Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Records fall as crowds swelter

SCORCHING temperatures and record-breaking racing helped make the 164th Henley Royal Regatta one of the best ever.

SCORCHING temperatures and record-breaking racing helped make the 164th Henley Royal Regatta one of the best ever.

About 200,000 people attended the five-day event thanks to the increase in public interest following the success of the Great Britain rowing squad at last summer’s London Olympics.

The GB rowers dominated finals day on Sunday, winning five of the 20 trophies, while Leander Club, which is based in Henley, won seven trophies, beating its previous best effort by one.

A total of 13 records were set, including a new course record in the Grand Challenge Cup by the current GB eight, and eight more were equalled.

After an overcast opening day that included a spot of rain, umbrellas were swapped for parasols as visitors were bathed in sunshine.

Temperatures reached 29C and men in the stewards’ enclosure were given permission to remove their jackets.

Among the crowds were Olympic champions Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent, former South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar and Englan rugby players including Jason Leonard, Lee Mears, Mike Tindall, James Haskell and current captain Chris Robshaw.

The prizes were presented by Diana Ellis, who chaired British Rowing for 24 years until she stepped down in February and was made a Dame in the Queen’s birthday honours last month.

She was accompanied by four stewards who, for the first time, were female.

Speaking at the presentation ceremony on Sunday, regatta chairman Mike Sweeney said competitors and spectators had “walked on water” because the riverside area had been under the Thames during flooding in December and January.

“The Thames took over,” he said. “We all remember what a lousy winter it was and in April it was a dismal scene down here on the regatta land. A depressing, depressing outlook but this is England.

“Six days ago I had my blazer on and a sweater under it — it was very cold in the tents at the beginning of this week. What happened? We’ve had a fabulous five days.”

Mr Sweeney said it was always difficult to attract top athletes in a post-Olympic year because of changing crews, coaches and performance directors as well as reductions in budgets but the regatta had been “fantastic”.

“We’ve had a great entry, some wonderful racing and the weather,” he said.

He said the records set in eight events, including two new records at the barrier, three at Fawley and eight at the finish line, provided the “wow” factor.

The total amount of time taken off the records was two minutes and 40 seconds, although most of this was in the junior women’s quadruple sculls, which was only in its second year.

Dame Diana, who is now honorary president of British Rowing, hailed the success of the rowing at London 2012, particularly the women’s boats.

“I think this is what you call going down in history,” she said. “The year 2012 was also a year when women’s rowing in the UK celebrated 50 years of being part of mainstream rowing.

“What that meant was they were able to take part in national and world events. I’m pleased to say that not only were they performing on the field of play but they were also taking on roles in administration and management.

“Contributory to this success was Henley Royal Regatta, when the then chairman Peter Coni started invitation events for women. Now we see under the current chairman we have the women’s eights, singles and junior and senior quad racing.

“Hopefully, Mr Chairman, we may now see the women’s double sculls.”

Dame Diana highlighted the contribution of Mr Sweeney to the regatta and congratulated this year’s competitors, particularly the medal winners, saying the event was “so important to all of us”.

Before the Harvard University “A” crew was presented with the Visitors’ Challenge Cup, Mr Sweeney paid tribute to Harry Parker, former head coach of the Harvard varsity rowing programme, who died on June 25, aged 77.

Mr Parker claimed the last of his 29 victories at last year’s regatta before retiring and Mr Sweeney said: “He would have been delighted with his 30th win.”

A highlight of the event was 18 junior scullers from Henley, Upper Thames and Leander rowing clubs rowing the royal barge Gloriana along the regatta course before the ceremony.

Crowds in the enclosures applauded the rowers, who paused to salute the grandstand by raising their oars.

Private and passenger boats packed the Thames throughout the week with many moored on the booms.

Off the water, the crowds enjoyed the hospitality, consuming an estimated ton of strawberries, 25,000 pints of Pimm’s and 4,500 bottles of champagne.

In the regatta shop, most of the clothing, including T-shirts, gilets and hooded tops were sold out by Saturday. Other popular items included glass tumblers, shot glasses, vests, teddy bears, ties and blue rubber ducks.

Shopkeeper Guy Wilson, 20, from Peppard, said: “Entry shirts are always popular with the crew members. Rugby shirts were new for this year and a lot of women bought them.”

Sir Matthew said it was one of the best regattas he could remember, as he tweeted on Sunday: “Sitting, mulling over Henley. Weekend racing/records/weather turned it into a classic for me.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say