THE 177th Henley Royal Regatta was marked by controversy, disqualifications and drama — but chairman Sir
THE 177th Henley Royal Regatta was marked by controversy, disqualifications and drama — but chairman Sir Steve Redgrave hailed it “fantastic”.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to the town for the five-day event in weather ranging from heavy rain and wind to bright sunshine.
The crowds witnessed thrills and spills as several crews were disqualified and others crashed into the booms as well as a number of upsets on finals day on Sunday.
Many Olympians were absent ahead of next month’s Games in Rio but a record 629 crews took part, ranging from world champions to schools and university rowers and including 161 from overseas.
Sone crews complained about difficult conditions on the water at the start of the week as rain and wind caused a strong stream on the 2,112m course.
The conditions also appeared to contribute to some shock wins on Sunday, including Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale failing to win the Diamond Challenge Sculls for a sixth time and Henley’s Leander Club failing to retain the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup for a seventh consecutive year.
The club still collected four trophies, including the Ladies’ Challenge Plate after Dutch crew Nereus, who crossed the line 3ft ahead of Leander, were disqualified for “unsportsmanlike conduct”.
Earlier in the week, Sydney Rowing Club were disqualified after clashing with the N.S.R. Oslo crew in the Thames Challenge Cup and Adelaide Rowing Club were disqualified after their race with the Oxford Brookes and Proteus-Eretes composite crew for steering into the middle of the course and creating “dirty water” for their opponents.
In the final of the Visitors’ Challenge Cup, Thames Rowing Club claimed a dramatic last-gasp victory as the University of California hit the booms while leading with just a few metres remaining.
Earlier in the week, several other crews also crashed into the booms. These included a Norwegian crew who veered straight into the boom at the start, causing bowman Johannes Groseth to be hit in the face by his blade.
On Saturday, the German pair of Peter Kluge and Clemens Ernsting caught an oar in the water and were nearly thrown out of their boat. Despite trying to regain their composure, they came to a stop soon after due to damage to the boat’s rigging.
The drama was not confined to the racing as some spectators used the sunny weather over the weekend as an excuse to take a dip in the river.
On Saturday, two men were dragged from the water after swimming out into the course while the Fawley Challenge Cup race between Marlow Rowing Club and Claires Court School was in progress.
The men, who were wearing rowing blazers, undressed on the bank before diving into the water from the stewards’ enclosure.
Onlookers shouted at the men to swim past the racing lane before the boats got too close and they were picked up by an Environment Agency boat as they reached the middle of the river.
Regatta officials investigated and security personnel stripped the men’s discarded clothing of their stewards’ enclosure badges. Spectator Danielle Kay, from Weybridge, who was at the regatta with friends, said: “We were sitting in the enclosure when there was a bit of a commotion.
“We saw these guys taking off their trousers, shirts, jackets and jewellery and then one of them said ‘right, now’ and they both dived in.
“We could actually see the boats approaching. People in all the boats moored in the middle of the river were shouting at them to swim across the lane as one was swimming quite slowly and they got to the middle as the crews passed them.
“It was definitely a dare and they seemed quite proud of themselves — they gave us a big wave when they got to the other side.
“The Environment Agency boat pulled up and put a ladder in the water then took them to town where they were met by the police.
“Everyone was aghast and in shock and there wasn’t any laughing. Nobody could believe they had done it because it was quite dangerous.”
Supporters of the Nereus crew that was disqualified also jumped in the river on Sunday thinking their crew had won the race.
About eight men leapt from the jetties near the boat tents as their boat crossed the line and swam over to celebrate with their crew. They then swam to the other side of the river and climbed out on to River Side.
It was only later that the crew were told their fate.
Throughout the week there were row-throughs from former winners celebrating the anniversaries of their victories. They included a boat from the Hong Kong and China Rowing Association to mark 40 years since Hong Kong crews first raced at the regatta and a crew representing the 1946 Wyfold Challenge Cup winners from King’s College, London, featuring Dr Francis de Mafferne, one of the original rowers.
On the bank, Home Secretary Theresa May, whose Maidenhead constituency includes the regatta land, was among the special guests to visit the event on Friday.
Other well-known names present included Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville and former England rugby union player Brian Moore.
On Friday there was a two-minute silence at 11am to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.
The silence was signalled by a rendition of the Last Post in the stewards’ enclosure, while all boats racing that day displayed a poppy sticker attached to the hull.
War planes including Spitfires flew over the site and the River and Rowing Museum held an exhibition on rowers and the First World War in the prize tent.
Sir Steve, now in his second year in charge of the event, paid tribute to volunteers and competitors in his speech at the prize-giving ceremony on Sunday.
He said: “What a fantastic regatta we have had this year. The weather hasn’t been perfect, there have been strong headwinds so no broken records. It seems to get bigger and bigger every year and what a fantastic event to see.
“So many people make this regatta happen and without their hard work and commitment and without them we wouldn’t be here. They are a small but highly professional team who work day in, day out. Our volunteers come together and make themselves available so from me it’s a personal thank-you for all their support and help. That also goes for our members and guests and, of course, the crews.
“If we didn’t have any volunteers we couldn’t run the regatta but if we didn’t have any crews we couldn’t stage it at all.”
There were cheers as Sir Steve asked the crowd what they thought of the live broadcasting of the regatta, now in its second year, and boos when he joked that he would take their enthusiasm as the go-ahead to increase membership fees.
Olympic and world cycling champion Victoria Pendleton presented the trophies.
Sir Steve said: “Some would say Victoria is one of our most successful female athletes, I would say she is one of the best athletes Britain has ever produced.
“She has now changed sports to horse riding and made qualification for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, having just a year before said she wanted to give it a go. That shows what a fantastic athlete she is.”
Pendleton, who had spent the morning taking part in a charity 5km race, said: “I feel very proud and honoured to be asked to be here today.
“At the 2012 Olympics, after I had won my final ever race, Sir Steve was one of the first to congratulate me. It was a special moment that I will never forget.
“Thank-you to everyone who has come along to support and watch, you make it an incredible British summer sporting event. I hope you are blown away by the atmosphere here because I certainly am.”