19 August 2021
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch has some brief and random thoughts on Henley 2021 and posts his remaining favourite pictures of the five days.
The Stewards and all those who work so hard to make Henley Royal Regatta happen every year call the day following the finals “Black Monday” as they rapidly come down from the adrenaline high that has kept them going for many weeks or months. This year, the high to the low must have been especially dramatic. In a normal year, staging the world’s most famous rowing regatta is a massive task, but it is at least one that relies a great deal on precedent and on the usual way of doing things. This year, the organisers must have felt like they were staging an entirely new event, not one that has been run 170 times before.
Over the years, I have found that the world can be divided between those who organise events and those who later delight in telling those organisers how they could have done things better. I trust this will not be the case regarding Henley 2021, a regatta that was as normal as, and as good as, it could have been under the strange and unpredictable circumstances.
Of all the necessary temporary changes that were required this year, the one that I disliked the most was not having access to the competitors and the boating area. It had to be done, but it made me realise how much visiting the boat tents and mixing with the crews was an important part of the Henley experience.
Like the rest of us, the Stewards only got the so-called “roadmap out of lockdown” in March. If a regatta was to be held at Henley and not at Dorney, they quickly had to decide on a date that gave them time to set up the considerable physical infrastructure needed and that gave competitors some sort of preparation period, both while bearing in mind possible detrimental changes to COVID regulations and fitting in with what remained of the domestic and international racing calendar. Ultimately, in the words of rowing journalist Martin Gough, “Henley got there at the right time, just in time”.
For all its challenges, Henley 2021 was a more diverse regatta than ever before. New events in this and in recent years have made a regatta that began in 1839 more open in terms of age and gender with, I observed, a very small but important increase in participation by ethnic minorities. More successful British competitors are coming up through less traditional routes – though the Oxbridge/public school path is still very evident. The success of Hinksey Sculling School, an under-resourced community rowing club in Oxford, has been particularly notable (perhaps in the future OUBC will become only the third best club in the city after Hinksey and Brookes).
The performance of British rowers in Tokyo has received a lot of criticism (though much of it unjust and ill-informed). However, looking at the quality of the junior races at Henley, the future for GB rowing is bright. The winners of the junior women’s quads (Shiplake) and eights (Headington) were of particular note and the Eton boys would have given many of Henley’s top adult eights stiff competition.
As to the bigger children, Brookes’ remarkable strength in depth in both its men’s and women’s squads is notable and is a fantastic feeder into British international crews. The pandemic and the late regatta effected student rowing more than most other sections of the sport but those colleges and universities who did make it to Henley did not disappoint.
This year’s Henley also saw some underdogs biting back, something that is always good to witness. In both the men’s and women’s double sculls, the lightweights beat the heavyweights – and in a headwind. The schoolboys of Hinksey, rowing the heavy coxed four in the Brit, beat Cambridge 99, Marlow and London, only losing to the big men from Frankfurt in the final, also in a headwind. Another relatively unknown “notable nearly” was Leicester’s Lauren Henry who lost by three feet in the open women’s single sculls, a result that could easily have been turned around with a fraction more experience. In the men’s equivalent race, it was good to see the name of what once would have been called “an unfashionable club”, Salford’s Agecroft RC, put on the famous Diamond Sculls trophy.
The Thames RC men’s revival that has been going on since their 2006 Wyfolds win continued with the club winning both the Thames Cup (club eights) and the Wyfolds (club coxless fours). Also, the TRC women made the final of the Wargrave. The lesson here is that, for long term success, a club must give equal attention to all its crews, not just the top boat – as Brookes has also demonstrated so well.
The University of London also came well out of Henley 2021 with an impressive win by the men in the Prince Albert and a finals place for the women in the Island. Judged by their own high standards, less happy clubs may include Molesey and Tideway Scullers who were close but not close enough (though the Scullers juniors did win the Fawley).
There is, allegedly, an old curse that goes “May you live in interesting times”. Henley 2021 was held in very interesting times, but let us hope that beginning on 28 June 2022, the 172nd Henley Royal Regatta will take place in a period that will be considerably more boring than of late.
Editor’s Note: If you have missed any of HTBS’s articles about the 2021 HRR, you will find them all here.