Finals, Part IV
15 July 2018
Tim Koch, still reporting from a bush in Butler’s Field, has now gone feral and has loosened his tie.
The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup for school eights has always been one of the most competitive events at Henley. Victory in the ‘PE’ it is very, very difficult. For a crew to be expected to win from the outset, with the debate more on the records that will be broken rather than who will cross the finish line first, is unheard of in modern times. Yet, this was the case with St Paul’s School at Henley in 2018. Some of those who claim to know about these things call them ‘the fastest schoolboy crew of all time’ (though I would add, ‘citation needed’). A few of the more restrained say that they are a ‘once in a lifetime’ phenomenon. The positively churlish will only grant them the epithet, ‘once in a generation’.
St Paul’s conversion to Britain’s top rowing school happened, not on the road to Damascus, but with the arrival of an Apostle of rowing, Bobby Thatcher, as coach of the First Eight. WEROW has a splendid piece from March on Thatcher and the rise of St Paul’s rowing. In this, Bobby credits his style to his old coach, the late Harry Mahon, and to the indefatigable Donald Legget, who also worked with Mahon.
The expectation put upon Thatcher’s boys was based on firm evidence. They have had – to say the least – a very good season.
Last October, they won the Men’s Youth Eights at the Head of the Charles in Boston, USA, in a time of 14.12, 11 seconds ahead of the next boat.
In March, racing in the Schools’ Head of the River Race over the Mortlake to Putney course, St Paul’s recorded an amazing 16.40, 20 seconds ahead of the second placed crew (the Schools’ Head finishes at Westminster School Boathouse, not University Stone).
May’s National Schools Regatta at Dorney saw St Paul’s win Championship VIIIs, beating the rest of the field by more than 15 seconds.
At Marlow Regatta on 23 June, also at Dorney, the schoolboys came second in (adult) Championship Eights with a time of 5.36. Leander won in a time two seconds faster.
Thus, a win in the PE, together with the Schools’ Head and the National Schools’, was to give St Paul’s the ‘Triple Crown’ of schoolboy racing – though the West London school seems to have invented the ‘Quadruple Crown’ by including the Head of the Charles, an increasingly common race for top British crews to enter.
As Eton and St Paul’s lined up for Henley’s most anticipated final, it was difficult not to feel sorry for the Etonians as, in any normal year, they would have had every chance of winning. However, when you go against true champions, it is very difficult not to lose the race before it even starts.
As many expected, Eton were completely outclassed (not a phrase that you hear very often). St Paul’s equaled the Barrier record (1.46), beat their own Fawley record (2.58) and then destroyed the event record by 11 seconds to win in a time of 6:06 (the Henley course record, set in the Grand half-an-hour earlier by members of the Australian National Squad, is 5.53). The boys’ time is surely destined to be Henley’s longest standing record. Rowing historians enjoy researching worthy events long past – but to witness history being made is a real privilege.
The commentator on the Henley YouTube Channel summed it up:
They have taken schools’ rowing to a new level and the other schools will now have to think about how to respond. Well done St Paul’s.
The final race of Henley 2018 was a great event, well summarised by the official press release:
Despite being defending champions, The Windsor Boy’s School could arguably be considered underdogs coming into the race as their opposition, Maidenhead Rowing Club had previously won both the Schools’ Head and championship Quads at the National Schools’ Regatta. Despite this, Windsor never looked like they would come second. Their time of 6.27 smashed the course record by seven seconds, Fawley by three seconds and the Barrier record by one second. A fitting end to a record-breaking regatta.
Last year, the Gloucester Hartpury Junior Women’s quad won the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup for the fourth year in a row. This year, they did not enter – making Henley Rowing Club the British favourites in an event in which the standard rises every year. However, the local crew was knocked out by Y Quad Cities Rowing Association of the USA, who went on to become the first overseas crew to win the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup since its inception in 2012. In the final, they beat Marlow, despite a poor start in which Y Quad’s ‘2’ crabbed on the fifth stroke. The Americans caught up by the Barrier and went on to win by 4 1/2 lengths, breaking the course record, which they set the day before by three seconds.
Changes to the rules mean that U.S. Varsity rowers can now enter the Temple, giving an already ridiculously competitive event a new dimension. Twenty-two crews failed to even get to Wednesday’s opening races. The final saw Oxford Brooks’s third eight (the first two racing in the Ladies’, the first boat eventually winning) line up against a mixed Varsity crew from University of Washington. Although raced by different crews, Brookes lost to Washington by 1/3 length in the Windermere Cup earlier in the year. Thus, revenge was on the agenda – but it was not to be realised. Despite Brookes never letting up, the Washington Huskies were too strong and their record times to the Barrier and Fawley equalled the previous records for the Grand. Their finish time of 5.58 cut five seconds off the event record.
Although Imperial led from the start, Goldie pushed them all the way down the course, trying to maintain overlap, constantly keeping Imperial under pressure. It was a fine race between two good crews, but eventually, Imperial won by 3/4 length.
Sir Matt’s 15-minute pick of Henley Finals Day 2018 is on YouTube. That’s all the Henley results until 3 July 2019.