We’re nearly ready to go. Qualifiers – with all the ecstasy and agony that accompanies those unique bursts down the Henley course – are done. Tuesday and the start of the 2022 edition of the Regatta beckons. The draw, held in the Henley town hall, took place this afternoon to an extremely limited crowd; the HRR stewards determined yesterday evening that squeezing hundreds of people into an enclosed space some 72 hours before racing begins might not be the smartest idea.
The draw threw up a few interesting match-ups, curious narratives and notable absentees. I’ll cover a few of my immediate reflections below…
The eagle-eyed amongst us will have noticed several names missing from the starting roster, particularly in the open events. Perhaps the most notable was that of Graeme Thomas in the Diamond Challenge Sculls – he is the event holder and his likely contest with German powerhouse Oliver Zeidler was one I think a lot of neutrals were looking out for. His omission leaves Zeidler with a significantly easier task en-route to the title. The other Great Britain-related absentee was the women’s quad (originally slated to race as Leander Club & Edinburgh University); their task would have been immense in turning over the Chinese quad but it’s a shame nonetheless that they won’t be appearing. In the Hambleden, the second NZ pairing of K. M. Goodger & J. R. Gowler are also missing, leaving NZ1 as clear favourites for that trophy.
As I scanned the full draw for some of the events, particularly in the student and intermediate categories, I was struck by just how stacked some of the rosters are. We’ve heard a lot of noise coming out of the Regatta around just how strong the entry list is in 2022 but seeing crews lined up and their progression patterns mapped out for the first time really emphasised just how blessed we are with the number of world-class crews in attendance. In several categories, there are some sensational crews who were not selected; in others, some top-level boats did not even qualify. The final few days of the Regatta already look set to offer some mouth-watering contests.
Day One Match-Ups
As always, the draw was not entirely fair to some crews. Selection is a tough process and in events where there is extraordinary depth – which applies to pretty much all the junior and student events this year – really strong crews can end up facing other equally promising outfits on day one. The first that drew my eye was Newcastle University ‘A’ in the Prince Albert, lining up against A.S.R Nereus – this is Blue Star athletes one to five up against the second-ranked student Dutch crew. Marlow ‘A’ vs Henley in the Fawley Challenge Cup should be pretty tasty – they finished two seconds apart at Marlow Regatta a week ago. The Princess Elizabeth has also thrown up a couple of enticing races; Woodrow Wilson High School from the District of Columbia, USA have been pitted against Reading Blue Coat School, who won First Eights at the Schools’ Head of the River in March, whilst Brunswick School, who hail from Connecticut, are racing Championship Eight finalists Westminster School. In the Island Challenge Cup, we’ll get a hybrid reanimation of the Boat Race as Oxford University ‘B’ take on Cambridge at the top of the draw. At the bottom of the same page, Edinburgh ‘A’ against an unselected University of Washington crew. Although it’s not technically ‘day one’, a selected Sydney University in the Visitors Challenge Cup will face the might of four Dark Blue heavyweights, a crew which includes the Swiss double from Tokyo 2020.
Don’t worry – this isn’t going to become a numbers-heavy download on crews and where I think they rank. It’s simply a little question mark for the Stewards on how they determine which crews pre-qualify and then which crews deserve a selection/seed. The qualifying list already raised some pretty heavy eyebrows and some selection choices have elicited more than a curious glance from the rowing community. In fear of being proven badly wrong, I won’t highlight individual examples and will instead let the crews do their talking on the water but some very quick boats will be left wondering what else they could have done to have their name bolded out on the draw.
Date with Destiny
I spent most of yesterday at qualifiers, enjoying my first of ten days of annual leave – always a good vibe – and the atmosphere on-site was electric. It’s easy to forget just how much qualifying for the Regatta means to a lot of crews – the cries of jubilation as names were read out over the tannoy evidenced that. People have waited three long years for a ‘proper’ Henley Royal Regatta. The Stewards did what they could in 2021, putting on a COVID-safe event that allowed us all to come together in unconventional ways. 2022 will hopefully be back to normal; world class racing in a setting unlike any other, banked by thousands of giddy spectators and fueled by sun and champagne and destiny. If you’re reading this as an athlete, a spectator, a parent, a coach or simply a Regatta fan then I implore you to enjoy these next few days. There’s nothing quite like Henley Royal Regatta.
words by Junior Rowing News
photo by Ed Evans