Henley Men’s Open Events

Finals, Part II

A great champion: Mahé Drysdale winning his sixth Diamond Sculls final.

12 July 2018

Tim Koch is still on the finish line at Henley.

HTBS’s expert on Irish rowing, Greg Denieffe, and his daughter, Hanna, meet the O’Donovan brothers, Gary (left) and Paul (right). People are often disappointed when they meet their heroes, but with these boys, the cliché, ‘what you see is what you get’ applies.

The Grand Challenge Cup (M8+). Times and YouTube.

The Australians in the lead passing the Stewards’ Enclosure. The Mile 1/8 marker in the distance shows that they were marginally ahead at that point.

The Grand attracted only three entries, and home supporters were disappointed and surprised when the British crew, silver medallists in the World Cup in Linz three weeks ago, were comprehensively defeated in the semi-final by The Georgina Hope Rinehart National Training Centre, Australia. Thus, the Aussies met Dinamo Bucharest and Steaua Bucharest, Romania, in what turned out to be an outstanding final. Initially, the Romanians led, taking a length and setting a new Fawley record of 2.52. However, by the time the crews reached the Enclosures, the Australians, striking 45, took the lead, winning by three-quarters of a length and setting a new course record.

The Georgina Hope Rinehart National Training Centre, Australia, set a new course record of 5:53, the fastest Henley time ever recorded.

The Stewards’ Challenge Cup (M4-). Times and YouTube.

Leander beats Oxford University and Leander by 2 1/2 lengths.

There were only two entries for this event. While a straight final is always a little disappointing, this race did produce a record and a bit of rowing history. The Press Office sums it up:

This contest saw the two British squad boats go head to head. The young U23s, racing as Leander and Oxford University, brought the fight to the senior boat, Leander Club. During the race, Leander Club equalled the record to the barrier and their victory was Leander’s 200th win at Henley, which is even more fitting as the club is celebrating its bicentenary.

The Queen Mother Challenge Cup (M4x). Times and YouTube.

Leander and Agecroft after their race.

Another straight final took place when Fana Roklubb, Norway, (with a British sub onboard) raced the favourites, Leander Club and Agecroft (which included the proven pairing of Collins and Walton). The home crew’s times of 1:47 and 3:00 broke the Barrier and Fawley records set in 1989, and they won by 4  3/4 lengths, missing out on the overall course record by just one second.

The Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup (M2-). Times and YouTube.

Martin and Valent Sinkovic cross the finish line as the crowd looks for their opposition in the distance.

Watts and Widdicombe of the Georgina Hope Rinehart National Training Centre, Australia, led the Olympic Champions in the double sculls, Martin and Valent Sinkovic, of C.A.R.C. Mladost, Croatia, to the barrier. While they may have won the first 660 metres of the race, the remaining 1452 belonged to the Croatian brothers, who rowed through and away from the Aussies to win ‘Easily’. In doing this, they broke the course record by two seconds, taking it away from those famously slow pairings of Redgrave and Pinsent, Reed and Triggs Hodge, and Bond and Murray.

The Double Sculls Challenge Cup (M2x). Times and YouTube.

Groom and Beaumont beat the O’Donovan brothers by five lengths. Henley has no lightweight events and this sometimes makes for some classic lightweight v heavyweight racing. Paul and Gary float on top of the water just as you would expect Cork men to do.

Skibbereen Rowing Club’s O’Donovan brothers do not like to make sculling difficult. The 2016 Olympic Silver Medalists in Lightweight Doubles say that ‘’Tis a fairly simple sport, like… People do complicate it. Your man says “go” at the start, and there’s a hooter at the finish, and if you can get from “go” to the hooter first, then you win.’ They have also claim to use an equally basic racing strategy: ‘Close your eyes and pull like a dog’. They were going to have to find a fairly big dog as they lined up for the final of the Double Sculls, pitting their 145 Kg against the 183 kg of Leander’s Groom and Beaumont, arguably the best men’s heavyweight double around at present. Although the O’Donovans pushed their opponents hard in the first half, Groom and Beaumont eventually broke away and set a new course record by two seconds in a time of 6:46.

The Diamond Challenge Sculls. Times and YouTube.

Borch and Drysdale about ten strokes from the finish.

Drysdale’s three-length margin of victory over Norway’s Kjetil Borch, belies what a great race it was, one that ‘Fatsculler’ Daniel Spring called ‘the best Diamonds final I’ve seen in over 30 years of attending the Regatta’. The New Zealander’s attempt to equal the record of six Diamonds wins looked at first that it may be a repeat of his last Henley effort in 2016 when he was unexpectedly beaten by the relatively unknown Obreno of Belgium. Borch took an early lead and gradually drew away from Drysdale, establishing clear water approaching the Enclosures. However, the Kiwi had started his push at Remenham Club. He told tvnz.co.nz:

Suddenly the crowd started erupting and I figured I must be closing the gap, and (at) 150m to go I saw a flash going past me, he pretty much stopped rowing he was absolutely dead and buried….

Drysdale allows himself a sideways glance just before the line.

Approaching the Progress Board, Drysdale took the lead and won in the last few strokes, making the 2018 Diamond’s final one of the great Henley races. Will the 39-year-old be back to take the shared Diamonds record away from the Australian Sam MacKenzie?

A sweet victory for Drysdale.

Drysdale has been reported as saying that this was his best race since the Rio Olympics where he won gold in a photo finish. He will now race fellow Kiwi, Robbie Manson, at World Cup III in Lucerne to decide who will represent New Zealand in the single sculls at the World Championships in Bulgaria.

The traditional boatload of Elvis impersonators was absent this year, but, in its place as an inexplicable piece of eccentricity, there was the group who decided that a giant rubber duck was needed to complete the festivities.


  1. Cheers, Tim, great reportage! Was the 6x Diamonds winner Stuart MacKenzie (AUS) also known as “Sam?” Never heard that but could be.

  2. Thank you Tim for some excellent coverage of the regatta. As usual, Hear the Boat Sing refreshes the parts other blogs cannot reach.

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