Tim Koch: Dorney Lake – No Bends Here…

Dorney Lake

HTBS’s Tim Koch writes from London:

When I began to visit Henley Regatta in the mid 1980s there was a little ritual carried out by a random collection of boatmen, watermen and master rowers. On the night before the regatta started they took it upon themselves to ‘check that the course was straight’. It seems that this was best done from the bar of the Little White Hart Hotel, situated opposite the boat tent area just above the finish. In between pints of local Brakspear beer they stepped outside, peered earnestly down the course, engaged in secretive conversation and then returned to the pub. At the end of the night they usually agreed among themselves that the course was indeed straight (though it could be argued that their judgement was slightly impaired by this stage).

While the Henley course is no longer checked, an Auriol Kensington Rowing Club training ‘away day gave me the opportunity to ascertain the straightness of another important course – the site of the Olympic Regatta at Dorney Lake near Windsor (21 miles / 34 km west of central London).

In July and August 2012 up to 30,000 spectators a day will be at Dorney to watch the Olympic and Paralympic rowing and the flat water canoe events. The ‘lake’ and its 450 acre grounds are owned and managed by the ancient fee paying school, Eton College. Built between 1996 and 2006 on the site of an old gravel pit, Dorney is 2,200 metres long and has eight lanes, each 13.5 metres wide. In addition there is a parallel five lane warm up and return channel.

The site is managed by a charity, the Dorney Lake Trust which has a three part remit:
a) To provide safe rowing for Eton College pupils.
b) To offer highest-level facilities for major rowing events.
c) To welcome all community sectors for sporting and other activities.

The income from events and functions go towards keeping charges as low as possible, especially for young people.

Dorney Boathouse

In August 2006, Eton Dorney was the site of that year’s World Rowing Championships. Today many schools, clubs and national squads regularly train there. Three major regattas, formerly held on the River Thames, now take place on the course. They are Wallingford, London Rowing Club’s Metropolitan Regatta and Marlow (regarded as a ‘Henley warm up’ event).

Seems straight!

The Olympic Regatta runs from Saturday 28 July to Saturday 4 August. It will have 14 events involving 550 athletes (353 men and 197 women). The finals are as follows:

1 August: M 8+, W 2-, W 4x
2 August: M Lwt 4-, M 2x, W 8+
3 August: M 2-, M 1x, M 4x, W 2x, W 1x
4 August: M 4-, M Lwt 2x, W Lwt 2x

I have a ticket for the final day, 4 August. By luck this is the day when the two best hopes for British wins are competing, the men’s four and the men’s lightweight double (though, as the British squad has crews who have qualified in 13 of the 14 events, everyday of the London Olympic Regatta will be thrilling for Brits). Whatever the final results, it is certain that Dorney Lake will be a winner.

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