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Senior Men IV at Henley

Friday, 27th July 2012

Author: Oliver James


On the 22nd of July the Senior Men's Four of Peter Holloway, Jack Clark, Alex Owen, James Cooper and Oliver James (cox) took to the water at Henley on Thames in an attempt to qualify a boat for the Prince Albert Challenge Cup. The crew were attempting to qualify a four for this prestigious event for the first time in 10 years, and the first time since the events for coxed fours at Henley were reshuffled to allow only 16 places to student fours instead of the former 32. With 7 crews prequalifying for the event there were 11 places remaining. 28 crews would be time trailing for these places.

The Warwick crew lined up at the back of the marshalling area, drawn in the penultimate spot in the division, and entertainment was on offer from the house across the road that blasted the classic hit 'Sweet Child of Mine' across the river. With many crews seemingly not in the mood for the party the Warwick crew took it upon themselves to turn this ordinarily very serious event into an all out karaoke session, with some of the crew able to draw on the experience of various 'Singstar' socials during the previous year they provided ample entertainment for the visiting crew from the University of Michigan, unfortunately it was only our fun loving American friends who appreciated the vocals, with the rest of the marshalling crews looking on with disapproving stares.

After this brief spot of levity in the marshalling area Mr Redgrave (of 5 olympic gold medal fame) instructed the crew to move up onto the start line and complete their qualifying run. The crew got out the blocks in their usual smooth fashion at rate 39 taking advantage of the shelter of the island to get the boat speed up ready to face the strong wind that started hitting the crew around 200m into the course. Rowing through tough conditions and strong winds the crew smashed out a strong powerful rhythm settling on rate 30, the most efficient rate that the conditions would allow for the crew. Settling onto this strong pace the crew remained relaxed and controlled, and took full advantage of a 200m stretch in the course around 900 meters in and when the wind died down, taking the rate on up to 36 and knocking seconds off the split the crew grabbed the opportunity presented by the lull in conditions. As the gusts picked up again coming through Fawley the crew resumed the chunky rate 30 rhythms, and this was sustained through to the finish, with incredibly strong gusts from the 'hole in the wall' through to the finish line making it impossible to push the rate up and sprint for the line.

After the race came the nervous standing around waiting for the results to come through, fortunately the stewards were on top form and produced the results in record time, announcing the results almost as soon as the crew had set the boat down. Read in alphabetical order it was a nervous wait for the Warwick crew, but it proved to be worth the wait as it was announced that Warwick had qualified for the event and they would be racing on Wednesday.

Round One: University of Warwick Boat Club v Edinburgh University Boat Club

The crew drew Edinburgh University Boat Club for their first round. A victory would be the first time a Warwick crew had progressed to the last 8 of an event at Henley Royal Regatta, and the first time they had got through a round in the coxed four event since 2002, when a crew containing current Olympian Tom Solesbury had beaten Worcester Town in the first round of the Britannia Challenge Cup to progress to the last 16 of that event. The race was scheduled for early on Wednesday morning, the crew stayed locally in Windsor so as to avoid disruption. In a great display of support the Warwick Rowing fans came from far and wide with a full minibus and a number of cars leaving campus at an incredibly unsociable hour to bring the dedicated and committed to the event.

The crew enjoyed a late night paddle late in the evening the day before the race and arrived at Henley the morning of the race in high spirits, looking forward to the upcoming race. The boys went about their usual race preparation in the hour before the race and paddled up to the start line to find the competition ready and waiting in the marshalling area. It wasn’t long before the Warwick crew was lined up on the start line (Berkshire Station) and the umpire was calling the race start.

Clean, Controlled and Smooth. The Warwick crew went out of the blocks at pace striking 40. Coming through the 150m marker the crew were half a length down to the Edinburgh crew who had been able to get their boat up to speed faster than the Warwick crew. However at 45 seconds into the race the Edinburgh crew strode down onto their racing pace. Not Warwick. Stepping it up over the next 30 seconds the crew overcame the deficit and the Warwick crew had two thirds of a length lead before striding out onto a solid rate 33 into conditions that resembled the qualifying races. At the barrier marker Warwick crew were a length up and made the move to break the chain with the Edinburgh crew with a small push they took the rate on to 35 and took an extra half a length lead, putting clear water between them and the Edinburgh crew. The crew then settled into a comfortable rhythm on 31 and kept the Edinburgh crew safely on the leash for the rest of the race, with another small push at the 1500m marker further establishing their dominance and a small push at the finish extending the lead. Warwick crossed the finish line winning by an official verdict of two lengths.

The crew stepped off the water in an ecstatic mood. They had taken a Warwick crew to the last 8 of a Henley event for the first time ever. The crew spent a couple of hours socialising with the fans and watching some of the racing before heading back to their base in Windsor to rest and recuperate for their race against Imperial College who had beaten Queens College Belfast by one and one quarter lengths in their first round fixture.

Round Two: University of Warwick Boat Club v Imperial College Boat Club

In order to progress to the last four and race on the Saturday the Warwick boys would need to overcome Imperial College London, a seeded crew that had posted a set of impressive results in the regattas leading up to the race. The numbers before the race suggested to many an armchair pundit that this was a race that was over before it began, with the Warwick crew predicted to be destroyed by the prestigious rowing power that is Imperial. The Warwick boys were convinced that this was not going to be the predicted walkover, and were determined to use their underdog status to full advantage.

The stewards were backing this to be a pretty boring race as well, giving the crew one of the first racing slots of the day. The crew arrived early and set about their usual preparations before paddling up to the start where they met up with their opposition and lined up ready for the race. The Warwick crew were on the Berkshire station again.

The Warwick crew produced their usual high quality start, and they found themselves in a familiar situation as they went through the 150m markers half a length down to their imperial counterparts. However, this time it was the imperial crew that refused to stride down and as the crews passed through one minute the Warwick crew strode down onto a solid 33 whilst the Imperial crew continued to push on. The Imperial crew pushed on, demonstrating their exceptionally high quality by pushing out to a four-length lead as they went through Fawley.

As the crews neared Remenham the race began to take a turn. The Imperial crew became complacent and felt happy to sit on the Warwick crew, and the Warwick boys put in a burst coming through Remenham that was to be the start of a 600m push for the line. Off this impressive 15-stroke burst Warwick started to creep back up on the Imperial Crew, stepping on the power but leaving the rate on the solid 33. At the regatta enclosure Warwick had started making some headway into the Imperial Crew. However, they were still 3 lengths down. At this point the Warwick boys decided to hit the accelerator, and they hit it hard. Really hard. Over 3 strokes the rate moved up from 33 to 39 and the crew began rapidly closing in on the imperial crew. At the Fawley Bar the crew had clawed back even more distance, and were now one and one quarter length behind. At this point they went again. Another push that took the crew back through to overlap. Then again, the crew were pushing back through the Imperial crew at a rapid pace, and by the time they got to the Progress Board the cox, Oliver James, found himself sitting level with the bowman of the Imperial Crew. It was to be an epic sprint to the line, the Warwick crew powering along at 41, and the Imperial crew matching them alongside as they fought closely through the final stages of the race.

Despite what was, in the words of Regatta Radio, '' a mighty push'' the Warwick boys were unable to completely overhaul the Imperial crew and ended up losing in dramatic fashion by three quarters of a length.

Ultimately, whilst disappointed, the crew were proud to be counted as one of Warwick's most successful Henley crews, and the returning members of the crew looks forward to taking this experience on into next years crew with a new bar now set for Warwick crews looking to take the title of being the best Warwick crew to perform at Henley.

Crew from Stroke: Peter Holloway, Jack Clark, Alex Owen, James Cooper, Oliver James (cox)

Crew Coach: Thomas Broomfield