Finals day at Henley produced cool, blustery conditions for racing, in which some crews coped better than others. There was a different format to the Sunday schedule this year, with racing starting earlier than usual and an extended lunch break replacing the afternoon tea break. On reflection, the Stewards may well be regretting leaving less time to get the prize ceremony set-up, after the sounds system failed.
Once Lord Sebastian Coe, who is in charge of the London Olympics in 2012, arrived to present the prizes the chairman turned on the microphone to start his speech... and nothing came out. Queue much flustering and fiddling with the mic by the sound engineer, but all to no avail. As the standing crowds started to sit down and Lord Coe looked on bemused, someone appeared with a megaphone and handed it to the Chairman, who then used it to lament that because the regatta had seen no breakages, re-rows or postonponements over the five days, he had just written down in his regatta notes that everything had gone perfectly...
In the first race of the day, the Princeton lightweights took on Brown's Frosh for the Temple Challenge Cup. Princeton went out of the blocks rating 43 to Brown's 40 and had a foot lead by the quarter mile. Up until the 3/4 mile mark, there was nothing between the crews and the lead changed several times as they battled it out. Princeton, consistently overrating their opponents started to draw away and had a 1/2L lead at Remenham Club. There was never clear water between the crews but despite a strong challenge from Brown near the finish they were unable to pull it back and Princeton won by 3/4 length.
Brown's A crew in the Ladies had a better time of it, winning their final after a nail biting finish against what is likely to be the 2009 GB U23 eight. Matt Wheeler, the three man in the Brown A crew headed out to race without knowing that he was going to be rowing in the Grand crew in the afternoon - probably a good thing so as not to distract from the task in hand. Brown led from the start and in an impressive show of power and technique, countered everything that the Brits could throw at them.
The Grand race, moved from its normal 3pm slot to make way for the Diamonds final had California & Princeton racing the GB eight, rowing as Leander & Molesey. The US crew (made up of the California quad in the Queen Mother as well as several of the Brown alumni eight that were in the ladies), gave Leander & Molesey a run for their money. The GB eights were never more than a 2/3 length ahead, and the Americans reduced that to a foot around the mile mark (not bad for a scratch crew). A concerned effort from the British crew past the grandstand enabled them to move ahead again, winning by 1/2 length.
Yale faced a stiff challenge in the final of the Remenham Cup, as their opposition was the GB Women's eight. It's not often that college crews get the chance to race national squad crews and with nothing to lose they threw everything at it matching Leander & Wallingford until the end of the island when the British crew moved ahead. Yale continued to give their all but were unable to compete with the power and experience of their opposition in the rough conditions. Once Leander & Wallingford had clear water, they quickly opened it out winning by 3 lengths. After the race the Yale coaches were very happy with the way their crew had performed, lamenting "I just wish there was a Ladies Plate for women."
Yale's other race was against Oxford Brookes in the Prince Albert. Three of the crew have just graduated and the fourth is their captain for 09/10. Their trip to Henley this year was self-funded, but it would be a nice gesture if Yale could perhaps see to giving them some recognition for reaching the final. Brookes got the better start and led by a foot at the end of the island. The Yale crew kept the pressure on keeping the rating high, but Brookes were able to response and their 30lbs a man weight advantage helped in the gusting headwind. Brookes continued to power away, going on to win with the only easily verdict of the day.
Mercyhurst lost out in the Visitors against a much heavier crew from Isis Boat Club (i.e. Oxford University). Isis took an early lead but a determined effort from Mercyhurst reduced the Oxford crew's lead to 1/2 length. Unfortunately they then had nothing left and Isis rowed away from them to win by 3 1/2 lengths.
In the Princess Royal, Gevvie Stone lost out to New Zealand International Emma Twigg, who had pulled away to clear water by the end of the island. Stone sculled well but could not match the New Zealander's power. Twigg led by 3 lengths over most of the course, Stone pulling it back to 2 1/4 lengths at the finish.
Alan Campbell's tough semi-final against Tufte took its toll today when he raced Mahe Drysdale. The New Zealander led from the start and opened up clear water by the Barrier; Drysdale under-rated Campbell over most of the course and kept at 28 even when Campbell raised his rate to 35 as they passed the grandstand. The push took a length out of Drysdale's lead but wasn't enough to secure him the win.
The Polish composite quad, who are the current Olympic Champions, won the Queen Mother, racing against the GB quad. Curiously, their stroke stopped sculling about before the finish line and bow and two paddled them across the line as the GB quad steamed on, meaning that what had been a 2 length lead was down to 3/4 length by the time they actually crossed the line.
Finally, it appears it is actually possible break an erg - one of the Concepts imploded in the crew warm up area yesterday, the fan blades disintegrating inside the housing - don't try this at home though, it takes hundreds of athletes and four days to do it.