The World Champion German and the World Silver medal British men’s eights – the latter featuring ‘comeback’ Olympian Greg Searle - will get the chance to renew their recent rivalry at Henley Royal Regatta this year in The Grand Challenge Cup. However, they may find their dominance challenged by strong Australian and American line-ups. This could prove to be one of a series of eye-catching head-to-heads on the waters of the world famous Regatta later this month.
Within a total entry of 486 crews there are 119 crews from overseas (the record is 126) who will converge on Henley-on-Thames later this month. Leading the charge will be 48 crews from the United States of America, spearheaded by their top men’s and women’s boats seeking tough racing experience on their planned route through to next year’s London Olympics.
Australia have produced their largest ever entry at the Regatta with 29 crews, including their full men’s and women’s teams also seeking to improve their chances of selection for London 2012. To add class and spice to this huge overseas entry are the German men’s eight (World Champions), the Polish men’s quad (Olympic Champions), the Croatian men’s quad (World Champions) and an intriguing entry of a team from Shandong Province, China.
Britain, the world cup winning nation for the past two years, has entered the full GB Rowing Team of Olympic aspirants – some mighty clashes are anticipated! Top of the list will be the confrontation between the German and British eights in The Grand Challenge Cup. These two crews were respectively Gold and Silver medallists at last year’s World Championships and have already renewed their rivalry this year with Gold and Silver medals in the first World Cup in Munich last month.
One very interesting cameo within this overall story is the amazing ‘comeback’ of Greg Searle, rowing at 6 in the ‘powerhouse’ seat of the British eight. Greg won Olympic Gold with his brother Jonny in the coxed pairs at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 – 19 years ago. Greg’s last Olympic appearance was in Sydney in 2000. Now 39 years old, Greg has made a spectacular return to top international rowing and is totally focussed on winning an Olympic Gold medal in London next year. Needless to say, the German eight have a different view - add in the national eights of Australia and the United States of America to the Henley mix and stand well back!
In The Stewards’ Challenge Cup the British Men’s four has taken on board Tom James from the Gold medal four in Beijing. Tom took a year off after the 2008 Olympics but then found himself injured in 2010, thus missing two years of the Olympic cycle. However, his performance in trials has pushed him back strongly into the frame and into the four.
Tough opposition confronts the British four at Henley with the appearance of crews from Australia, America, China and Belarus. The planned Australian four was going to include the reigning Olympic pairs champions – Free and Ginn – but very sadly the crew suffered a serious blow last month when Duncan Free was knocked off a bike and fractured his femur. Crew changes have been made and the Australian four will still be formidable – but a tragic end to Duncan Free’s season and, possibly, to his Olympic dream.
Another ‘comeback’ star is to be found in the United States’ men’s quad where Jamie Koven Races in The Queen Mother Challenge Cup. Jamie won a World Championships Gold medal in the American eight in 1994 and became the World Champion in single sculls in 1997. His last Olympic appearance was in Sydney in 2000. Apparently driven by the same burning Olympic ambition as Greg Searle, in the British eight, Jamie, at the age of 38, is back on the trail of Olympic glory. However, Henley will prove a real testing ground for the men’s quads this year and Jamie will be up against Olympic Champions – Poland, World Champions – Croatia, together with the British and Australian quads – both World finalists last year.
In The Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup the British pair of Peter Reed and Andy Triggs-Hodge – World Silver medallists in 2009 and 2010 – will be the favourites as they put in a winning performance at the first World Cup earlier this year in Munich. Close on their heels were the Italian and Greek pairs and both of these crews will be keen to take on the British pair on their home waters.
In the women’s events the favourites for The Remenham Challenge Cup for women’s eights will be the reigning Olympic and World Champions from the United States of America. Strong resistance will definitely come from the revamped British eight, racing as Leander Club & Thames Rowing Club, with two changes to the crew that came 4th in last year’s World Championships.
One of the most hotly contested events will be in The Princess Grace Challenge Cup for women’s quads. The British crew, racing as Leander Club & Gloucester Rowing Club, are the reigning World Champions but after a disappointing performance in Munich, where they were 3rd, they will be keen to re-establish last year’s form. The United States has entered two formidable quads, an indication of the strength in depth of their current sculling programme, while the Australians have also entered two quads – their ‘number one’ boat, together with an interesting combination of their heavyweight and lightweight doubles.
The Chairman of the Committee of Management, Mike Sweeney, said "I am absolutely delighted that we have been able to attract such a high quality entry for this year’s Regatta. This is Olympic Qualification year and it is a testimony to the stature of the Regatta that so many top crews have included Henley in their Olympic preparation programmes."
You will find a total list of the entries at the Henley Royal Regatta here.