16 May 2017
Tim Koch continues with his look at the Kelly family and their relationship with Henley:
Few at the first Henley after the war in 1946 could have doubted that Kelly Senior and Kelly Junior were both very wealthy and very serious. Unusually and expensively for the time, they flew into London by aeroplane, arriving a week before the start of racing. Travelling from the land of plenty to austere and rationed post-war Britain, they also brought bottled water and frozen steaks. Possibly the locals did not begrudge them their beef, but they may have been insulted that the damn Yankees did not trust their water supply. A splendid series of pictures taken before the regatta started captured Jack and Kell’s sense of anticipation.
Kell won his first heat easily, beating a British club rower by four lengths. In the semi-finals, he raced fellow American, Art Gallagher, eventually beating him by three lengths in a hard fought race. Afterwards, The Times felt that Kelly was ‘obviously tired’ and that:
Unless he springs a surprise… it is hard to see how he can beat the French sculler, J Séphériadès (who) won his heat… with great ease … almost a minute faster than Kelly won his…
The Times was proved correct and it reported the final thus:
Kelly obviously went all out to get the lead, but he could not shake off the Frenchman, whose (half way) time was 3 min 56 sec, only six seconds outside the record, and that on anything but a record breaking day. Kelly pushed him very hard up to the enclosure, where Séphériadès got away to win by three lengths.
Henley Royal Regatta, 1947
On his return to the United States, Kell enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. Much to the dismay of the Penn coach, Rusty Callow, Jack forbade Kell to row in the freshman eight and made him stay with sculling. However, this paid off when he won in the single at the 1947 U.S. Nationals and by June the Kelly family had booked to go to Henley.
Séphériadès did not defend his title and race conditions on the Henley reach, a strong flow and a headwind, favoured big men such as Kell, who weighed in around 14 stone/200 lbs/90 kgs. He had an easy victory in the first round, beating a Belgian by four lengths. In the next round, Kell had a two-length lead by the half-mile and his opponent soon folded, leaving him to paddle to the finish. In the semis, the American challenger met Bert Bushnell of Maidenhead. Bushnell was Britain’s best hope but he was giving away 2 stone/26 lbs/13 kg to his opponent and perhaps it was no surprise when Kell underrated the Briton throughout the race and won by four lengths. Bert later gained some compensation for his defeat when he went out on a date with the beautiful Grace (a price above Diamonds perhaps)?
The final was against Carl Fronsdal of Norway who was an unknown quantity as his route to potential glory had been an easy one. As it turned out, Kell was undoubtedly the faster sculler and was two lengths up after 350 metres. However, he must have been desperate for his victory to be certain and he kept the pressure on, winning ‘easily’ by eight lengths.
The Times wrote:
Kelly has defiantly improved since last year, particularly in the sureness of his blade work. He is very strong, has room for a lot more improvement, especially in length, and should be even more formidable next year.
‘Next year’ was to be an Olympic year – with the rowing to be held at Henley-on-Thames.
Kell won his opening heat over the shortened Henley course, buoyed into three lanes for the event, but he was to go no further. The Times, which had earlier thought him in ‘excellent form’, reported:
Saturday’s racing was thrilling from first to last and full of surprises. The unexpected defeat of the favoured J. Kelly, of America, in the single sculls – when Risso of Uruguay, a length and a half behind him with 150 yards to go sprinted, caught, and passed him to win by three feet, both men being completely rowed out – was the race of the day.
Film showing Kell’s last minute defeat (in a rainstorm) starts at 27 seconds here.
Kell went to three more Olympic Games; he sculled in the single both at Helsinki in 1952 and at Melbourne in 1956 and he was in the double at Rome in 1960. He won a bronze in Melbourne, unfortunately meeting two teenage prodigies, Ivanov of the USSR and MacKenzie of Australia. Perhaps his greatest Olympic achievement was putting together the eight from Vesper Boat Club that won the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Henley Royal Regatta, 1949
If Kell read The Times on 27 June 1949, he would have been pleased that the newspaper considered that:
The Diamonds can hardly fail to go to JB Kelly if his form is anything like up to standard. AD Rowe, the only English sculler who might have challenged him seriously, is rowing in the Trinity eight.
Kelly had an easy first round win against a club sculler from Agecroft and got a bye in the second round due to the withdrawal of Bert Bushnell, who wished to concentrate on the double. Well rested, he had a good semi-final. The Times:
In the Diamond Sculls, JB Kelly, University of Pennsylvania, beat the Dutchman, CT Neumeier, by three lengths. He equalled the 1938 record to Fawley of 3 min 51 sec… and it seems a pity that he eased up in the second half for the conditions may not be so fast today. I think Kelly has the speed for records, he is sculling perfectly.
The final proved no problem for Kell and he won his second Pineapple Cup ‘easily’ against fellow American and Philadelphian, JH Trinsey.
Other Kellys, other Henleys
In 1981, Grace was invited to present the trophies at the Regatta and in 2003, the prize for the Women’s Quadruple Sculls was named the Princess Grace Challenge Cup in her honour. In 2004, Grace’s son (and Kell’s nephew) Prince Albert of Monaco made the presentations at the prize-giving ceremony. After these gestures, the passing of 80 plus years and three successful ‘revenge races’, perhaps there is finally closure over the great rejection telegram of 1920?