Henley Literary Festival 2012

HTBS’s Greg Denieffe went to this year’s Henley Literary Festival, and here is his report:

The 6th Henley Literary Festival took place last week between 24 and 30 September. In the South Oxfordshire town more famous for is regatta, it was no surprise that there was a couple of rowing related events of interest to HTBS readers.

New for this year was an event held at the town’s Kenton Theatre called Four Voices. Four people shared their entertaining, provocative and stimulating views speaking for 10 minutes on a different subject. It was unscripted with only one aim – to keep the audience amused, entertained and attentive. Monday’s (24th) quartet included Ben Hunt-Davis, Olympic gold medalist in Sydney in 2000; he is now a motivational speaker and runs his own company. In 2011 Ben published his first book Will It Make The Boat Go Faster. His website describes it as ‘providing Olympic-winning strategies to achieve more success in business, sport and everyday life’.

On Saturday (29th) Christopher Dodd at the River and Rowing Museum turned out to be an entertaining double act with Tim Crooks.

Dodd’s new book, Pieces of Eight, tells the story of Bob Janousek, the coach from Prague and his hand-picked crew who restored Britain to the Olympic medal podium in 1976. He shared the peaks and troughs – and the fights along the way – which propelled British rowing from the bottom to the top of international success. HTBS’s Göran Buckhorn reviewed the book on 7 May and I don’t intent to add to that review here.

After a brief introduction Chris treated us to two readings and described how he returned to rowing after an absence of ten years. Having rowed as school, he quickly decided against continuing with the sport in university when the captain of the boat club announced that “training would take place before breakfast”. Thankfully his employer, The Guardian newspaper sent him on an assignment in the early 1970s that resulted in his early involvement with the Bob Janousek coached GB rowing squad and the rest as they say ‘is history’.

In 1969, Janousek, despite then speaking no English, was appointed as British national rowing coach. In the next seven years, he introduced training methods to British rowing that were already widespread elsewhere in Europe and formed the first British national rowing squad. Janousek stepped down as coach after the 1976 Olympic Games, at which Britain gained silver medals in the double sculls and in the eights, but stayed in Britain to form a boat-building business, Janousek Racing Boats.

It would be fair to say that a direct line can be drawn between Janousek and the current success of the GB rowing squad. Chris certainly thinks so and Jon Henderson in his article in The Observer on 26 August 2007 appears to agree with this despite his final sentence crediting Baillieu and Hart as having started the evolution.

Having read the book it was clear that Janousek was more than the national rowing coach. Tim Crooks, an integral part of the GB rowing squad in the 1970s summed up his coach’s contribution when he said that Bob ‘carried us on his back’. As for Pieces of Eight, it is rightly described as ‘ripping yarn’ and Chris Dodd finished the session off nicely by saying that “writing the book was an absolute joy”.

That is exactly how I would describe the afternoon.

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