Some of the biggest names in international rowing were in the hunt for titles yesterday at the Royal Regatta but not all came away with the expected silverware and there were a few close shaves.
Leading from the front were Britain's Olympic and double world champions James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent, who secured his sixth Silver Goblets victory, and his 13th Henley title. But it was not an easy one. South Africa's World bronze medallists Ramon di Clemente and Donavan Cech forced the pace early on and Pinsent had to pull out all the stops, raising his strike rate to 40 to squeeze home by half a length with Cracknell's oar perilously close to the booms.
Pinsent said: "They gave us just the sort of race we needed to get us ready for the World Cup against the Australians in Lucerne next weekend." Drew Ginn and James Tomkins pose a major threat to the British duo's hopes at the World Championships in September and the 2004 Olympics.
In the Grand Challenge Cup, Henley's premier event, Canada beat the resurgent Germany, conquerors of the British eight on Saturday and current leaders of the World Cup, by half a length after an exceptional battle which threw down the gauntlet to the European nations which have recently dominated the event. The rough but powerful Canadians showed great character as they stole an early lead and then resisted every attack by the giant German crew.
Food poisoning devastated the Leander club's squad overnight, leaving eight members incapacitated. With crews in five finals in one of their best Henley performances, this was a major blow yet they regrouped to great effect. They withdrew their lightweight squad from the Queen Mother Cup, leaving the British national heavyweight crew – also mainly composed of Leander club athletes – to row over, although the bowman Ian Gardner had also been affected by the bug.
The final of the Fawley Cup was postponed to the afternoon to give Chris Mollison a chance to recover and allow his crewmate, 18-year-old Peter Gostling, to double up in the Leander eight racing in the Thames Cup, in place of the ailing Will Suthers. They won, beating the Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association by three lengths, and Peter Gostling capped an unexpectedly perfect day by taking his second title in the school's Fawley Cup event by half a length.
Harvard's stalwart coach Harry Parker was presented with the best possible reward for 40 years of dedicated service to America's foremost rowing club. His senior Varsity eight won the Ladies Plate from Molesey, both his fours contested the final of the Britannia Cup and when the stroke in his freshmen eight in the Temple Cup fell ill, Graham O'Donoghue from the winning four stepped in to lead the crew to victory over a spirited Oxford Brookes eight to secure his second medal of the day. Oxford Brookes took some comfort when their four beat Cambridge in a re-row of the Visitors Cup after they had hit a goose in their first race.
The Olympic silver medallist Roumiana Neykova was back in top form after taking a year off to have a baby. She beat the reigning world champion, Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski from Germany, comfortably.
The world double sculls champions Hungary also found the going too tough against the silver medallists, France, going down by four lengths after leading at halfway. But Britain's current World Cup leaders in the women's quad were much too fast for their lightweight counterparts.
The junior world sculling champion 18-year-old Matthew Langridge could not match Peter Wells for power after halfway, as Britain's leading sculler laid claim to a place in Britain's World championship team in September. The Oxford Boat Race President, having changed from stroke to bow side to row at three in the British coxed four, scored a second victory over Cambridge's internationals in the Prince Philip Cup. They now go to Lucerne where a good performance could see the crew four challenging for places in the new British eight.
Britain's top schools Abingdon and St Paul's fought out a stunning battle, having put out America's finest Groton and Tabor in the semi finals. Aberdeen scored Scotland's first ever Henley win in the Wyford Cup for club fours with a five-length margin.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies