Good start for GB Rowing Crews at Henley

GB Rowing Team crews produced some sterling performances in today’s races at the 175th Henley Royal Regatta. With strong winds for the majority of the day, it was particularly tough going on the 2112m course.

First up were John Collins and Jonny Walton, racing in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup. A new combination in the double for the season, the Leander teammates overwhelmed Neill and Grigalius of Thee Castles RC, Ireland, to win by two lengths in a time of 7:48.

Walton commented on the race after, saying: “ It was a great start to the regatta. We got a good start and then had the distance we wanted off the island. Then we just pressed it on and we were comfortable coming into the line. There are some quality doubles in the field, there’s going to be some good racing tomorrow and Sunday so we’re really looking forward to it”.

The next GB squad boat in action was the women’s eight who came up against Newcastle University & A.S.R. Nereus of Holland, in the Remenham Challenge Cup. The GB crew led off the start and cruised to victory by four and a half lengths.

Cox of the crew, Zoe de Toledo, was happy with a positive start to the regatta: “It was a good race today. We were pleased with how we coped with the blustery conditions. We were just looking to keep it nice and sharp and relaxed. You can’t afford to waste a race at Henley so today we were really looking to set ourselves up well for the Aussies tomorrow”.

Alan Campbell of the Tideway Scullers’ School raced in the Diamond Challenge Sculls in particularly strong winds, even within the context of the day. Campbell was absent from Great Britain’s squad which travelled to the recent World Cup in Aiguebelette due to the birth of his first daughter, Tabitha, but he made a solid start here beating Australia’s Hamish Playfair. This win sets up a mouth-watering race against in-form Dutchman Roel Braas.

“He [Braas] has come straight off winning the Holland Beker against tough competition and he was fifth at Worlds just behind me last year, so I’m not taking anything for granted”, said Campbell, who also commented on becoming a father for the first time: “Three weeks and 1 day in and I don’t think I’ll get used to the nights any time soon! I think also there’s a big change in responsibility but I wouldn’t change it for the world. She’s beautiful and I’m very very happy”.

The GB combination of Alan Sinclair and Scott Durant were next to race, in the Silver Goblets & Nickalls’ Challenge for men’s pairs. They rowed cleanly and powerfully to beat Quintin BC’s pair by a comfortable margin.

Durant spoke about the race afterwards, saying: “I felt like it went well. It’s not the easiest conditions out there, pretty bouncy and a very strong headwind so I thought we dealt with it fairly well”.

He also spoke on the prospect of racing the Dutch pairing of Julien Bahain and Mitchel Steenham: “The original Dutch pair came second at the Europeans so they’re pretty formidable opposition. With Bahain in, it’s difficult to tell, they’re obviously not used to rowing together but Bahain is a very high quality athlete. I would say they’re the ones to beat, so if we get past them tomorrow I’d be pretty pleased”.

The women’s quad came through an alteration to their crew to produce a dominant race against Tees & Bath University in the Princess Grace Challenge Cup. Lucinda Gooderham was ruled out due to illness, so Olivia Carnegie-Brown stepped in and the quad raced to a four and half length victory.

After the race, Carnegie-Brown said: “It was washy and windy and wavy but we kept it clean. We had a bit of a plan before about what we were going to do and when we were going to do it so we stuck to the that and got a nice win”.

Beth Rodford, of Gloucester RC, added: “It was great to get the first race done. Henley is a bit different. With just the two crews coming down it can be a nervous experience for everyone. Looking forward, we know what we’re doing now and we have a race plan in place, so we’re hoping to step on each day through the regatta. Obviously we’re taking it one day at a time so we’ll see who we’ve got tomorrow and I’m sure it’ll be a tough race”.

The final GB race of the day saw the lightweight women’s quad of Ruth Walczak, Ellie Piggott, Brianna Stubbs and Charlotte Taylor come up against Molesey B.C. & Strathclyde Park, also in the Princess Grace. The crew produced an excellent race to win by four and a half lengths.

Piggott, of Wallingford R.C. said: “This year is the first time I have raced at Henley, and it was fantastic. They were really challenging conditions out there but that just made it a more enjoyable win. I think we dealt with it really well. It was the first race in a new combination and it was really encouraging”.

Walczak echoed Piggott’s thoughts on the race, saying: “It’s just a starting point at the moment for the project moving towards the World Championships in Amsterdam and it’s a really exciting start and we are looking forward to the rest of the weekend”.

Coach of the lightweights Tom Evens was equally encouraged by the performance: “We’re really excited because there is huge potential in this group of people. They’ve achieved a lot already some of them and very quickly to a very high standard . I think we’re going to see this build through the regatta and into Lucerne but obviously our goal is to be very fast indeed in Amsterdam at the Worlds”.

Tomorrow sees the GB Rowing Team men’s four and the men’s quad in action in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup and the Stewards’ Challenge Cup respectively. Both crews will be hoping to put on a good show in front of home fans.

All the members of the men’s four, gold medallists at the European Championships in Belgrade and World Cup II in Aiguebelette, spoke about this weekend’s racing at Henley.

George Nash said: “Hopefully if the conditions calm down I’ll definitely be looking forward to it a lot more – it looks like a long way right now! Really looking forward to getting out in front of a home crowd though. I love it last year, it was brilliant racing in the eight. I haven’t clocked up many wins personally here, I’ve only ever won two rounds here at Henley before so I’m excited to try and increase that”.

Moe Sbihi, the newest addition to the four, said: “It’s really good to be here as it’s a home event, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a challenge if the wind doesn’t calm down, and with stream it’s going to be a long race. We practice in all types of conditions though, so it should be ok”.

Alex Gregory, current Olympic, World, European and National champion said: “I’m really looking forward to getting out and racing here. It’s a unique course, there’s nothing like it in the world. We went out this morning and honestly I thought it had got narrower this year! But I’d say apart from the Olympics at Dorney there’s nothing like racing at Henley in terms of support. It’s really good, really exciting and I’m pleased to be here”.

Stroke man Andy Triggs Hodge added: “Physically we’re in a really good place for Henley, we had a great regatta two weeks ago in Aiguebelette. Henley is always a difficult one to get right on the international scene but we like to come here and put a show on as best we can for the home crowds”.

The GB men’s quad also won a fine gold medal in Aiguebelette and local lads Pete Lambert and Sam Townsend were also excited about the prospect of racing on home territory.

Lambert, who lives in Henley, said: “I love how Henley is abuzz when it comes to the regatta. I’m really looking forward to the racing. There’s no other rowing venue in the world where at some point in the race the spectators are closer to the spoon than you are as an oarsman, so it’s pretty cool”.

Sam Townsend, who is from Reading, added: “It’s a big race for me. It’s big for the whole crew obviously, but being a local lad, it only takes me 15 minutes to get here and I’ve known the stretch for a very long time, so it means a lot. We obviously get massive support here being the GB quad which is awesome because you don’t get that too often. Hopefully when we’re racing the Americans tomorrow we can win, but I’m sure we’ll be supported from stroke one all the way down to the finish which we’re really looking forward to”.