Finals Day at a Classic Henley: Everyone’s a Winner

Frankfurter Rudergesellschaft do some pre-race bonding. It must have been effective as they won the Thames Cup.

Tim Koch reports from the final day at Henley:

The last boat crossed the Henley finish line just after 4.07pm, Sunday 6 July. The day saw twenty winners and twenty boats that did not win. I am not going to say that they were ‘losers’ because to race in a final at Henley Regatta is a pretty special thing. Those going home without a medal may not have found this much compensation in the immediate post-race period but, by the time I am writing this, they should be feeling a little better (though some probably will not be feeling anything at all having sought solace in the warm bosom of alcohol).

I have returned home, not with a Henley Medal, but with 500 photographs that I took in the space of eight hours. I will treat HTBS readers to a selection of them over the next week, probably covering the ‘open’ events first and later dealing with the rest. In brief, the results are below. This is followed by an edited version of the official press release on the finals races. Finally, though it is getting very late and it’s back to work on Monday, I would like to share a special insight that I gained on the last day of the races into what makes champions.

Open Men
Grand Challenge Cup (8+) – Leander & University of London
Stewards’ Challenge Cup (4-) – Molesey B.C. and Leander Club
Queen Mother Challenge Challenge Cup (4x) – Leander Club & Agecroft RC
Silver Goblets & Nickalls’ Challenge Cup (2-) – Julien Bahain & Mitchel Steenman (Netherlands)
Double Sculls Challenge Cup (2x) – Stany Delayre and Jérémie Azou (France)
Diamond Challenge Sculls (1x) – Mahe Drysdale (New Zealand)

Open Women
Remenham Challenge Cup (8+) – Leander & Imperial College, London
Princess Grace Challenge Cup (4x) – Leander Club & Gloucester RC
Princess Royal Challenge Cup (1x) – Mirka Knapkova (Czech Republic)

Intermediate Men
Ladies’ Challenge Plate (8+) – University of California, Berkeley (USA)
Visitors’ Challenge Cup (4-) – Harvard University (USA)
Prince of Wales Challenge Cup (4x) – Leander Club

Student Men
Temple Challenge Cup (8+) – Oxford Brookes University ‘A’
Prince Albert Challenge Cup (4+) – Newcastle University ‘A’

Club Men
Thames Challenge Cup (8+) – Frankfurter R.G. (Germany)
Wyfold Challenge Cup (4-) – Upper Thames RC ‘A’
The Britannia Challenge Cup (4+) – Upper Thames RC ‘A’

Junior Men
Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup (8+) – Eton College
Fawley Challenge Cup (4x) – Sir William Borlase’s School

Junior Women
Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup (4x) – Gloucester RC

Mirka Knapkova – the Champion’s Champion.

This is what the HRR press release said about some of the races rowed on finals day:

British crews produced a strong string of performances to dominate the finals day of the 175th Anniversary Henley Royal Regatta. There were wins in the open events for men’s and women’s eights, the men’s four and the men’s and women’s quadruple sculls on a day which saw a brace of races decided by just three feet after the 2112-metre course.

As expected the Olympic Champions Mahe Drysdale, of New Zealand, and Mirka Knapkova, Czech Republic, won the two open events for single scullers, adding to their growing collection of previous titles.

The GB Rowing Team’s powerhouse men’s four added another international win to the European and world cup golds they have already won this season when they romped home in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup for men’s fours. Seasoned rowing observers have begun to pick this crew, coached by Jurgen Grobler, as a potential Rio Olympic winners. The four (are) Andrew Triggs Hodge, George Nash, Mohamed Sbihi and Alex Gregory….

By contrast the University of California, Berkeley, won the Ladies’ Challenge Plate for Intermediate men’s eights by just three feet in a bow-ball to bow-ball finishing sprint against Leander Club to the background noise of the famous “Remenham Roar” from the packed spectators.

Tideway Scullers’ School were disqualified during the final of the Wyfold Challenge Cup for men’s club fours. The verdict came from umpire Mike Williams after an early infringement along the enclosures and meant that Upper Thames Rowing Club won their second title of the day. The locally-based club had waited years for a first victory here and then two came together as they also won the Britannia Challenge Cup title in the opening race of the day.

Gloucester RC’s junior women’s quad recovered well from an early morning training scare – during which they broke their blades in a brush with a moored spectator boat – to win the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup for junior women’s quadruple sculls against Marlow RC. Marlow experienced some unsteady steering early in the race and recovered to chase but could not challenge the Gloucester quartet.

Scratch pairing Julien Bahain and Mitchel Steenman surprised even themselves by winning the final of the Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup for men’s pair from South Africa. Bahain flew in as a late substitute in this crew earlier this week.

It was tight, too, for much of the course between the British women’s eight, racing as Leander and Imperial College, and the their Dutch counterparts in the Remenham Challenge Cup. The British had the upperhand in the early part of the race with the margin fluctuating somewhere between a half and three-quarter length.

In the Grand Challenge Cup final for men’s eights the British national eight , stroked by Henley resident Will Satch, were also in the driving seat once they emerged from a closely fought contest to the Fawley landmark with the French national crew. They drew away to win in 6:15.

Eton College emerged from a very tight race to take the lead with 450m to go in their Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup final against St Edwards’ School from Oxford.

Stany Delayre (Bow) and Jérémie Azou (Stroke) return to the rafts followed by their defeated opposition, Collins and Walton.

Perhaps the honour of the stand-out crew, however, fell to Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou, France’s lightweight double sculls, whose finishing speed was enough to see them win against the emerging British open double of John Collins and Jonny Walton in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup. In the afternoon session a collective shocked intake of breadth later accompanied those two finalists in that Double Sculls Challenge Cup for men as the crews moved past the grandstands. Not a hair’s breadth separated the crews before Delayre and Azou squeezed on to win. Azou said:

“There was just a moment in the second half where I thought that maybe we weren’t going to win, as nothing we could do could break them. Then with about 300m to go, I sensed an opportunity. The surge just took us in front and the drama continued right to the finish”.

It was Delayre and Azou that gave me an insight into what makes winners. I had spent the morning on the photographer’s stand by the progress board, ten stroke from the finish. While this gives a great view of the racing, it is in the boat tent area, where the crews return after a race, that the ‘human interest’ lies. Thus, I spent the afternoon photographing the winners and non-winners returning to the pontoons and to their supporters – including the French double.

Stany Delayre (Bow) and Jérémie Azou (Stroke) are 2014 European Doubles Champions – but in lightweight. They weigh in at around 11 stone / 154 lbs / 70 kg. Their opposition today was 15 stone 1 lb / 211 lbs / 95 kgs and 14 stone 5 lbs / 201 lbs / 91 kgs. The eventual three-foot verdict in favour of the Frenchman took some time to come. Both doubles waited at the finish line for a period but Azou and Delayre decided to come into the pontoons. As they headed in, it was announced over the public address system that they had won. I was poised with my camera waiting for them to react to this news – but nothing happened. Equally strange, there was no one from their squad or any Henley official waiting for them and it soon became clear that they were so exhausted that they did not even try to get their bow side sculls over the dock and Delayre asked me to pull them in. As I did so, I kept repeating ‘You have won!’ and trying to think of how to say it in French (I decided that the informal ‘tu’ would be better than the more formal ‘vous’ but, importantly, I failed to come up with the word for ‘won’ – ‘tu as gagné’ the internet now tells me). However, it soon became clear that, even if I was fully certified by the Académie française, these boys had given their all and were not receiving messages in any language. I resorted to inane grinning and giving the ‘thumbs up’ sigh, hoping this did not mean something rude in France.

The Olympians and European Champions were so exhausted that they could not negotiate a landing.

Azou checks on his collapsed crewmate.

A slow recovery.

The message finally sunk in, but they were still too spent to give much reaction. They started to remove their sculls from the gates but, for what seemed like a long time, it was only my weight on stroke’s rigger that stopped them going swimming. They spent a long time lying on the pontoon, looking remarkably like two men who had just lost. And that, children, is what you need to become a champion.

Tu as gagné.

Our final Drink of the Day’ must be Champagne.

From the Stewards’ Cellars.

Leander release the fizz.

Mahe Drysdale swaps his water bottle for something stronger.

It tastes better out of one of these.

Read what the Telegraph‘s Rachel Quarrell wrote about the races on the final day here.

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