th in the W2X at the 2014 World Championships. In 2015 she switched to sweep and raced in the W2- at the Europeans and the W4- that finished 4th at the World Championships .
Marianne Madsen of Christiania Roklub Norway was her nation’s representative in the W1X this season finishing 14th in Varese and 10th in Poznan.
The other four scullers in the draw are all talented U23 scullers including Ieva Adomaviciute of Academia Remigum Lithuania. She’s the reigning U23 single scull champion and an outstanding prospect. She was also World Junior champion in both 2011 and 2012 and could well be one of the names to watch for the Tokyo Olympiad.
Roos De Jong of Delftsche Studenten Roeivereeniging Proteus-Eretes, Holland, is another outstanding young sculler. She was part of the Dutch U23 double that won bronze last year following a 7th place finish in the U23 1X the previous year.
The sole US representative in the draw is Samantha Casto of the University of Virginia. She raced the U23 W1X in 2014 finishing 10th and then in 2015 was part of the USA U23 quad that finished 4th.
The final sculler in the draw is Germany’s Anne Beenken (racing as Ruderverein Saarbrücken). Despite still only being 21 she’s already got a huge amount of experience. Junior world single scull’s champion in 2011 and 2012. She made her senior debut at the 2nd World Cup in 2014 and followed that with bronze at the U23 World Championships that year and a 5th place in the U23 quad in 2015.
My picks…depending on the draw it’s going to be a great battle between Sheenaard and Stiller for the win.
Next up: The intermediate events.