Six of the best at Henley Royal Regatta
The men’s eight pounded out a “devastating rhythm” to inflict a second successive defeat on their German rivals as GB Rowing Team crews recorded a super six victories on finals day at the Henley Royal Regatta.
The most anticipated final of the day came at 3.30pm, where the GB men’s eight – twice World Champions – went head-to-head with Olympic and European Champions Germany for The Grand Challenge Cup.
It is a rivalry that has caught the imagination of sports fans and the record this season stood at one win apiece, with the British crew – racing here as Leander Club & Molesey BC – winning their last meeting by the narrowest of margins a fortnight ago at the Varese World Cup.
But victory was much more comprehensive on this occasion after the GB eight of Matt Gotrel, Constantine Louloudis, Pete Reed, Paul Bennett, Moe Sbihi, Alex Gregory, George Nash, Will Satch and cox Phelan Hill put in a huge push in the second 500m to break the Germans’ resistance.
Roared on by thousands of home fans on the packed banks, they pulled away to win by two-and-three-quarter lengths.
“That was certainly a really great step in the right direction,” said Gregory.
“We got into a really good rhythm very early on in the race and we could see side by side with the Germans just how useful that rhythm was, so we were able to move on them much earlier than we thought we could.”
Cox Hill added: “We got out really strongly but it was in the second 500 where we did to the Germans what they had been doing to us in the last Olympic cycle.
“We really committed to it with some devastating rhythm, we didn’t back off for a single stroke. I always think of gladiatorial racing like there is a bungee on the bows and once you snap that bungee you can stretch away.
“It was one thing beating Germany just in Varese but we really wanted to show that we keep moving on and prove last time wasn’t a one-off.”
Racing as Leander Club & Agecroft RC, the Varese World Cup winners established an early lead against a German crew featuring three U23 internationals and comfortably won by five lengths.
It was a particularly notable win for Townsend as it was his fifth in the Queen Mother Challenge Cup, having also been in winning crews in 2010, 2011, 2013 and last year.
“If you’d said I was going to do that I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said.
“We’re very chuffed with that race, we did a really good job. It’s never comfortable here at Henley but we executed the race well, killed it off and then held our pace for the last 750m.”
Langridge and Foad also won by five lengths in their men’s pair final against fellow Brits Cook and Innes but were warned by the umpires over their steering.
“It was a bit disappointing because it took a little bit of the edge of the win,” said Langridge.
“It wasn’t a thing we did on purpose, it was just naturally with the wash and the wind.
“It wasn’t our best race, we didn’t really get into a rhythm, but over the weekend we showed that we were by far the quickest crew.”
A tighter race ensued in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup for the British four of Nathaniel Reilly O’Donnell, Scott Durant, Alan Sinclair and Tom Ransley – racing as Leander Club and the University of London.
They faced the Greek four who were silver medallists to them at the European Championships at the end of May.
Only two-feet separated the two crews at the quarter-mile mark and the British crew needed to dig deep to build a lead through the middle part of the race before closing out the Greeks in the final quarter-mile to win in 6:49.
It was a sixth Henley success for Ransley, who now has two Stewards’ titles, three in The Grand and one in the Britannia.
“I love this Regatta and that is probably part of the reason why I tend to do well here,” he said. “It is the key event for any club-level rower and that feeling is still in me.
“It was a really good race today. They were right up with us at the start but we held our nerve and walked away in the second half. We’ll look to take this to the World Cup in Lucerne and see what happens there.”
Crew-mate Durant added: “They gave us a good race in the Europeans and thought they might put up more of a challenge in the second half of the race today but we actually pushed away from them, so we are really pleased with that.
“We’ve made some changes since the World Cup in Varese and things have really been picking up in the past week.”
Racing as Imperial College London & Tees RC, they were comfortable winners over Molesey BC in the Princess Grace Challenge Cup.
“That was a really, really enjoyable race,” said Houghton, who is back in the quad for the first time this year.
“I’ve raced here at Henley a few times but this was definitely one time where I thought ‘this is really special’.”
Collins and Walton were edged out in the Double Sculls Challenge Cup final last year by French lightweights Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou.
Today they faced another celebrated lightweight crew, World Champions James Thompson and John Smith of South Africa.
But the Brits were in no mood to finish second best again and, after seeing off a concerted challenge midway through the race, pulled away to win by two-and-a-third lengths.
“It’s just such a relief to have done it right this time,” said Collins.
“The winning Leander crews are always greeted with a bottle of champagne and I didn’t get that last year. That hurt but this feels fantastic. It’s my fourth Henley win and by far my favourite.
“We got away reasonably early but when we wanted to kill it off they really didn’t let us. We had to hammer it home the whole way, there wasn’t an easy stroke in there.
“I was scared because those two have won World Championships and Olympic gold off the back of finishing really strong and I didn’t want to be in a position where they might be able to come back at us. I think we just wore them out enough in the middle to calm that down a bit.”
“It’s a fantastic feeling to get four successive titles here,” said Beaumont, a European Champion with the men’s quad this year.
“I love it every year and never get bored of crossing that finish line.”
The only disappointment for the GB team came in the Remenham Challenge Cup where the women’s eight – racing as Leander & Imperial College London – were beaten by the Canadian national crew.
Jess Eddie said: “That was frustrating, I don’t think we put our best rowing out there.
“We were up on them at the start and probably led them at the island but didn’t consolidate on that opportunity to keep moving away. We couldn’t get into the good rhythm we have had in the past.
“We’ve done some good stuff here at Henley and put a very good start together again today. We just need to make sure every piece of our race profile is bullet-proof.”
Next up for the GB Rowing Team is the World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland. It gets under way on Friday.