By midmorning of the first two days of the 2018 Henley Royal Regatta, so many races had been run on the River Thames, it was almost pointless to count them.
Each day the numbers of races dropped until the list of 535 entries had been reduced to 46 and by close of day Henley Sunday, the remaining crews stood in front of the crowd on the lawn on the Stewards Enclosure during the annual Prize Giving Ceremony and accepted their trophies from regatta Chairman Sir Steve Redgrave and 2018 Prizegiver Dame Katherine Grainger.
Among the 23 new Champions, two were US crews - the junior women's quad from Moline, Illinois and Y Quad Cities Rowing, who had won the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup, and the men's eight from the University of Washington that had defeated Oxford Brookes to take the Temple Cup Challenge.
Y Quad Cities with the Jubilee Cup
The two crews were among the 23 titles that were spread out among six international entries and the first two American crews to win at Henley since being shut out in 2017. Of the titles, Great Britain racked up a whooping 15 championships; Australia had two winners, while The Netherlands, Croatia, New Zealand and Switzerland each had one winner.
More impressive than the numbers of trophies the UK won were the numbers of records that fell. A building heat wave that began early in the week, accompanied by a blazing sun and an afternoon tailwind that kicked into high gear right about an hour into the schedule, resulted in the fastest racing conditions Henley has ever experienced.
From the Stewards Challenge Cup final that went off at just after noon, the records fell in droves, and not just overall course records, but Barrier and Fawley records as well. In winning the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup, the Y Quad Cities crew had bested the course record by three-seconds, a record they had set the day before in the semifinal.
All afternoon, as crews rowed into the boat enclosure and the recovery docks, groups of cheering fans ran to them waving and yelling, "you've set the record."
By close of racing, the enthusiasm was only mildly returned by shouts from the boats of, "Yea, by how much?"
The conditions were the kind of mixture of heat and speed that seemed to catch everyone off guard and forced the dropping of the blazers rule for men in the Stewards Enclosure (not the ties, heaven forbid) for three straight days.
Record keepers, trying to stay up on the pace of the falling race records, could not easily put their fingers on if that had happened before in the history of the regatta.
Nor could they quickly answer if it was the hottest regatta on record. That query was met several times with the quizzical, not since the middle 1960s?
The heat lit up the venue and the surrounding town, but did nothing to slow the pace of the colorful celebration of racing that was the 2018 Henley from start to finish and provided the kind of race memories that will last a lifetime.
Y Quad Cities celebrates at the finish
"That was incredible," said senior Caroline Sharis, who stroked the Y Quad crew through four days of hard and fast racing. "It was just a culmination of all the hard work this past couple of months and it has always been our goal to come here and get to the final and get it done.
Getting it done for Sharis and the three young women behind her took physically draining efforts that produced back-to-back come from wins and course records.
By the time they had reached the finish line tower ahead of Marlow Rowing Club to win, they had the first comfortable lead in days, enough of a lead that Sharis knew with just a handful of strokes to go that she could let the sights and sounds of the moment reach her.
"I was focused on just coming down the course and having that lead and being able to look at all the surroundings," Sharis said. "It was just an incredible experience. As my last race with Y Quad Cities, it was kind of bittersweet just coming to the finish line, but it was a great feeling.
"With ten strokes to go, it was like, 'wow we've got this,' and I allowed myself to open my ears and hear all the cheering. It was really cool. I heard a couple of Y Quad Cities cheers and felt like, yea!"
The run to the finish line produced the same emotion in the Washington eight.
"It's amazing" said Philipp Nonnast. "It was hard to hear anything. The crowd was so loud. It was a great experience, a really good race, perfect execution. We did what he had to do to win."
Rowing in one of the final races of the day, Washington managed a get ahead in the first quarter of the course, and continued to build into the enclosure areas. Brooks moved when they reached the home crowds and pushed into Washington, but Washington held and crossed in first.
It was the second race between the two schools this year. Brookes came to Washington and lost in a close battle to Washington in the Windermere Cup Regatta. Before Washington could get to the final they had to get past Yale in the Saturday semi.
Washington crossing the finish line Sunday
Neither the Washington nor Brookes crew that raced at Henley were the same lineups as in the earlier race, but for the oarsmen, that didn't take away from the experience, or from the result.
"It was a great team effort," Nonnast said. "It was a very personal race against Yale Saturday, but beating Brookes after we beat them so close at the Windermere Cup, it was very satisfying for the whole crew, for the whole team at home."
Racing and winning at Henley is a high mark for athletes of all levels, including Olympic and World Champions.
Mahe Drysdale with his sixth Pineapple Cup
New Zealand's Mahe Drysdale, who won his sixth Diamond Challenge Sculls title, and tied a record set in 1962 by Australian Stuart MacKenzie, said he felt his race was the most complete of his season so far - and was a confidence booster in his push to regain his place on the New Zealand national team after taking a year off from training and racing following his second Olympic gold win at the 2016 Olympics. (Read our post race feature on Drysdale here.)
"I came here in 2016 as the big favorite and didn't pull it off, and I came here as the underdog this time, and pulled one out of the hat," Drysdale said. "So, it's a really good step forward. It's my most complete race so far and it gives me hope that in a weeks' time I can do what's required and get across the line in Lucerne."
Dressed in his striped Henley blazer and cap, Drysdale accepted his Pineapple Cup trophy and headed to the airport to fly to his next regatta challenge at World Cup III in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Right behind him will be the reigning women's world champion, Switzerland's Jeannine Gmelin. As soon as she pulled her boat from the water, Gmelin went into recovery mode and began packing her equipment for an afternoon flight home.
She is also racing at Lucerne next weekend.
"It was exceptional that I was able to race here because of the Swiss championship over in Switzerland," she said. "Normally I have to race there, so the federation made an exception for me to kind of have a new experience and have a different challenge than racing the Swiss champs, which I have done for many years now. So, it's really great to be here.
"It's hot, and it's tricky, and challenging and different, but it's been a really fun week," she said. "I've been able to train and prepare for this race really well because my coach is from here. I really had a blast here, especially to have people a meter away from you cheering. It's a really different feeling and it's nice to hear the crowd cheering and see them in all the colorful clothing."
Notes From the Course
The difference between Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Henley-On-Thames is more than a little noticeable. The crowds and lines into the bars, drop significantly, so does the music and the amount of raucous shouting.
This was overheard from one young man to another crossing the Henley Bridge Sunday afternoon while looking at the crowded bar on the opposite side of the river. "No, I don’t think so. Last night was enough."
More on the Heat
The records might not have been available to measure the where the temperatures stood in the history books, but it didn’t stop people from finding ways to judge it. Including testing just how sticky the melting tar was on the road in the boatyard.
"It's like getting new treads on me shoes," noted one observer.
St. Paul's School celebration
You would think that the heat would invite more crews to toss their coxswains in, or jump in themselves. Didn't happen as often this year. But in keeping with their showing on the course and the impressive way they won the Princesses Elizabeth Challenge Cup all week, the St. Paul's School boys get the nod for most fun in the water.
After pushing the coxswain in they all jumped in, climbed out and jumped back in - repeatedly.
As for the Winner of the Cox Toss. Hand that one to Washington
Washington cox toss