Henley Royal – Martin Cross’s Ones to Watch

This year, Henley will celebrate its 175th anniversary and judging from the increase in the number of both home and foreign entries on the 2013 figures, there are plenty of rowers who want to be at the party.

One particular event – The Temple Challenge Cup for student eights – stands out. Seventy four crews – 12 more than last year – have entered.  And while the colours of the Temple’s 2013 holders: Delftsche Studenten Roeivereeniging from Laga, Holland also stand out, Friday’s qualifying races will see 42 of the student eights that entered, exit before the regatta even gets started. Oxford Brookes’ excellent crew will head the British challenge. 

On the other hand, there are just two entries for the regatta’s top event: the Grand Challenge Cup. There, the British and French national eights will fight it out in a straight final. The winners will be the first crew to have their names engraved on the Grand’s brand new base. It may have been that the choice of Amsterdam for this year’s world championship venue, convinced some crews to try out the water at the Bosbaan’s Holland Beker Regatta – rather than Henley.
That said, the Regatta’s international draw is still strong and the presence of the two 2012 Olympic singles champions, Mahe Drysdale and Mirka Knapkova, underlines that.

The enclosures will also revel in the chance to see the new British men’s four of Alex Gregory, Moe Sbihi, George Nash and Andrew Triggs Hodge perform under pressure in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup. They face fast crews from Germany, France and China. But such has been the pace and overwhelming dominance of Jürgen Grobler’s boat so far this season that it would be hard to imagine them even being led – let alone beaten.

The four’s outstanding season has been mirrored by that of Jeremie Azou and Stany Delayre.

The French lightweight double have been in sensational form; both in the European Rowing Championships and the Aiguebelette World Rowing Cup. Their commanding performances have been even more heartening given that less than 10 months ago, Delayre suffered a horrific injury as a result of a collision during training that saw him miss the World Rowing Championships.

In the Double Sculls Challenge Cup at Henley, the French will go up against arguably the British ‘find’ of the season: the Leander double of Jonathan Walton and John Collins.

The British women’s eight have started the 2014 season in fine form and James Harris’ boat will face tough opposition in the Remenham Challenge Cup from Australia and the Netherlands.

The men’s quad – who recently brilliantly took gold in the season’s second World Rowing Cup – also face Aussie and Dutch opponents, together with a fast French crew. Like the women’s eight, the men’s quad will start as strong favourites in their event, the Queen Mother Challenge Cup.

In 2013, the Ladies’ Challenge Plate went to the pre-regatta favourites from Leander and Molesey. But though this year’s Brookes and Taurus eight contains some of Jürgen Grobler’s Caversham athletes, it is the US eights of University of California, Berkley and Brown that have shown more form.

In the Visitors’ Challenge Cup, Leander’s four has shown impressive speed all season, though Molesey’s boat will provide them with a good test.

Both the Thames and Wyfold Challenge Cups will provide great racing. In the former, Ben Lewis’ Thames RC eight will look to better the Aussies from Mercantile, as well as Phil Bourguignon’s men from Molesey.

The Wyfolds are even harder to pick.

Earlier in the season, it looked as though the Tideway Scullers four might be tough to beat. But at Marlow, Rob Roy – last season’s beaten finalists – just pipped the London club.

After an excellent season, Newcastle University’s coxed four will start as strong favourites for the Prince Albert. Abingdon School’s eight will be out to win the Princess Elizabeth for the fourth consecutive time. But both St Paul’s and St Edward’s School will be out to upset the form book of the National Schools Regatta.

Moving to the Fawley Challenge Cup, the crew from Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School really impressed in the elite quads event at Marlow. While in the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup, for junior women’s quadruple sculls, the women from Henley Rowing Club have performed impressively all season.

For a full round up of entries and events visit http://www.hrr.co.uk/crews/entries/entries-list/

By Martin Cross