Lola Anderson, Leander Club. winner of the Princess Royal Challenge Cup, W1x - Copyright: James Finlay
After winning the most nail-biting race of Finals Day, Lola Anderson, part of Great Britain's 'Project Paris' squad for the 2024 Olympics, dedicated her victory to her father, who had introduced her to the sport and died in December 2019.
Anderson, starting as favourite, beat Lauren Henry, the 19-year-old from Leicestershire, who shocked an Olympic gold medallist on Friday, in a thrilling finish to the Princess Royal Challenge Cup, the elite Women's Single Sculls. It was one of eight victories for Leander Club.
"This means so much for so many reasons," Anderson said. "This is the first Henley where I've not got knocked out in the first round, so to make it to the final of an open event and to win it is pretty huge for me.
"On a personal level, I lost my dad in 2019 in December and he was the one that introduced me to the sport, he was the one that always prepped me going to and out of races. He always told me you might surprise yourself, never stop, never give up and you'll surpass even your own most outrageous beliefs of what you can achieve. So today, I feel so happy, not just for me, but it's races like this where I know he'll be proud of me and I can really feel his pride and that makes me feel just amazing. It's such a precious gift. I can't even begin to describe what this means to me."
The 23-year-old Anderson showed her greater experience and strength to hold on even when she could not see properly. "One of my contact lenses blew out," she said. "Impractical - I couldn't really get around it, but I just steered through it."
But Henry (Leicester Rowing Club) may reflect that she left her charge too late as she pulled back 2 ½ lengths in the last 100 metres. Another couple of strokes and it would have been hers as she finished three feet behind.
"I know Lauren's got a really quick second half, and I know that's not really my forte, so I was hoping if I pace my race well enough, so I wouldn't have to put a huge sprint in, but she pushed me for it a lot at the end," Anderson said.
Anderson, a silver medallist at the Junior World Championships in 2016 and an u23 World Champion in the quad in 2019, gave her old school, Surbiton High, and Newcastle University something to cheer about after both had lost their finals in the morning.
It was a day high on emotion after two years of absence after the Regatta was cancelled for the first time outside wartime in its 182-year history.
"We have had Olympians, the next generation, three new women's events and everything in between that makes rowing and the Regatta special," Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Committee of Management, said. "All rubbing shoulders on our riverbank, competing against and learning from each other. Old favourites and new programmes, rivalries and friendships, people coming back from cancer and from COVID.
"We have had all of the things that make the Regatta what it is, the many thousands of individual, family and community stories that have helped our athletes to the start line.
The Stewards gave us a mandate to put on a Regatta even if it had to be behind closed doors. We were able to do better than that. This Regatta exists because many people care about it and I would like to thank our Members, everyone working to stage it in difficult conditions, all of the volunteers for the time they give, and our athletes, for showing how much it matters."
Plenty to spare
The pent-up energy and emotion of two years away was nowhere more evident than in the tour de force of Men's Pair racing, at the end of the day. Morgan Bolding and Matt Tarrant, another Oxford Brookes University powerhouse crew, streaked away in the Silver Goblets & Nickalls' Challenge Cup.
Matt Tarrant and Morgan Bolding, Oxford Brookes University, Silver Goblets & Nickalls' Challenge Cup, M2- - Copyright: James Finlay
The frustrated fourth-place finishers in Tokyo have nothing on Bolding and Tarrant. They were both Olympic reserves in Tokyo for Great Britain and Tarrant also had to fill that role in Rio 2016.
After tasting defeat here in his first appearance in 2018, Paul O'Donovan said he had not come to lose and he was not joking. Fintan McCarthy and O'Donovan (Skibbereen Rowing Club and University College, Cork, Ireland), who won gold in the lightweight men's doubles sculls in Tokyo three weeks ago, showed their class and gave a lesson in sculling as they beat heavyweights Matthew Haywood and Samuel Meijer (The Tideway Scullers' School and Nottingham Rowing Club),
Paul O'Donovan, University College, Cork and Fintan McCarthy, Skibbereen Rowing Club, holding up the Double Sculls Challenge Cup, M2x - Copyright: James Finlay
There was victory too for three of Great Britain's Olympic silver medal winning crew in the Men's Quad in Tokyo three weeks ago as Jack Beaumont, Harry Leask and Tom Barras were joined by Rory Harris in the Bow seat, who won the Queen Mother Challenge Cup (Men's Quad Sculls).
On a day dominated by Leander Club (eight victories) and Oxford Brookes University (six victories), six of Leander's women's squad and eight of Brookes' men's squad won two finals, jumping from quads, four and pairs into eights.
Leander Club celebrating their win of The Wargrave Challenge Cup, W8+ - Copyright: James Finlay
Hinksey Rowing Club, a community rowing club in Oxford, narrowly lost the Britannia Challenge Cup (Men's Club Four) to a powerful Frankfurter Germania. But Hinksey have been one of the stories of the Regatta. Rowing with an assortment of borrowed oars and a borrowed boat from Radley, they have defied the odds. In their first appearance in the Regatta in 2019 they were knocked out in the first round of the Fawley, so they have come back very strong.
Read more of the highlights of the day's racing here.
The best way to end Henley