US Naval Academy Crew heading to Great Britian, photo courtesy of US Naval Academy
It didnt take long for the rowing coaches at the US Naval Academy to decide they wanted to represent the US military at the Henley Royal Regatta Kings Cup event honoring the 100-year anniversary of the Henley Peace Regatta.
The Naval Academy was already celebrating its 150th year of rowing, and the thought of taking an eight to Henley to race in an event that was run only once as an effort to help return the rowing world to some beginnings of normalcy after the devastation of World War I would be an added honor.
"We were approached about it last summer," said Navy mens head coach Rob Friedrich. "They had this plan and wanted to see the interest level of the countries that were first involved 100 years ago in the Kings Cup, and got in touch with me and the Army rowing club."
Friedrich said the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had been apprised of the event because "we had already been in contact with them. Chief of Naval Operations (Admiral John M. Richardson) happens to be a former Navy rower and graduated from the Naval Academy. So it was pretty easy for them to get on board and have the US Naval Academy represent the United States at this military event.
"We said we were interested, and the official invitation was sent to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he said.
"To be part of it is just an honor," said Friedrich. "There's a lot of history at the Naval Academy, we're celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Navy Rowing, and it could not have been better year."
King's Cup eight in practice
And there is a lot of history tied to both the regatta and the military event.
By the close of 1918, the ink on the Armistice was still fresh, and the memory of First World War only months old. The Henley Stewards were not in favor of just restarting Henley after it being placed on hold during the war years. Instead of holding the regatta as it had been run since 1839, a vote was taken by the Stewards to run a special regatta to honor those lost to the war, and to honor and welcome returning veterans.
It was named the Henley Peace Regatta and the featured event was a race between allied military crews from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom. A special cup - the Kings Cup - was made for the event to be presented to the winner by King George V.
Australia won the event and the cup, and the following summer the Henley Royal Regatta returned to be run as it was run before the War.
This June, Henley will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Peace Regatta with another all-military eights event, a new Kings Cup (Australia kept the original), and will include crews from the original six allied nations, as well as Germany and The Netherlands.
In addition to honoring the anniversary of the Peace Regatta, the event will be rowed by mixed crews to reflect gender equality and inclusion changes to the sport and within the military - a first for the Royal Henley Regatta.
“The Regatta is delighted to host such an important commemoration," said Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Regattas Committee of Management, in a release announcing the event's inclusion in this year's Henley Regatta.
"The 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta was a key milestone in our sport and was staged by the rowing community to help heal wounds and hasten the return to normality of the Allied nations and their troops recovering from the First World War,” Redgrave said.
"One hundred years on this is about honoring our past as well as celebrating eight Allies fittest and finest," added Chris Hartley, Kings Cup Chairman.
"As in 1919 when Henley Royal Regatta helped a return to normality and build the peace, so in 2019 the Regatta is innovating again and highlighting the role of women on the front line and in their spare time," Hartley said.
"It has been a complex journey, but getting eight mixed military crews to Henley is tremendous - the support from the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta has been unwavering."
Navy, said Friedrich, not only embraced the idea of mixed crews, but immediately took the gesture a small step further during selection for the boat, choosing to invite athletes from all three Navy squads - including open weight women and men along with the lightweight teams.
"For selection, we made this a boathouse wide event," he said. "It's a mixed gender crew, and that's how the Stewards of Henley proposed it to the heads of the military of each country. In the boathouse, the coaches came together and decided to select from the lightweights, the heavyweights, and women to go over on the trip, and to make it a great training trip for our boat house on the anniversary of the 150th."
As part of the overall trip, the Academy crew left early and took a squad large enough to race a four at the Henley Womens Regatta, and also to race crews in the Marlowe Regatta, which took place over the weekend on Dorney Lake, the site of the 2012 Olympics.
"We'll be traveling with 18 midshipmen and officers," Freidrich said. "Of the 18 we are bringing, four women will race at Women's Henley, and then two of them are going into our mixed eight for the Kings Cup event. The others will try to qualify in the pair at Henley, and train as spares. To represent the United States in this Kings Cup is just an honor, and our athletes are taking it very seriously," Freidrich said.
"It's all very exciting," said Ashlyn Dawson, who rowed to a semi-final finish in the Womens Henley four Sunday and will be rowing in the the Kings Cup eight. "Obviously, were all extremely excited to have this opportunity to race overseas.
Navy women's four, photo courtesy of US Naval Academy
"It's great because were getting to race as the United States Naval Academy in the women's four, and in the men's eight and both men and women's pairs. Then a week later the group will be switching over to our mixed eight as the United States Armed Forces in the Kings Cup.
"The team is very eager to have this opportunity to represent our military in such a dynamic way, and hopefully bring the trophy back to the USA. It's really an honor to be selected for this group from the overall Naval Academy boathouse.
"All three teams, the lightweight, heavy, and women, all had a tough decision process, but the support we've already felt from our teammates is immense," Dawson said.
The last time Navy had a crew competing at Henley was in 2004 when their lightweight men made it to the semifinal round of the Temple Challenge Cup. That crew was stroked by Hunter Washburn, whose brother Chandler will stroke the Kings Cup eight.
"The event is very unique, and I'm deeply honored to be taking part in it," said Washburn. "This is a particularly special event because it is honoring 100 years since World War I ended. The rowers that make up these crews happen to be members of their respective nations' armed forces.
"I feel deeply privileged to be able to represent not only the United States Naval Academy, but more importantly the United States Armed Forces. It is this aspect that I believe makes this event like no other. We are representing something more than each of us. It's an opportunity that will be remembered for a lifetime by those of us partaking in it," he said.
"Rowing at the Kings Cup event in England is going to be a once in a lifetime experience," said John Lamb, another of the US Kings Cup crew. "I am very excited and proud to be in the position to represent not only the other rowers on my team at the Naval Academy, but also the United States Armed Forces," Lamb said.
"I have always understood the great amount of history involved in this sport, therefore it was not surprising to me that Henley hosted a peace regatta at the end of WWI. While we will all be competing to win, this event is certainly more ceremonious, and the participation of all the countries shows a level of positive international relations on the military front.
"As a member of the US military, I understand that every day I put on my uniform I am representing the United States and its Armed Forces," Lamb said.
The competing Kings Cup crews will race in a time trial prior to the start of the regatta's knockout round next Friday. The trials will be used to seed the crews into the following three rounds. As part of the celebration all the military eights will row in a parade of boats on finals Sunday in celebration of the event, which will be viewed by relatives of some of the original crews.
"Its fantastic to know that relatives of the original Kings Cup crews are going to be there in this commemoration event," said British athlete Cas Wootten.
"Being part of the UKAF project for the Kings Cup has been an incredible experience," added teammate and British stroke Ed Mace. "The privilege of competing with such a tightknit and driven group in such a special event this year will stay with me forever."
Members of the French, Canadian and German crews expressed similar sentiments.
"The preparation was short, but desire is fueling our competitive motivation and our commitment is unfaltering," said French Army athlete, Lucie Giruad. "It is therefore an honor for me to represent the colors of the French Army," he said.
"When we first found out that we were going to have the opportunity to represent not only the Royal Military College, but the entire Canadian Armed Forces at such a prestigious event it all seemed surreal," said Canadian Carolyn Pumphrey. "Now, as we are only a couple of days away from leaving Canada, and after months of training, we can't wait," Pumphrey said.
"The Henley Royal Regatta is legendary, even in Germany," added Chief of the German delegation, Christian Lutzkendorf. "We are really excited about being one of the teams participating in the Kings Cup. It's an honor for a team of German soldiers to be invited to such an excellent event with its impressive history and traditions."
For complete information on the Kings Cup go here.