A SCULLER who missed out on competing at the Olympic Games after having back surgery has won his second open water swimming race in a month.
Charles Cousins, who had hoped to be part of the GB men’s quad at Rio next month, won the third annual Club to Pub swim in Henley, finishing narrowly ahead of swimming partner Matt McQuillan.
It came less than two weeks after he won the Henley Mile, a downstream race on the royal regatta course.
Mr Cousins was one of more than 500 swimmers who took part in the 1.5km swim on a sunny Saturday evening with water temperatures reaching 21C.
They swam from Henley Rowing Club, off Wargrave Road, to the Angel on the Bridge pub via a buoy at Marsh Lock.
Both men and women could enter in three categories — traditional, open or masters — with the former competing without wetsuits.
The event was organised by Henley Swim, the founder of the Henley Classic, which takes place on the royal regatta course on the Sunday before the rowing each year.
It is nicknamed “two bells” because the swimmers start as the clock at St Mary’s Church strikes 7pm and aim to finish before the 8pm chimes.
As well as a medal, each participant received a bottle of Brakspear’s specially-brewed Two Bells ale at the finish. These were handed out by volunteers from the Sue Ryder hospice at Nettlebed, which supported the event, and Henley Mayor Julian Brookes.
Each swimmer had to raise their hand and tap a board at the finish line to clock their time before they were helped out of the water and given their medal, which doubled as a bottle opener, and beer.
Scores of people gathered on the banks and on Henley Bridge to watch the competitors finish.
Mr Cousins, 27, who lives in Bell Street and rows for Leander, was forced to drop out of the GB squad after being injured in February.
He started swimming in April and took part in the Henley Classic in June, finishing eighth.
On Saturday, he pipped Mr McQuillan, a former GB rower and Henley Swim veteran, after the pair had helped each other to reach the final few hundred metres.
Mr Cousins said: “It was a really good race. It was quite tricky going into the sun — there was a lot of glare but me and Matt stuck together.”
Henley Deputy Mayor Will Hamilton was competing in the event for the third year running.
He said: “I really enjoyed it but I wasn’t racing.
“It’s a great event for the town and it was good to see so many teams and individuals enjoying Henley at its best.”
This year’s entry was almost double last year’s total and at least 350 more than in 2014.
Mr Laming said: “We were delighted with this year’s swim. It was the largest entry we’ve ever had and it’s doubling each year.
“The unusually hot weather meant a lot of people were relieved to get in the river and there was a high proportion of non-wetsuit swimmers.
“It’s had great support. The town council is taking it to heart with great support by the Mayor and our old favourite the deputy mayor, who swam the whole course and seemed to have a good time.”