AN Olympic medallist is the new chairman of Henley women’s regatta.
Miriam Luke, who was part of the quad sculls crew who were the first British women to medal in an Olympic rowing event, hopes to encourage more local people to attend the annual event.
Luke, who won silver at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney under her maiden name along with her sister Guin Batten, said: “It’s such a phenomenal event and it is something every woman in the country aspires to — to win at Henley. It is really the stepping stone to rowing internationally. It’s the most important event of its kind for women so it’s a great honour to be able to take over the reins.
“We have the best of our own women from around the UK competing, as well international crews.” Luke aims to encourage old crews to reunite and network at the regatta, which is held in June. A row past by a 2010 crew will take place next year and Katherine Grainger, the patron of the regatta, will present the prizes.
Luke raced at the women’s regatta in the early Eighties, when it first started and went on to have an 11-year international career, winning bronze, silver and gold world championship medals.
She hopes more people will be attracted to watching women’s rowing after crews’ Olympic successes this year. I think it’s one of Henley’s real jewels but people don’t always seem to realise,” she said. “What is going on is something they would love to watch.
“At Henley Royal Regatta you have got to dress up and pay to get into enclosures so it’s not always a family environment. At the women’s regatta, you don’t have to pay to get in anywhere, there’s fantastic racing. I have always taken my friends and family along to watch.”
Luke was village manager for the rowing and canoe sprint at this year’s Olympics, based at Royal Holloway University in Egham.
She was assisted by more than 200 volunteers including a few from Henley and one woman she recognised as a fellow parent whose children go to Valley Road School, which her children, Della, 10, and Rhiannon, seven, also attend.
As some of the athletes were unable to attend the opening ceremony in London, she invited a military marching band and members of Henley-based Acorn Theatre Group to perform to make it more of an occasion.
She now hopes local businesses will be willing to sponsor the event, joining the regatta’s current sponsors, Invesco Perpetual and Price Waterhouse Cooper.
She said: “We would like to put the regatta on a more secure financial footing. Copas are our partner and let us use the land but we would like to grow the regatta and make it something that a lot of people can come to watch.”