At the close of racing, when all the awards were determined, the face-off that seemed to linger in everyone's minds was the Stewards Challenge Cup Four match between Club France and Princeton Training Center, near the end of racing on Sunday. With winds crossing and forcing sketchy bladework at times even with these experienced crews (all day, not this race), the Princeton Training Center crew knew they had serious foe in France, who has had several fast fours in recent years on the International stage - and PTC had a plan.
This was a Enclosure-clearer, a phenomenon brought on by an announcement that a crew is "ahead by 2 feet" (at the 1/4 mile), at the Barrier "both crews are level" and then at Fawley, "Princeton Training Center is ahead by a canvas" - this continued through the race, with Princeton slowly edging out to one length at Remenham. France has been known for being strong finishers, so PTC was hoping to get some distance before the closing meters. As predicted, Club France poured it on as the finish line drew near, closing to within within 3/4 length, but they just couldn't match the US finish and PTC won it. The PTC crew now has some momentum and confidence going to World Cup III.
"We knew it was going to be a tough race," said bowman Guiseppi Lanzone. "France has a great crew, a very experienced crew. I've gone against the French a number of times, and I think they've beaten me every time. A few of those guys were in the four from the Olympics, so they are really experienced," he added.
"We took a very early lead from the start, they came up even, up a seat or so and then we came even and held it there," recounted Lanzone. "Then we kept on inching and inching throughout the race, and we followed our race plan," he explains. "We're trying to gel together, so everything comes together... work on our race pace, our sprinting, our starting...
"We are trying to build...every time we go out we get a little better," he says of how they will approach Lucerne.
"It was a good effort, those were tough conditions and the guys were rock solid," said US Coach Tim McClaren. "The French have always had pretty good fours. Macquet (bow) is a sculler, so they have been switched around a bit," he noted of French four. "It was tough for both crews, we just handled it better.
"I think with the French we are worried about the finish, so we had to have some efficiency about what we are doing," says McClaren. "And you have to use your intuition on a day like today, if they take some bad strokes you have to take advantage of it," he says. "Fundamentally we are trying to handle the conditions, which have been difficult. I was out for the quad and a boat went by with the wind and we lost almost a boat length there. So it has been hard all day."
Earlier on, just after lunch break, Washington faced A.S.R Nereus, a rowing club from the Netherlands, in the Temple Challenge. The Dutch system differs from the American, as athletes don't row for their universities but instead select a club and chart their course. The Nereus/Dutch club team was set up for Henley to give their several pre-elite rowers more International rowing opportunity beyond or instead of U23 or Senior National teams. This team does not have any results to compare to Washington's season-long dominance of the college freshman races in the States.
There were a lot of unknowns as they lined up for the final, but the uncertainty didn't last long. Washington was strong into the crossing head "breeze," whereby you could see Nereus' blades getting taken away in a gust. At the start, Nereus was within a canvas of Washington; by the Barrier, Washington had pushed out to one length.
Subsequently Washington build their lead throughout, extending to three-four lengths by the grandstands, and finally crossing the finish line 41/2 lengths ahead. This is not the kind of match you expect at the final of Henley, but it declared the talent within the UW boat.
"I think they are young guys, and when you get to make the trip over to England --racing the UK, Japan, Netherlands, US-- it's the unknown factor that makes it so fun to watch," said McGee. "Its a perfect race for these freshman. They get a taste of international racing: the big stage, big crowds...the walk-on guys, geez, I can't talk enough about them, from the end of September until now."
At the end of the race, Croatian 5-seat Mijo Rudelj shouted something not quite discernible in the wind . When asked, Luke McGee said he may have exclaimed something they have been talking about on the way over the UK--"he may have said 'absolute champions.'" Yes, that could have been it, and it looks like it is absolutely right. We'll see these boys in their finery in the Stewards this afternoon.
The Princess Elizabeth Challenge final was a similar case of dominance, with Eton taking what could arguably be the best of the US in Kent School, CT, by 4 lengths. The Eton boat contained four of the rowers and the coxswain from last year's PE champions, so they knew how to race at Henley.
The Eton/Kent time to Barrier was one second faster than Washington at 1:55, an indicator of the blistering pace set by these young lads; yes, conditions change but that is a great time in the capricious wind.
Kent didn't look quite as together as they have shown in recent races; they may have been a little surprised by Eton's early meters, and may have reacted poorly, hard to say. But As the two boats progressed down the course, Eton gained another boatlength in lead. Hard loss for Kent, but an amazing season for the team. Congrats to the crew and Coach Houston.
In the Ladies' Plate, a winner from the red, white and blue... well, Crimson will do. The Harvard Varsity Eight also had one of the first US barn-burners, which woke up folks snoozing on he lawn chairs in the enclosures. This was a tight match between Harvard and Oxford Brooke and Oxford University. The crews were level at the island, with Harvard gaining 3 feet as they emerged by Temple. Each crew was matching ratings at at 37 or 38 for most of the race... no small feat in this wind. At the grandstands, Harvard had about a half-length, which they did not give up until a few strokes from the finish, where the UK crew rallied to gain a seat, finishing just 1/3 length from the Crimson. Kudos to Harvard for the win and for an exciting race on the shores, well rowed!
The Grand Challenge Cup was the fastest race on the day, although unfortunately despite the high-level of competition the conditions would not allow record times; as was announced at the awards, the predicted Grand Challenge record board re-write will not occur, save for a Barrier time set on Saturday by the German Men's Eight, which created a 4-way tie at 1:43. The final against the New Zealand Waiariki Rowing Club was Germany's from the start. Steadily, Germany went through all the famous markers, building distance from 1/2 length, to 3/4s, to 1 length... in the end they had taken every segment of the race, winning by 1 and 3/4 boat lengths. The German Eight won the last World Cup in 2009, and the World Championships in Poznan a couple months later over Canada. This is a dominant crew right now, and they are looking very good headed into Lucerne, as it doesn't seem Canada has put together their perfect line-up yet...but they are getting very close.
The tent is closing for all media within minutes... thank you for reading, thanks to all the athletes and coaches who spoke with us - great Henley!