Sunday, 18 August 2019

Digby realises lifelong ambition as Leander Club bags five cups

Digby realises lifelong ambition as Leander Club bags five cups

RECORDS were broken as Leander Club achieved five wins at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta.

This included a final showdown with Henley Rowing Club in the Fawley Challenge Cup in their first race of the day on Sunday.

Leander’s other victories came in the Visitors’ Challenge Cup, Double Sculls Challenge Cup, Stewards’ Challenge Cup and Queen Mother Challenge Cup.

Tom Digby, 20, was part of the winning Leander Club and Cambridge University composite which beat ASR Nereus and DSR Laga easily in the Visitors’ Challenge Cup.

Digby, from Greys Green, near Henley, is a member of Leander but was representing Griffen Boating Club, for Abingdon School alumni.

The crew set a new course record of six minutes and 28 seconds, beating Leander’s time from 2018 by three seconds.

Digby, who won his first Henley title at the sixth attempt, said: “We knew we were capable of setting a record and when we got two lengths clear we went for it. It is a double whammy. You go for the record and there is no chance they can come back.

“As soon as we got to open water, that is the point where you can either kill the race or let them come back, so we made sure we put that race to bed there and then.”

Digby was racing alongside his friend Charlie Elwes, who was in the stroke seat, with whom he has won three national US championship titles in a row at Yale University.

Digby said: “I have been achieving quite a lot in the US but not so much here. So it is amazing to be with my family for such a special moment and to do it in front of them. It is an awesome feeling.”

His father Nick told of his pride at watching his son win at Henley for the first time.

Mr Digby had been following the race and had to run from inside the Stewards’ Enclosure to the boat tent area beyond the finish to greet his son off the water.

“I am delighted and I am so proud,” he said. “My heart is bursting from the run around from the Stewards’ Enclosure.

“Tom has been wanting one of these for years, so it is a fantastic thing. When you want it for such a long time, when it happens it is much more important.”

The GB pair, comprising Leander’s John Collins and Graeme Thomas won by one length in the final of the Double Sculls Challenge Cup and beat the course record achieved by Waiariki Rowing Club the previous day.

The New Zealand pair of John Storey and Chris Harris was beaten in a time of six minutes and 44 seconds and saw their record beaten by two seconds.

Collins and Thomas had raced into a length lead at the Barrier, which they managed to hold for the rest of the race.

Collins, 30, who lives in Upton Close, Henley, said: “It is always very special and it is even more special beating such a fantastic crew. This is my seventh Henley win.

“It has given us a lot of confidence. I feel we have really learned some stuff. It was about coming here and trying to work on some things we need to improve on and just going through the race a bit stronger. This type of racing is very good for improving that.”

He added: “I will be celebrating by having a few beers with my family. I am going to enjoy this moment.”

There was an easy win in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup for Leander against Frankfurter.

The GB crew, one of the top quads in the world, had a comfortable win ahead of the World Cup in Rotterdam this weekend, winning easily in a time of six minutes and 20 seconds.

By the Barrier, Leander were three lengths ahead and always looked in control, which was helped when the Germans nudged the booms early on in the race.

Jack Beaumont, 25, who lives in Hart Street, Henley, was celebrating his eighth regatta victory.

He said: “We knew we were coming up against competition that we knew nothing about. Coming into today as the British national team there is a lot of pressure to perform. We decided to go about it as a team, and focus on our own race.

“Since the last World Cup, there have been a few things that we were not entirely happy about so we wanted to focus on those and I think we did that really well today. I think our rhythm through the middle of the race was fantastic and really important.”

It was an all-Henley clash in the final of the Fawley Challenge Cup which saw Leander defeat the Henley Rowing Club “A” crew by one-and-a-quarter lengths in a time of six minutes and 37 seconds.

This victory comes after Leander lost out to Henley in the National Schools Championships in May.

All under the age of 18, the rowers were separated by just half a length earlier in the race, but this lead was gradually extended and Leander managed to hold on to win.

Leander’s Miles Devereux, 18, from Marlow, said: “It was a really successful day. We were really nervous this morning at breakfast. We had a really good practice race and a good warm-up.

“When we got to the start we were feeling so positive and the start was incredible. It was the best start we have ever done.

“We pushed and pushed and pushed and to win it is an unbelievable moment.”

Stephen Hughes, 17, from Henley, was another member of the winning crew.

He added: “It is not really something you can explain. We stuck to our rhythm. It is a dream really, coming and having that start.”

The Waiariki crew proved to be too good for the Leander Club and Imperial College composite, in the Remenham Challenge Cup.

The British senior crew had come into the race having beaten their opponents at the recent World Cup in Poznan, but the Kiwis won by a length and two thirds after opening up a formidable lead and sustaining tremendous power throughout the course.

There was further success for Waiariki after they beat a Leander Club and Oxford Brookes University composite in the Grand Challenge Cup.

Victory was achieved by a margin of one length over the GB eight in six minutes.

In the Stewards’ Challenge Cup, a composite of Oxford Brookes University and Leander Club beat a Leander crew by two-and-a-half lengths.

In doing so, they set a new Barrier record of one minute and 50 seconds.

The two crews remained close until steering problems from the Leander crew allowed their opponents to open an imposing lead.

By the time they reached the enclosures, the composite crew were dominating and they finished the race in six minutes and 24 seconds.

Leander’s Matt Rossiter, 29, who lives in Duke Street, Henley, said: “We were racing our really good mates. All of us live in Henley and train together every day and internal racing or testing is probably more stressful than racing other countries or crews.

“I don’t really take any pleasure in beating these guys. It’s pretty horrible, but it’s a relief we came out on top. It was quite strange to be straight into a final against your mates. Henley is always unique. We were hoping we would be the faster crew, and we knew they would attack us from the start.

“We thought we’d go as hard as we could to counter that. We got out in front and managed to row away. I absolutely love Henley, I’ve raced here since I was a kid.”

Will Satch, 30, who lives in Watlington, was in the losing Leander crew.

The Olympic gold medal winner has endured several months of rehabilitation following a shoulder injury and had hoped to get back to winning ways at Henley.

Satch said: “It was just a disappointing race. After six-and-a-half months of grinding at home to come here and lose is embarrassing in front of your home crowd.

“I’m a competitive athlete and whenever I lose I get quite disheartened. It’s a pill to swallow, but I know where I need to be. It’s just frustrating coming off the back of the success I’ve had. I think from the off we didn’t quite hook it up. They beat us fair and square, there’s no excuses.”

One of the highlights of the day was the final of the King’s Cup, which celebrated the centenary of the Royal Henley Peace Regatta.

The final saw the United States Armed Forces take on their German counterparts.

The crews could hardly be separated coming into the closing stages, but the Americans found extra speed and were able to pull away to win by three-quarters-of-a-length in a time of six minutes and 33 seconds.

The last time it was won, the Australian military crew won in a time of seven minutes and seven seconds.

Manriki Gagnon, midshipman second class, 20, from Berkeley, California, was proud to have taken part in this historic race.

He said: “It is an honour just to be racing at a Henley Royal Regatta. The hype is just unreal. It means even more to me having all the ties back to the 1919 crew, it is an amazing experience.

“The USA didn’t do nearly as well [last time] but it’s because this time they sent the Navy instead of the Army!

“We have an incredibly strong rhythm as a crew and that is what we are trying to focus on. We know that Germany is an incredibly strong crew, and we expected that it would be tight.

“When it was neck and neck we were just trying to find that little bit more. We were lucky we found that at the very end and we were able to pull away from Germany.”

On Saturday there was heartbreak for Shiplake College after defeat in the semi-final of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup against the eventual winners Eton College. Shiplake were taking part in their second semi-final in three years and lost by one length in a time of six minutes and 16 seconds.

Gregg Davies, headmaster of Shiplake College, said: “My immediate thought is that we’re on a journey we started eight years ago. In the past three years we’ve made a Friday and two Saturdays at Henley, as well as winning the Head of the River twice and coming second once.

“We’re not exactly where we want to be yet but we will win this within the next five years. Of course we’re disappointed today, but every year we inch closer and closer.

“We’ve also lost to a school of 1,300 boys, whereas we’ve got only 450 and while we aren’t making excuses they clearly have a larger pool to choose from.”

He added: “Our training programme now is great at all levels, the boys are wonderful and we have a fantastic coaching staff - it’s all about the people and we’ve invested in that.”

En route to the semi-final, Shiplake overcame Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning on Thursday by one and three-quarter lengths.

Meanwhile, Henley Rowing Club “A” had hopes of going far in the Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup, following a victory against Latymer Upper School “B” early on Saturday, only to be beaten by Latymer’s “A” crew later the same day. They missed out on a place in the final by a distance of two-and-a-half lengths.

On Wednesday last week, the opening day of the regatta, Kingston Rowing Club “A” beat Upper Thames Rowing Club “B” in the Thames Challenge Cup by a distance of four and three-quarter lengths in six minutes and 45 seconds. A familiar face of Henley rowing made a long-awaited return to the water in this race, with Upper Thames’ long-term director of rowing Justin Sutherland taking a break from coaching to get back into the thick of things.

Mr Sutherland, 53, said: “The start was fantastic but we knew it would be a big ask, we did ourselves justice.

“We earned our place by going through the qualifying races. It was surreal and brilliant fun to be on the start again 21 years after I last did that.”

Another defeat on the first day for Upper Thames saw Worcester Rowing Club progress in the Wyfold Challenge Cup.

A record 660 crews entered this year’s royal regatta, an increase of almost 100 on the benchmark set in 2018, with about 1,900 athletes and 159 overseas crews representing 17 nations.

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