Closing in on a Hot Semifinal Saturday at the 2018 Henley Royal Regatta
July 6, 2018 Ed Moran, row2k.com
Tom Graves representing in the Diamond Challenge Sculls
Some athletes and coaches from the US make plans to travel to the Henley Royal Regatta at the conclusion of a successful sprint season, when they know they have a chance to win and can pick the event that best suits the capabilities of the athletes fit enough and eager enough to row a few more weeks past the spring.
For example: The Y Quad Cities junior women's quad crew knew they wanted in this year, but based the final decision on the season's performance and a string of consecutive US junior national championships. The University of Washington women planned their trip before the season began, and hope the journey will be become an every four-year tradition.
The US Under 23 training camp coaches started planning a trip to Henley-On-Thames last summer, in the beer garden in Plovdiv, Bulgaria after the U23 World Rowing Championships. And many other US programs know they want to come as often as possible as a way to "show the university flag," or reward and develop second and third varsity crews.
Still others, like in the case of Tom Graves, who is rowing the single in the Diamond Challenge Sculls, make the decision on a whim of sorts because they simply felt strong enough and wanted to have some fun. "I was talking about doing this in the double with my brother, Peter, probably about a month ago," said Graves. "But then, three weeks ago, I decided I might as well come and just have fun."
Of the above mentioned reasons for coming, Graves has probably experienced them all.
He's a veteran of the regatta, having reached the final in both the Queen Mother and the Double Sculls. He rowed the Diamond Sculls as recently as 2016, when he was eliminated in the heats. Graves knows what level of fitness and skill is needed to compete here in July and basically decided, hey, I train hard, why not.
"I knew I was pretty fit. I've been training for triathlons all year, and so I just wanted to come and see how it would go." There was also a flag raising thing to be considered, as in the Graves family flag.
Brother John raced in the Diamond Sculls final last year, but is home in New Jersey at US national team trials in the double with Ben Davison this week. "We had to have someone here," Graves said.
Friday, the US contingent droped to nine crews from a starting lineup of 35, but have all nine crews still in the finals mix for this Sunday, Graves advanced into the Saturday semifinals after defeating Nuno Mendes of Portugal.
Graves who was a selected sculler advanced from what seemed like a not to stressed time on the course Friday, moving ahead of Mendes early enough to control his rating, course and fate.
He now has to race the two-time defending Olympic men's single champion, Mahe Drysdale, who, by the way, is fighting country mate Robby Manson for the right to represent New Zealand in the 2018 World Rowing Championships.
And there is one more thing that Graves has to consider besides Drysdale's obvious long thought-out plan to come to Henley, and the pressure he is placing on himself to beat Manson this spring (last shot is next week at the Lucerne Regatta), is the small fact that he has won Diamond Sculls five times previous and will set a Henley record if this becomes six.
No big deal, right?
"It's just going to another race," Graves said. "It was good to have my first race of the whole year today. I haven't raced anyone in practice or in a race all year, either one. I was glad to make it from point A to point B.
"He's obviously one of the best in the world," Graves said of Drysdale, "a double Olympic champion, but I'll do my best."
And that - like the weekend-long party that brings up the last two days of the five-day event, and the formal dress code that goes along with the mandatory beverage consumption of the majority of spectators in the Enclosures - and the various observation stations, floating and otherwise, that line the River Thames all weekend - is the essence of the Henley-Royal-Regatta.
Spectators of all kinds lined the course Friday
There is something for everyone that is fit enough, has reason enough, and knows how to get here to race.
And as for the racing, it has been as hot as the weather, which has been steamy enough to have prompted a slight easing of the Stewards Enclosure dress code and an announcement that blazers can be shed, but ties and badges must be worn.
The Racing Recap
The day's events got off to a fast start with 17 US crews remaining in the hunt.
In the Thames Challenge, the Montclair Mounties club crew, that was at first entered as a PE junior men's crew from Montclair, New Jersey, continued their march past the doubters and dismissed the eight from Cork in the first quarter final of that event. Montclair is among the Sunday final hopefuls for the US and will row Thames A tomorrow.
The Temple Challenge has two US university eights left, and wouldn’t you know it - they race each other in what can be billed as a rematch of the IRA (sort of). The national eights champions from Yale University will take on the Washington in the semifinals.
This may not be each school's top varsity crew, but they are both deep, fast programs and this race should rise to marque level. Yale has been rowing through American rivals since they got started Wednesday against Temple University, then beat Bath University, to set up a dual with Princeton's lightweight men.
The Tigers vowed Thursday not to be wowed by the Yale heavies, and they were not. They did not win, but they sure tried, fighting the length of the course in what they said was some unsettled water, to about a one seat loss, or as the official, "verdict" says a canvas.
Yale just edged Princeton to advance
"It took a while for us to get our swing together," said Princeton stroke Marcus Jonas. "We would get it, and then get smacked by wash, and that would put us off the swing and then we would have to work to get it back again.
"It kind of felt like that the whole way down, we got it, we lost it, we got it, we lost it," he said. "I'm so proud of the guys. We managed to hold on for four minutes without seeing a glimpse of the other crew. It was pretty good and I'm pretty happy I was in there, even if the result wasn't there."
Washington reached their semifinal slot, and Yale match, by defeating The Netherlands entry A.S.R. Nereus. In the other parings of the day Brown University was eliminated by Newcastle A and Syracuse was defeated by the local favorites, Oxford Brookes A.
Washington men's eight
So, by the end of the day Saturday, there will be one US collegiate men's eight in the Sunday final.
The women's university eights event, the Remenham Challenge Cup, also has a solid shot at having a crew in the final, and a one that has shown to be up to making it to the Gift Giving ceremony. (You just have to love Henley speak. The don't medal here. They win gifts!)
Washington's eight matched up with the US Under 23 national team training camp and really had no issue rowing to a win. They were up early and rowed composed to the line. (Read an earlier report on that race here.) Yale University is also in one of the two semifinals after chasing down the women's Nereus Crew, and beating them in a mad sprint.
"It was just a burner from start to finish," said rising senior coxswain Audrey Malzahn. "And in the end, we just tied to stay in it and fight to finish it off. We were down from when we probably lengthened out, like 300-meters in, until the last 500-meters, when we finally got our bow ahead.
"I had a lot of confidence in my girls, they have a lot of horse power, so I knew that if we could just stay in it they would be able to close it." The sprint had spectators on their feet and cheering, but Malzahn said she didn’t hear it.
Yale women's eight sprints to the semifinal
"I couldn't hear anything" she said. "I was tuned into what we were doing. I was just trying to get ahead at the end and yelling things like just go, get your bow ball ahead, do whatever you have to do.
"I'm very excited and very proud of my girls."
Yale now gets the Australian National Training Center Crew that eliminated the University of Iowa in their quarterfinal.
Among the smaller US crews still competing, are the Columbia University lightweight four racing in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup, and the University of Washington double rowing in the Stoner Challenge Trophy.
Washington's Klara Grube and Kenzie Waltar raced to what looked like an easy win against the Gloucester Rowing Club and will row tomorrow against Exeter University.
The Columbia men, meanwhile, had to work from behind to get past the National University of Ireland, Galway. The Irish lads went ahead by nearly a length in the first half, but Columbia chipped away until they gained a lead, and then built on it to win by open water.
Columbia men's four advancing
They race in the semifinals against the Goldie Boat Club for a shot at the Sunday final.
Of the American crews that raced in the Thursday quarter finals, the advancing race of the day should probably be awarded to the Y Quad Cities junior women's quad. Y Quad was matched against Britain's best junior women's quad - Henley Boat Club A - who were racing on what is their home course.
Henley moved quickly onto the lead, and then started edging into the middle of the course, making a move that could have frustrated a lesser experienced American crew. But the US 2018 Youth National Champion girls stayed calm while the Henley girls were steered back to their side of the river by the following referee.
The US crew moved on the Henley quad and when they made contact started driving for the lead. By the time they rowed in front of the Stewards Enclosure they were ahead by a deck, and when they crossed the line, they had open water.
The US women's collegiate contingent from Washington and the U23 Princeton Training Center each had crews competing in the women's four event for the Town Challenge Cup. Both were eliminated in the heats Friday.
Notes From The Course
It's worth a mention that among the international, elite crews that got started today, the Olympic Irish silver lightweight double from the Skibbereen Rowing Club. Gary and Paul O'Donovan have been training to compete in the 2018 World Championships and are focused on the 2020 Olympics, but did not have funding support to race in World Cup II, so they chose to come to Henley before going to World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne next week.
Paul and Gary O'Donovan make their Henley debut
Rowing against heavyweights in the Doubles Sculls Challenge Cup, the O'Donovan brothers won their opening round against Leander's entry. They will race again tomorrow in the semifinal.
This is the Irish double's first Henley appearance. "I suppose it's because we're not on the international rowing scene that long," Gary O'Donovan said. "We've only been together internationally for the probably like three years, and the priority up to last year was Rio.
"We've always been occupied with the world cup regattas, but this year we weren't going to the second world cup, and we took the opportunity to come here and represent Skibbereen Rowing Club.
"It's very nice, good fun," he said. "People have always said how great it is here and how much fun it is and that we should come here. People tried to describe what the atmosphere is like but it's very hard to grasp it until you actually get to come here and see it for yourself and see what an impressive event it is."
"The racing is good, we were lucky that we got seeded into the second round so that gave us a little bit of extra time to practice on the rowing course. The competition is going to get tougher tomorrow and hopefully we can get through and it will be tougher the day after that. It's one of the biggest events, and we're competing in the heavyweight category as lightweights, so there is an added challenge there to take on some bigger, stronger guys. Which is a bit of fun that we don't get to do that often."
Overheard in the men's locker room
"By Friday morning, we start getting an interesting mix of people in here. Some are very nervous. Some are very hungover," one older attendant said to an obvious rookie holding a bucket.
Right about 12:45 an announcement was made that due to the heat, the requirement for wearing a blazer in the Stewards Enclosure was suspended. "But only for today, and we require that you continue to wear ties and continue to display your badges.'
It will likely happen again tomorrow as the heat is not expected to back off much.
Eyes in the Sky
Henley rules forbid photographers from taking pictures of spectators in the Stewards Enclosure. Wonder if this guy in the military helicopter flyover was informed?
For what it's worth, he had a great view.
As our photographer took images from on board the Chinook during the #RAF100 and @RAFBatonRelay flypast at @HenleyRegatta today, one of our #TeamBenson crewmen managed to capture a video too. They definitely had a great view of the whole event!