Saturday, 31 July 2021

Chairman keeps his cool

BLISTERING temperatures and record-breaking performances marked the 176th annual Henley Royal Regatta.

BLISTERING temperatures and record-breaking performances marked the 176th annual Henley Royal Regatta.

Thousands of people attended each day of the five-day event with the biggest crowds on Saturday when the spectators were up to 10 deep along the banks of the River Thames as the sun shone.

The highest temperature of 32C was recorded on the opening day on Wednesday and new regatta chairman Sir Steve Redgrave gave permission for men in the stewards’ enclosure to remove their jackets â?? only the fourth time this has happened in 39 years.

Rowers complained that the glue on their oars melted when left out in the sun.

More than 25,000 pints of Pimm’s and 4,500 bottles of champagne were sold in stewards’ enclosure alone and an estimated ton of strawberries was sold in the luncheon tent.

On the water, more than 500 crews from 22 countries took part, including world and Olympic champions and school, university and club crews. Henley’s Leander Club crews won seven cups, including the Grand Challenge Cup, where the Great Britain eight, the new world champions, beat the German Olympic champions by almost three lengths.

Three event records were broken including in the Temple Challenge Cup in which ASR Nereus, from Holland, set the fastest time at this year’s regatta.

The Dutch crew celebrated their triumph by singing their country’s national anthem as they picked up their medals. Throughout the week there were row-throughs by former winners celebrating the anniversaries of their triumphs.

At 11am on Friday, visitors stood for a minute’s silence in honour of the victims of the Tunisian terror attacks, in which 30 Britons were killed. Thousands of people along the bank bowed their heads as the silence was impeccably observed.

On Saturday â?? American Independence Day â?? US crews and coaches wore American flag ties and T-shirts and a boat carrying nine Elvis Presley impersonators sailed along the Thames playing his hits.

The regatta attracted the usual array of celebrity guests including England football manager Roy Hodgson, TV cricket pundit Sir Geoffrey Boycott and TV presenters Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, who were making a programme for Channel 5 about the wealthy.

Reality TV star Mark Wright and his wife, actress Michelle Keegan, were seen in the Mahiki bar on the towpath along with Scottish international rugby player Thom Evans.

Home Secretary and Maidenhead MP Theresa May attended on Friday. Ironically, after the hot weather during the racing, minutes before the prize-giving on Sunday, the crowds were forced to run for cover as the heavens opened and people even tried to protect themselves from the rain using chairs.

Sir Steve, a five-times Olympic champion, made reference to the weather at the ceremony.

He said: “We have had broken records, sun and a little bit of rain as well as some great racing and that’s what it’s all about.

“It has been an honour to work as chairman and hopefully this is just the start of many years to come. It is also an honour to serve the sport of rowing in another way other than by racing.

“The regatta is bigger than one person, just like a crew working together for the best result in the racing.”

Sir Steve, who succeeded Mike Sweeney in December, also made reference to the fact the regatta was broadcast live for the first time since 1967 with a dedicated YouTube channel.

He joked: “We have 34 screens showing the racing. I don’t think there were 34 televisions in the country in 1967!”

He thanked Mr Sweeney for his 22 years as chairman, saying: “The regatta is in a much better place because of him. We thank Mike so much for the work and commitment and how much time he put into it over the years. I now know much time it takes from my work in the last six months.” Mr Sweeney, who is now regatta president, presented the trophies.

He said: “I want to say thank you on the behalf of the regatta to the members, nearly 7,000 of you.

“Henley Royal Regatta moves forward, slowly, but we keep on moving. I want to congratulate Steve on his year as chairman. There are now two of us that understand what it takes. I have enjoyed my first regatta in 40 years with no responsibilities and I am looking forward to the next 20.”

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