Henley Women’s Regatta 2017: Close but no cigar

It turned out to be one of those weekends. On the cusp of Henley Women’s Regatta, confidence across the squad was high as eight crews entered seven categories. These athletes battled to five finals and one semi-final, but, crucially, none returning with hardware. Here is a recap of a tumultuous weekend.

Always intensely fought, the academic categories offer close racing between the best university programmes across the country. With invaluable lessons on board from the Met, the academic coxed four of Heather Walker, Rachel Snow, Eleanor Disney, Phillipa England and cox Rebecca Rowe dispatched Warwick and Bath with consummate ease.

 

The Academic coxed four on their way

The Academic coxed four on their way

Knowing they were in the faster half of the draw, a semi-final against the UL composite promised to be a cracker. Indeed, this was some spectacle. Still above rate 40 at the end of the island, the crews exchanged blows, moving stroke for stroke down the track. UL crept into a slender lead with 500m to go, before Imperial reeled them back in but ultimately lost out by an official verdict of a canvas. In reality it looked closer, though this is of little consolation. It has been a rewarding campaign for this impressive university crew with an innate desire to continue to gain speed and hone their race-day performances.

Racing senior coxless fours, Natalie Long, Joanna Thom and Maddalena Ardissino were the three returners from last year’s senior eight that fell agonisingly short at the line. Reinforced with the firepower of Meghann Jackson, this four had a destructive rhythm and have been flying high on the Tideway. The crew demonstrated useful speed, beating Cambridge by three lengths and Glasgow by two lengths. The semi-final was a closer affair, but again Imperial controlled the race from the start to beat Edinburgh by three quarters of a length.

 

Senior coxless four building off the start

Senior coxless four building off the start

Predictions of a final against Newcastle proved accurate; these two crews were a cut above the rest of the field and deserving finalists. This seasonal rivalry extends back to Metropolitan Regatta, where Imperial finished ahead. Newcastle gained an advantage through 500m and continued to surge into the lead. Imperial never relented and continued to attack but it was an uphill battle as Newcastle claimed a 2 length victory. There will be a tinge of regret with this performance, having delivered on previous races and in previous rounds. But this is a Henley final and erring for the most fleeting of moments rarely goes unpunished. These athletes are endowed with a fierce, internal drive, and expectations for future success remain as lofty as ever.

Drama and Henley are inseparable, but thus far the overarching narrative has been of clean, high-quality racing. Luckily, the elite pair of Amy Gibson and Fiona Macklin filled this lacuna. Drawn in a semi-final against Oxford, Imperial went toe-to-toe down the course. After managing to sensationally bestride the first available boom at the end of the island, an even more inexplicable recovery meant Imperial took the lead over Oxford by the Barrier. Oxford dug deep and never let clear water emerge but it proved to be the intractable steering from both crews that was decisive. The umpire was treated to some work-out in the blistering heat and the inevitable collision in neutral water, culminated in a red flag and a re-row. A correct but brave decision from the umpire, fully aware of their suddenly greatly heightened workload.

Both crews paddled straight back to the start. This time around Gibson and Macklin jumped out to a lead and paddled away to a comfortable 1 1/2 length victory.

 

When three races blur into one

When three races blur into one

Aided by their now comprehensive race preparation, the pair went into the final primed to spar again. Facing an exceptional crew from Banks Rowing Club, Australia, Imperial required a special performance. After having witnessed Gibson’s steering in the semi-final, it is of no surprise the Australians were determined to find clear water by the end of the island. Which they did. The IC pair attacked through the enclosures but to no avail and Banks won. A former Olympian onboard, this is elite pairs after all, the Australian pair deserved to win.

Another entry into the top tier, Phillipa Whittaker raced in elite singles. Also drawn into the semi-finals, Whittaker faced off Sam Courty. This race was a real grind, with two talented scullers demonstrating efficient technique and gritty racing. Whittaker started to edge into a lead from the Barrier, consolidating through the next 500m to create clear water. Both athletes were impeded by wash, but Whittaker continued to power away and finished the deserved winner in a stirring battle.

Into the final and against another talented sculler, Lucy Glover. Whittaker couldn’t quite match her opponent’s boat speed as Glover took an early, insurmountable lead. It was mightily encouraging to witness superb racing in the women’s single sculls.

The final elite entry was in eights, where Issy Powell flew the Imperial flag in a GB U23 development composite. Alongside a motley crew from Aberdeen, Cambridge, Marlow, UL and Newcastle, two savage races were offered. The first, against Northeastern University required heave from stroke one. The composite eked out to a slim lead and assiduously worked the advantage. Northeastern refused to let this slip but the composite boat held on for the win.

A tantalising match-up against Ohio State, these two eights were level through 500m before the American crew started to pull away. A decisive move through the Barrier opened up a lead of two thirds of a length. The composite attacked again, and again and again, all of which were rebuffed. A final verdict of three quarters of a length demonstrates how closely fought this one was.

Two entries into senior doubles, formed of Jowita Mieszkowska with Kathryn Barnhill and Georgia Hellard Timm with Helen Wood. The former boat did not make it through a stacked qualifying field, whilst the latter lost to Reading in the heat.

Completing their first season together, the academic eight attacked the time trial. Testament to the character of the crew to take the eight to qualifiers and a deserved mention to stroke seat Parkinson who has lead this crew on and off the water. These are certainly prospects for next season.

And so the story of the weekend is best summed up as, in a word, bittersweet. Joint highest number of appearances in finals is certainly not to be sniffed at, though, in a results business, there is a certain disappointment to the regatta.  Yet, performances were largely excellent and the depth of the squad, both student and non-student, is hugely exciting.

Substantial credit to coaches Patrick Hudson and David Loveday for relentless passion and hunger to push all athletes to achieve their very best as individuals and as a collective. None of this would be possible without their laudable commitment.

The senior coxless four, elite single and composite elite eight march onto qualifiers for Henley Royal Regatta.

 


A4+ : Semi-Finalists
Walker, Snow, Disney, England, Rowe (cox)

A8+ : Qualifying Races
Regnier, Cederberg-Marmfelt, Grand, Kyle, Malin, Olive, Fenies, Parkinson, Bowden (cox)

S2x:
A): Mieszkowksa, Barnhill : qualifying races
B): Hellard Timm, Wood : heats

S4- : Runners Up
Long, Thom, Jackson, Ardissino

E1x : Runner Up
Whittaker

E2- : Runners Up
Gibson, Macklin

E8+ (composite) : Runners Up
Powell

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