The Great Britain men’s eight teed up the final the home crowd wanted when they beat the Australians in the semis of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta today.
Racing here as Leander Club Molesey B.C., the British boat now face their arch-rivals Germany. This morning they made light of a swirling head-wind to come through in 6:32 against the Australian national eight freshly arrived in Europe.
GB, the World Champions, and Germany, the Olympic Champions, have raced each other twice already this season. The Germans won in Poznan to take the European title whilst the British took the honours in Varese in a thrilling world cup final 10 days ago.
Paul Bennett, a reigning World Champion, said: “I am actually really excited about facing Germany here. We obviously usually race six lanes but this will be a real side-by-side, honest battle. We have been back and forth the last few times we have raced each other, so I really don’t know what is going to happen. It’s just going to be a genuine, hard race fought tooth and nail”.
The German coach Ralf Holtmeyer, whose crew is relishing the chance to race the GB boat on their home waters, said: “We like racing here, it’s very British, it’s different to other international regattas and the boys like it. Poznan was not the normal form of the British eight. After Poznan we said the potential of the British eight is higher and Varese was the higher level. And now we see.”
This season, with Olympic qualifying looming at the World Championships in September, the Jurgen Grobler-coached GB eight is stacked with a host of World or Olympic medallists including 2012 men’s four gold medallists Alex Gregory and Pete Reed. Boat Race winner Constantine Louloudis has also joined the crew since finishing his finals to replace Stewart Innes.
This rivalry has captured the imagination of the rowing world and the expected tens of thousands of spectators should have a cracking final to savour tomorrow.
One of the best races of the afternoon’s programme came from the junior women’s quadruple sculls of Gloucester R.C. and top American line-up Y Quad Cities R.A.
Gloucester won after a terrific scrap which saw some tremendous mid-race pace from the Americans but in which the lead changed hands several times.
In the final 350m, just as Gloucester had their noses in front again, the US crew made a huge steering error during which they lost so much ground that they could not recover.
Gloucester, the reigning champions, with Flo Pickles, Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne, Alison Bowyer and Frances Russell will now race Marlow R.C. in the final.
“What a fantastic race, I’ve never seen racing like this from such young crews”, said Australia’s Sarah Cook during her TV commentary on the race. Caroline Sharrin, whose older sister was also in the US crew, is still only 15.
In the equivalent elite race for women, Imperial College Tees R.C. featuring Tina Stiller, Jess Leyden and Olympians Frances Houghton and Melanie Wilson, are the GB senior women’s quadruple scull and won their semi-final comfortably against Brown University. They race Molesey B.C. in the final.
Oliver Cook and Stewart Innes, from the GB squad, rowed a tidy semi to come through early leaders David Hunt and Shaun Keeling of South Africa at the Fawley marker to win in 7:43 by two and a half lengths and reach the final of the Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup for men’s pairs.
Olympic Champions Mahe Drysdale and Mirka Knapkova won their semis as expected and will contest the finals of the open men’s and women’s single scull events – the Diamond Challenge Sculls and the Princess Royal Challenge Cup – against Gabor Csepregi of Hungary and Lisa Scheenaard of Holland respectively.
Both are seeking their fifth title here. Knapkova would not be drawn on the chances of success, she said: “We’ll wait and see. I have to just focus on the race itself. It won’t be easy because Lisa is very good”.
As expected the GB women’s eight, bronze medallists 10 days ago at the world cup in Italy, eased themselves into the final of the Remenham Challenge cup with a well-paced semi against Oxford University and Radcliffe USA whose crew featured multi-Olympic medallist Caryn Davies.
They now race the Canadian World silver medallists rowed with consummate style and ease to win the opposing semi against Brown University from the USA. GB stroke Olivia Carnegie-Brown said: “I definitely think we can beat Canada if we row to our best and we have a massive advantage here being on home water. It’s another opportunity for us to show the steps we have made in the past couple of weeks. We’ll give it a really good go tomorrow, I’m looking forward to it”.
European Champions Nathaniel Reilly O’Donnell, Scott Durant, Alan Sinclair and Tom Ransley navigated a potentially tricky semi-final against the University of Pretoria to reach the final of the men’s four event here, the Stewards’ Challenge Cup, and now race the Greek four who were silver medallists behind them in Poznan at the end of May.
Sinclair said: The South Africans were a bit of an unknown quantity – their stroke man has obviously got a pretty good pedigree as Olympic gold-medalist in the lightweight four – so we were knew they weren’t going to be a pushover and we’d have to bring our A game. We delivered a solid row and are happy with how it went.
Jonny Walton and John Collins were smooth qualifiers into the final of the Double Sculls Challenge.
Yale and Washington are through to the final of the Ladies’ Challenge Plate for intermediate men’s eights. Yale knocked out the final British entry, Leander Club, today and Washington came through against Melbourne to help the bumper US entry here celebrate Independence Day.
The Visitors’ Challenge Cup, an event for intermediate men’s fours, saw a semi-final between Newcastle University and the University of California, Berkeley, that was marked by wayward steering and an unrelated restart after which “Cal Berkeley” won and will now race Sydney R.C. in tomorrow’s final.
St Paul’s School will meet Westminster School in the final of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup for schoolboy eights but only after Westminster came through a tough contest with Gonzaga College H.S. of the USA.
Nottingham R.C. and Sir William Borlase’s Grammar will contest the final of the Fawley Challenge Cup for junior boys’ quads but only after the Borlase crew had been given a run for their money by Glasgow Academy in thrilling and close semi-final.
This final will bring the curtain down on the 2015 Regatta as the last of 20 finals to be contested tomorrow. Racing starts at 11.30am and will run until 4.00pm.