The Henley Regatta is a test of endurance for competitors, coaches, and foreign correspondents alike. I'm exhausted from all the talking, walking, sitting, watching... and working to stay hydrated in the heat of this English summer.
Most competitors are looking at their fourth race in as many days tomorrow, and even for those crews that have had an easy time of it on the water, the daily strain of getting to the line and racing well is beginning to show. The quality of rowing is now very high, and more and more races are fought to the finish. Winning a Henley title is truly an achievement. Even for superior crews, performing on command day after day requires a champion's stamina, and for that every Henley Cup must be earned.
The open events at the Regatta attract crews of international standard from around the world. These events are truly "open" to all, and many club crews of regular Joe rowers find enough speed to qualify. Inevitably, the regular Joes run up against the mighty elites, and it's ugly. There were a number of such instances today, and I'll spare the unfortunates further grief by only mentioning one race, which ended with the largest margin I've ever seen. The unfortunates were a City of Sheffield pair, and not a bad boat on their own, but up against Jagar and Stojic of Serbia and Montenegro, two stars of our sport, they struggled. Jagar and Stojic weren't doing much but cruising down the course, yet by the end they were an astounding 32 lengths ahead. The official margin was "easily." Our margin was determined by Abby Parker, who despite her young age, is an excellent judge of rowing and distances, a talent most likely influenced by her parents.
Suffering a greater misfortune than the aforementioned pair was the Nottinghamshire County and Durham University women's quad. I do not know the details, but this selected crew collided early on with their opponents from U. of London, and was disqualified. Ouch!
Yet the most unfortunate event of the day did not involve a crew, but a spectator. This incident also ranks as one of the most athletic performances witnessed all week. Sitting front row alongside the river in canvas lounges were two women with cell phones. Cell phones are strictly forbidden in the Stewards Enclosure, so they kept them hidden in their laps between folds in their skirts. Not willing to break two rules at once, one of the women gave her skirt a tug, a "ping" as she described the action, to bring her hem over her knee. The flex of the fabric launched her cell phone as if from a catapult into the Thames.
In a flash, and I mean nearly instantaneously, the woman was out of her chair, leaning belly down into the river, with her arms, head, and half of her torso reaching under the water. A second later she was back in her chair, phone in hand, soaked from head down to belly. "Pardon the bra" she said as she rearranged her garments, and then broke down and had a nice cry, as every non-Luddite understands, her life was ruined without a working cell phone.
The selection committee was correct in the assessment of talent in the Temple Cup and PE Cup, as the final four crews in each of these events were selected. A parent of an English schoolboy rower expressed surprise at the improved performance in the PE of certain schools, thinking that there's been enough water time since required rugby playing ended to give the crews real speed. And I thought ice in early spring was a problem...
I am in Henley because of the Cornell Lightweight crew racing in the Temple Cup. The Big Red went up against a strong Trinity College, Dublin crew this afternoon. Thankfully, we prevailed, but with effort. The Trinity crew rowed in the Thomas Dudeney, a beautiful Empacher. Our hosts explained that Thomas was the son of the Henley family who've hosted the Trinity crews for many years. After his untimely death a short while past, the gracious Trinity crew named their new boat in Thomas' honor. Racing is what we do, why we train, but what would our sport be without the people within it? And thanks to the traditions and regattas like Henley that give reason for folks from all around to meet up, share the experience, and be better for it. Good row, Trinity.
Foreign Correspondent Roock