Yesterday's Henley Royal entry announcement provided some exciting news for the girls racing this event here. For the first time this year, what was once 12 crews, and most recently 16 crews, has been upped to 20 crews qualifying for the Diamond Jubilee.
Henley RC come into this weekend after comfortably winning the WJ18 quads event at Met. They won GCh4x at Nat Schools, leading Shrewsbury by 2.5 seconds. But comfortably? Maybe not so much. It was Gloucester Hartpury that led the A final through to the 1500m mark, sitting two seconds up on Henley. A boat stopping crab in the last few hundred metres (older athletes may remember Hartpury having the same unfortunate incident in 2017) sent this crew from gold medal position into fourth. Hartpury dominated the Diamond Jubilee for many years, winning back-to-back red boxes from 2014 through 2017. Y Quad Cities won the event last year and denied them that fifth win, but they're back on fighting form again this season.
Shrewsbury raced the Sunday of Met in a non-junior event. They still look to be progressing well after their NSR silver, where they were less than a second behind Henley through the 1500m. On a course of the same length at Henley Women's, they may have the speed in them, but they'll have to make sure they have the stamina before HRR in a few week's time. Headington snuck in front of Hartpury at NSR to claim the bronze medal, and had a strong second half after sitting at the back of the pack. After many year's of domination in the eights, their undoubtedly 8th place finish was thoroughly redeemed by such a strong show in the quads. They'll need to go out the blocks hard or they'll run out of course- this is not the event to save it all for the second half.
TSS were seven seconds behind Henley at NSR, and while that margin appeared unchanged at Met, we know they had a bit of a steering-type issue after an obstruction on the course due to an incident in a previous race. This hints that they will have closed the gap on Henley. The million dollar question is- by how much. With talented Zoe Scheske joining this crew, they will have made a good step on since Nationals.
Coming in behind TSS at Nat Schools were Lea RC, who have a solid season including a second place finish at Wallingford. They have some ground to make up on the frontrunners to be competitive for the win here, but they're a young crew with a lot left to give looking ahead to next year.
Marlow and Latymer were first and second in the NSR B final respectively, putting down times that would have been competitive with the bottom end of the A final. So much of HWR depends on the luck of the draw, and despite not making the A final at Nat Schools, these clubs are consistent performers in these events and have proven they have the speed in them to be competitive. Hinksey and Monmouth Comprehensive took up the rear of the pack in that same B final, but this is no mean feat. The quads are fiercely competitive, and it's so exciting to see some smaller clubs proving themselves amongst the big dogs here.
Also worth a mention are Putney, NSR bronze medallists in the ChG4- and now entered in the quads here. Only one overseas crew is contesting this event, and it's Ridley College from Canada. Close to home, they were dominant winners at both the big Stotesbury Cup Regatta and the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Championships. They've shown their strength amongst their local competition, and they could be a real test for the UK crews.