The final battles at Henley sent four cups home with US crews, saw Alan Campbell win a third Diamond Sculls title for Alan Campbell on another banner GB day, and--for a Henley with 33 records lowered--at least one notable first: Esther Lofgren of the US winning in both the eight and quad today after a mid-regatta substitution.
Harvard's Four Carries Crimson's Banner to Victory
"It feels really good to silence the crowd," said Peter Scholle, Harvard's stroke, after leading his crew on a charge that made things quiet in the Stewards Enclosure. Harvard had trailed Oxford Brookes for a mile, raising hopes of a British win to start the day, but then--just as they had done with Newcastle in the semi--Harvard turned it on, late, to take the win.
It was yet another gutsy race here by this group of 2V oarsmen, who really stole both the Harvard and Henley show with their exciting, and quite decisive, victories in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup. The last two efforts by Harvard produced total breakdowns in the opposing crews: first Newcastle and today Oxford Brookes--spent and gutted by the Crimson's pressure.
The Harvard four of bowseat JP Hogan, Justin Mundt, Ben French, Peter Scholle and coxswain David Fuller did it today with a move just past the mile mark, pushing their bow past the British crew by just a canvas.
By the mile and the 1/8, Harvard had stretched out the lead, but Oxford Brookes was still close enough to inspire some frantic shouting in the enclosures ("there's still hope!"). Harvard put the hush to all that, opening the throttle as Harvard does so well in the closing quarter. Oxford Brookes felt the doubly crushing blow of being passed in front of the friendly home crowd by the Americans, and found that had nothing left, and neither did the once-cheering fans.
"We've all been here before and we have all lost here before, so it feels good to be successful," said Ben French, putting the win in perspective.
"We've never been a crew to crush it off the line," stroke man Scholle added, "but we have confidence in our base speed, and I think we proved in the last two races we can hold up to any crew."
The Crimson's coxswain David Fuller has been to Henley four times now in total--a virtual regular--and he feels that experience "has certainly made the transition time since over here a whole lot shorter." Said Fuller of this year's Harvard excursion: "We got into racing mode right away."
All five members of this crew started the year as members of the dominant Harvard Second Varsity eight, going undefeated in the regular season and winning the Eastern Sprints. Only Washington had an answer for that eight at the IRA, where the Huskies swept the varsity events. Kudos to this talented group for bringing their best to the Henley Prince Albert Challenge.
This Harvard 4+, interestingly, is only the "all American" boat amongst the top collegiate entries from the US here at Henley, including the two Harvard eights. Three of the Americans in the Harvard four are local Bostonians, all from the Belmont Hill School, while one is from New York and another from California.
These days, of course, some of the most dominating college teams in the States have recruits both from around the world and from UK schoolboy powerhouses like Eton College, Abingdon, and Shrewsbury, among others. Washington Husky freshman coach Luke McGee was here greeting young oarsman at the boat tents, even though his team was not competing here, but then again: what college recruiter could possibly resist this talented pool of athletes in one place? (To say nothing of a great excuse to stroll the Enclosures on the company dime.)
A Temple Win, plus One Final Record, as Cal Completes Epic Year
The Temple Challenge started with five US crews--and a heated row2k poll-- and saw fully three make it to the semis: Cal, Harvard and Virginia. All three were champions stateside, with Cal winning the Pac-10 and (of course) the IRA, Harvard going undefeated through a gold at Eastern Sprints, and Virginia playing spoiler to win the ACRA title. All along though, this was really Cal's event to lose, and they dominated the draw here, and the record books, much as they ran the table in 2011 back home: overpowering both with speed and a fierce determination to outlast and out pull anyone lining up next to them.
All week, Cal Berkeley's frosh really showed crews here how Henley is executed. The Bears broke records, then broke them again, then matched the course record of 6:12 in the final, taking that away from Harvard, too. The Crimson frosh held that mark solo for just two days; the previous record lasted 16 years.
Coach Wyatt Allen just wrapped up what may have been the most auspicious debut ever for a first-year freshmen coach: conference title, national title, and Henley title--all by going wire-to-wire. The two-time Olympian rowed, of course, to his Olympic gold in 2004 in a race that was pretty textbook itself, so he knows a thing or two about getting an eight down the course in a convincing way. Allen also won a little race here in Henley town called the Diamond Challenge Sculls between Olympic appearances, in 2005, so he is not a bad tour guide at the HRR either.
"I just asked the guys to prepare for this the way they prepare for any race they have this year," said Allen. "To have a lot of respect for the crews they are up against and try to bring the race to whoever they are racing, instead of reacting," he added.
After the semi, where his Bears bested Harvard, their stiffest competition here at Henley, by a full nine seconds faster than Nereus's time on the other side of the draw. As a result, Allen may well have had to prepare them for the chance that the opposition might not provide the same challenge, and put the course record as another goal.
"We knew we could do a lot of damage early on," he noted. "I told them to go for the full record, I was glad to see them do it." Indeed, the Bears took care of business early and then stormed away from Nereus, coming within a few seats of the full "easily" verdict that is not often awarded on the final day at the Henley.
"There's been a lot of talk about the 2007 boat," Allen pointed out, referring to the Cal frosh who won the Temple Challenge here five years ago. Naureg Gregurian, who stroked the USA Eight in the Grand Challenge Cup this year, stroked that eight for Cal his freshmen year. That success, added Allen, "just reinforces the standard that is held at Cal."
US Women Bring the Bling Home, and Lofgren is Two Times the Winner
Esther Lofgren has not held a sweep oar since NSR #2, and came here to scull in the Princess Grace event as the "B" entry with her recent "Tall Quad" comrades. World Champion though she is, she probably did not expect to end Sunday with two finals, and two wins--all without having to race the USA "A" Quad head-to-head. Yet, when Erin Cafaro, bow of the US Women's Eight experienced back spasms before the semifinal, Lofgren found another seat for Henley, and when her quad had the better day in the semis, her chance at the double win was suddenly there for the taking.
"I think I came into this regatta in the best shape I have ever been in, so I guess it the way to test it," says Lofgren, quipping, "I didn't plan to be rowing two races." Perhaps not, but Lofgren raced the course four times in the last two days, helping to equal the course record in the eight and to bring the US its first win in the quad at Henley.
"I'm not sure the direction I will be going," said Lofgren, when asked if she would sweep or scull going forward this season. "My quad is going into the eight in Lucerne [and] any boat I can help move fast..." she stated. Selections will be made two weeks after returning from Lucerne. So far, though, she admitted, "I am having fun in our tall quad." Her thumb and hand were bloodied and torn up after the day's efforts: "A little welcome back to sculling," she quips.
"There's still a long way to go," said Tom Terhaar, US Women's Head Coach. "It's getting race experience," he explained, on this part of summer training and the World Cup circuit. "This is basically the first time we have everyone who is in serious contention for the team in one place together this month, so they are switching up and looking at different line-ups," added Terhaar.
"We are trying to get the sculling to sweep and sweep to sculling in the team, because they are good athletes and right now we don't have a lot of athletes sculling, so we are going to get them in sculling boats so transitioning to the Eight is easier," said Terhaar.
The notion that the US women could get even faster in the eight is sobering: the women won the Remenham Challenge Cup convincingly, looking every inch the outfit that is the defending Olympic and World Champions. They didn't ever give the British team more than a few feet to think they had a chance and again poured it on all the way down the course. The US women matched the mark of 6:38 that they set on Friday, but this final pairing, which finally pit them against another senior national team boat, was their "tightest" match, if we can call a controlling length and 3/4 tight in any sense other than "relatively."
Just three hours later, Esther Lofgren hopped into bow of the "tall quad" for the Princess Grace final. It was a battle for the early part of the race with Australian Institute of Sport who were keeping the rating up and sparring with effectively, until the US women turned it on and passed them. The Aussie entry was made up of the lightweight and heavyweight national team doubles from Australia, and they had the race experience to match the US crew, but not quite as much horsepower. The US Quad--powered by World Champ Lofgren, U23 World Champ Kara Kohler and two Olympic Champions in Elle Logan and recently returned Caryn Davies--had the race in hand by mid-course and took a length and 1/4 verdict at the finish.
At the time of this writing, the HRR press officer was checking if anyone had won two Henley trophies in one day (Sir Steve, perhaps?), but had not found any results. Certainly, it is a first for a US woman at Henley, so double-congratulations to double-winner Esther Lofgren.
The Hardest Placing: Second at Henley
As noted so often, single-elimination duals can be cruel, and the hardest spot to wind up at Henley--apart perhaps from a failed attempt at Qualifying--is to come second after making it all the way to Sunday. There are, of course, no medals for second place here, just a loss on a day that started with the promise of a very elusive prize.
St. Andrews had made that short trip from a promising run to a disappointing loss today, falling to a very strong Abingdon crew in the Princes Elizabeth. Abingdon's season mirrored the Saints' just a bit: falling to a rival, in their case Eton, at nationals before hitting Henley in stride. This race was, of course, another great classic UK-US schoolboy final, and nothing brings the throngs and the celebrations to the boat tents more than a PE win in these cases….whew.
On the course, St. Andrews was in the game the entire time, but Abingdon led from the Island and really turned it on in past the roaring crowds in the enclosures. Credit the Saints though, even with all the power that Abingdon hit them with towards the end, St. Andrews made a point of fighting right to the bitter end. Assistant coach Morgan Scoville, who tweeted every highlight of the trip over the week, let his "tweeps" know afterwards that: "Heads are high. We rowed our best. It is a fantastic day to represent St. Andrew's." He also called Henley 2011 the "experience of a lifetime"--how true! Congrats to them.
The US Men Fours could not take down the Munich World Cup Champs from the GB squad today. Beating Australia to make the final was a good step for the US's priority boat, but today, on the home waters, the British got out and stayed in control. The Americans, of course, were defending their 2010 win in the Stewards, and will be sorry to see it go, but the goal here no doubt is speed over the full season in a year when Olympic qualification is on the line and there is chance to podium at the World Championships.
And Gevvie Stone took second for the third consecutive year, the past two years to Mirka Knapkova, who is on a bit of a tear this season, including a win over Ekaterina Karsten in the Gold Cup sculling event on the Schuylkill in May (in 2009, Stone placed second to Emma Twigg of New Zealand). Stone now moves on to Lucerne, where a top four finish will land her a place as the US single sculler for 2011; if she fails to place in the top four, she will return to the US for a singles trial. Good luck to Gevvie next week.
There is of course some consolation to the losing crews at Henley, and that is finding out on Sunday that you were put out by the eventual winners. On that score, Upper Yarra's win in the Thames no doubt gave some bragging rights back to the Kent School Alumni that they eliminated. In the final, Upper Yarra beat the Star Club eight who bested the boys from University Barge Club. No doubt a good argument can be had at some bar in Henley, or Philly, as to which US crew would have beaten the other based off the respective margins.
A few other comments, observations and more:
- There was a wager between two members of rival Aussie clubs, who bet on that US/Aussie final in the Princess Grace. Mercantile and Melbourne University Rowing Club are fierce rivals, and one wager-er happened to be the President of Australian rowing, Colin Smith, who was spotted wearing his rival team's tie in the Stewards enclosure the entire day.
- There was the first ever Henley "B" final, of sorts, this morning, set up by the two men's quads that lost in the semis. Perhaps starved a bit of chances to race in an event that waited until Saturday to get started, the US Men's Quad of Jamie Koven, Warren Anderson, Wes Piermarini, and Elliot Hovey faced off this morning before the racing proper against the Aussie Quad of Chris Morgan, James McRae, Karsten Fosterling and Daniel Noonan.
- After winning the Diamond Sculls for singles, Alan Campbell thrust up three fingers to celebrate his third win, which ties him, most recently with Mahe Drysdale. Congrats for making history, Mr. Campbell: good show.
- Out of the 19 Henley Royal events, fully 12 had records broken this year. The conditions were amazing in 2011. A combined thirty seconds fell off the full-course records this year in those 12 events.
- There was a protest by British coxswain Phelan Hill after the Grand Challenge final went the way of the World Champs from Germany. Hill alleged that winning German boat rowed down the center of the course the entire time. Umpire Smallbone raised the white flag, however, and felt the race was clean, case closed. But British 6-seat said his oar was hit several times, and the Germans were warned in the semi-finals for the same positioning. No doubt a score that may get raised (and perhaps settled) a few times between now and London 2012.
Press tent is closing, cheers from Henley!
US W8 wins gold at 2011 Henley Regatta
The US national world champion women's eight, rowing as Princeton Training Center, equaled its own course record on the River Thames in beating the British National Team (labeled Leander Club and Gloucester Rowing Club) in 6:38 to capture the Remenham Challenge Cup. The American team shattered records in each of its three races at the Henley Royal Regatta.