5 months ago, almost anybody asked would have placed St Paul’s at the top of their predictions for SHORR; and with good reason. High off last season, they finished an extremely close 2nd at the Head of the Charles to RowAmerica Rye, 18 seconds ahead of last year’s Youth National Champions, Sarasota. This crew has held onto a huge amount of their speed from last year, with their returners Ollie Parish and Tom Horncastle coming back with world’s gold medals under their belts to complement an already impressive season winning the schoolboy Triple (or for those that insist on it, the 'Quadruple'). This has been reaffirmed at races throughout this season, with St Paul’s regularly seeing off huge university and club programmes, let alone schools.
However. Hammersmith Head saw a big upset with St Paul’s coming third to Shiplake and Eton. Statistically, this is only one race out of many in which they haven’t topped the junior standings, but it cultivates a huge sign of hope in the other schools' minds: the kings can be toppled. Friday will be tight, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s up to St Paul’s to decide if they’re going to throw everything at it like they have in the past, or rest on their laurels and get beaten. A medal is almost certain, but they won’t be happy with anything except gold.
The people’s favourites for SHORR are undoubtedly Shiplake. On paper, not as fast at St Paul’s, but their Hammersmith win has swung many people into the bees’ favour. Traditionally very strong at SHORR, they won in 2017 and came second both last year and in 2016. These boys have come off the back of a strong season last year and have only built on their bronze in championship eights at NSR. They are hungry for this win and have been racing at every opportunity to nail down their race plan. Their ambitions are clear and they might just get away with it, but as mentioned earlier, it will go right to the wire.
Eton finish off the “big three” for this year’s predictions. Another very fast crew in the shadow of St Paul’s School's success, they showed off their extreme depth of squad last year with their 1V finishing 3rd and their 2V finishing 4th. They finished a very close second to Shiplake at Hammersmith Head and have proven their speed at many occasions already this year, including some impressive performances at GB trials in Boston. While the back end of last year didn’t go their way after a disappointing NSR campaign, their Henley redemption was superb and they have only been on the up since. With a boat full of GB athletes from Worlds and Coupe, they are very strong contenders for a medal.
Last year’s golden success story, Bedford came from seemingly nowhere to suddenly being right up with the pack. Sure, they won 1st eights in 2017 on the shortened course, but 2018 suddenly got a lot of championship schools interested with their 7th place finish. Feeding off this, Bedford went on a rise to NSR, where they finished 4th and won the Child Beale for potentially the last time ever. While losing their worlds representative and other key members this year, half of their eight remains, with some top talent injected to improve its speed. What this crew will want more than anything is not to be in the shadows of last year’s stellar performance. Their championship entry reflects their ambitions and Hammersmith results back it up. Bedford School charged back onto the scene last year, and a fast result here is exactly what they need to catapult their unfailingly faster regatta season to victory.
Abingdon and Hampton were almost inseparable last year, with Abingdon 0.2 seconds quicker than Hampton at SHORR, and 2s quicker at NSR. This year at least, it seems that Abingdon has taken more strides in the right direction, with a convincing lead over Hampton at Hammersmith Head. Hampton will need a big step on if they want to replicate last year’s results. Shrewsbury had what could be described as an average championship season last year. Undeniably fast but just not quick enough to turn heads, they’d had enough after 8th place finishes at SHORR and NSR, and impressively made the Saturday at Henley. Again, this year they didn’t show exceptional speed at Hammersmith, at least beating last year’s rivals Bedford, but enough to remain competitive and be ready to snatch up any complacent crews.
Radley College have been consistently near the top for the past few years, but never quite delivering the whole package. After some supposed steering issues, their SHORR result last year wasn’t representative of the rest of their season by any means. Dare we even mention Bedford Regatta. They managed to really turn things around when they went on to take a well-deserved champ eights silver at NSR and made it to Henley Saturday after an incredible race against Shiplake. We can't forget that they snuck past Paul's to top the schoolboy rankings at Wallingford Head, so they could well be ready to shake things up again and anyone choosing to count them out is playing a risky game.
Westminster re-join the 8’s scene after last year’s venture into championship quads earnt them a 4th at SHORR and bronze at NSR. Historically an extremely well-drilled school, as hosts they won SHORR in 2016 and their eight had an admirable season last year, especially considering their top 4 athletes weren’t in it. After some top trials performances and the focus on the eight again this year, they’re back and ready to party.
Bringing up the rear of the championship division will be Latymer, King's College Wimbledon and King’s Chester. It’s been many years since Chester were near the top of champ eights, and a recent downward trend of results wouldn't fill one with hope. But they will be worthy of their championship entry, always ensuring they’re comfortably ahead of most school first eights. Latymer and KCS have both lost a large number of top athletes to universities and local clubs (oh, and Sydney Rowing Club), and their goal will be to try and retain some of last year's form as best they can. Just like Chester, they are still fast crews, just not in contention for medals. After last year’s incredible four, Molesey return with an eight to hopefully challenge the schools and are looking to be the fastest junior eight in the competition. They won the Child Beale in 2017, are their sights now set on the championship crews?
As usual, we are joined by Enniskillen Royal from Ireland, who consistently perform well at this event. Last year they came 8th overall at SHORR just behind Bedford and 3rd in the B final at NSR, earning them a silver medal in the first eights category which they memorably couldn’t collect as they almost missed their ride home due to delays. This year the school has been performing well, taking a convincing win in junior eights at the Erne Head of the River on top of success at Castleconnel Head and the Irish Indoor Championships. No strangers to blustery conditions, they will likely cope will with the forecast wind.
CUS Milano row on a 2km lake on the outskirts of Milan. They are a single club covering all the academic institutions in Milan, concentrating the schools and universities in a city of more than 3 million into a single club (CUS standing for Centre for University Sports). Their facilities are understandably world-class; however, they are restricted with their distance training. The lake regularly hosts 1000m and 500m sprints, but being good at sprinting won’t help much on the infamous Championship Course. If CUS have found a way to effectively train for distance, then they will be right up in the running. As always with foreign crews, they wouldn’t make the journey if they didn’t plan to be competitive.
A polar opposite to CUS Milano, Istituto Statale "E. STEIN" Gavirate or simply the “Edith Stein” State Institute in Gavirate, are the other Italian entry in this category. The school stands a mere 500m from a boathouse on the banks of the famous Lake Varese, a facility used by many schools and clubs with even the Australian national team basing their European Training Facilities there. Compared to CUS Milano, the 5km lake provides an ideal training location for the head season. However, the school doesn’t quite have the same catchment area as Milan and will naturally not have as much raw talent. But raw talent is nothing without good training, and it will be interesting to see how the two very different Italian crews will compare.
The First Eights category looks like it will be hotly contested between a variety of crews this year. Each squad has been training for months in the lead up to this event and with rapid conditions forecasted, it seems like the perfect time for each crew the show what they have to offer whilst taking records down with them.
Norwich school will be aiming to claim this title after what was maybe not a fantastic start to the season. At Wallingford their eights performed respectably but were quite a way behind some other schools such as KCS, despite a boat malfunction. They however do have some strong rowers in their crew including several members who raced in the 8+ in the GB vs France match last year. They also raced at the Hammersmith head a few weeks ago and placed a respectable 7th behind rivals Reading Blue Coats. This experience should give them some confidence in their ability coming into the race.
Monmouth are going to be excited coming into the Schools Head this year. With Iwan Hadfield who recently came 2nd at GB Trials on board they will be looking for nothing but a solid victory. They recently raced at the Reading University Head, finishing joint 3rd in Open Eights B. This will set them up nicely as they will have had the chance to go through a slightly miniaturised race plan for the Schools head beforehand.
Reading Blue Coat school recently rowed at the Hammersmith head some weeks ago. They performed well in what were challenging conditions and placed marginally ahead of Norwich school in 6th. This should hopefully give them a lot of faith that they have the capacity to beat the other crews they are racing and potentially take the win from other schools.
St George’s College should be aiming for a high-ranking finish in this event. They recently had some success in GB Trials with Felix Stewart finishing in 7th on the Saturday. He is stroking this eight and that should give the crew a lot of confidence that they will be going down the course with a powerful rhythm.
The results will most likely be decided given how each crew can handle the conditions that are thrown at them on the day. They must make sure that they don’t back off at any point during the race as it could cost them seconds that may be the difference between winning and losing.
2nd and 3rd 8+
It’s a well-known staple in rowing that, certainly in large programmes, the speed of the first eight is determined by the speed of the second eight. Without those boys fighting for seats and the inter-club competition, it can be much harder to rear a truly fast crew. Eton’s second 8 certainly live up to and exceed this expectation. Their incredible result at SHORR last year to come 4th led many to believe that Eton had raced matched crews. It was clear from the start of the season that the Eton 2V would clean up the second eights category, and they stayed true to form and did with ease. While it’s clear that the top talent from that boat will enter the 1V, the sheer depth of their programme means that it’s almost inevitable that Eton will dominate in the 2nd 8 and 3rd 8 categories as they did last year. Eton very nearly had a clean sweep of winning all 2nd and 3rd 8 categories at SHORR and NSR last year, but the St Paul’s 3V denied them that claim when they broke ahead to win 3rd 8’s at SHORR. When you train the fastest schoolboy crew ever it’s undeniable that your reserve boats will be blistering too. While St Paul’s lacks the sheer squad size of Eton, they also have a hugely successful coaching team and incredible facilities to train some of the best rowers in the country – St Paul’s second eight had more athletes go to Coupe than most First 8 schools.
Royal Shrewsbury were one of three schools to successfully enter a second boat into the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. Given that they came 5th in the 2nd 8 A final at NSR, this shows an incredible step on and commitment to qualify. While Shrewsbury easily peaked at Henley last year, they are looking to have a big season this year, and one to improve on last year’s SHORR results. Shiplake College’s J16 8 made waves in the rowing community when they qualified for the Temple Challenge Cup last year. Riding off an incredible season which included gold medals galore and even a J16 record, they had a fantastic row against Nottingham University to put even some universities to shame. You can be sure that their whole eight hasn’t transitioned to the 1V, so their second eight will be packed with highly experienced and motivated J17s ready to challenge Eton. I imagine the Shiplake second 8 will be highly competitive this season to mirror their first 8. Hampton’s first eight had what could be described as a disappointing season last year, but their second eight had a much better time with a silver medal in second eights, just ousting St Paul’s, and a 4th in third eights. The school’s focus will of course be on the top crew, but their top boat’s success doesn’t always reflect the second boats’.
Windsor Boys had the ultimate comeback story last year, coming second at School’s Head and NSR to Maidenhead, and then spectacularly beating them in the final at Henley. A sensational season, with one side effect for this year – all four of them have moved on, leaving an entirely new crew in its place. However, this hasn’t deterred the boys; with trials superstar Julian van Gelderen in the boat there’s no shortage of talent. Windsor haven’t raced much this season, preferring to hide their speed I imagine, but a lack of results doesn’t always mean they’re slow. One thing they could be lacking in is race experience however, and on the one course where it matters the most it could cost them. Hot on Windsor’s heels are a crew they were nip and tuck with throughout last year. And I don’t mean Maidenhead, as they have suffered a severe lack of athletes and not even entered a quad. I mean Leander. The boys in pink are determined to make this year theirs, and they have the squad to do it. With blistering times at Reading Head, Fours Head and Junior Trials, they are more than competitive with many billing them as this categories’ top dogs. Last year saw them take bronze in this event and 4th at NSR. Good, but not quite Leander. With their world-class facilities and coaching the Leander boys will be well-drilled and ready for anything the Tideway, or Windsor, will throw at them.
Westminster’s venture into quads paid off last year with a bronze medal at NSR however this year they are sticking to eights and prioritising the eight, leaving the quad as the second boat. However as demonstrated last year, a Westminster second boat is nothing to take lightly. The eight entry indicates a stronger squad depth than last year, so we can be assured that this quad will be quick regardless, but perhaps not in contention for a medal. Their high seeding in the entries will work in their favour giving them some fast crews to push off, but it doesn’t look to me like they’ll be catching Leander. A crew feeding off an influx of decent J16’s, Tideway Scullers will be leagues better this year than last, which shouldn’t be difficult since they finished 21st in the event after deciding to race in the 1st eights category also, with varying degrees of success. Making the quad their top crew will send shivers down the spines of crews setting off ahead of them, giving the Scullers plenty of motivation down the course as they look to overtake multiple crews. One downside of this however is the bad water that comes with it, but this being their home course I doubt it will faze them much. Last year’s J16s got a bronze medal at NSR so it will be interesting to see what they can bring to this quad.
Similar to Tideway’s situation but more beneficial, Henley are bringing their gold medal winning J16 quad into their senior team to enter two quads into this event. There is some incredible individual talent in their squad with some convincing singles wins earlier in the season, and four Reading Head entries showing substantial squad depth. They also took a win in the J18 4x category at Reading Head, but quite a way off Leander’s top junior quad. Unless Henley pull something out of the bag, which isn’t unheard of, they probably will be near the top, but just shy of medalling.
Quite the breakout quad this season, Lea Rowing Club’s top quad has burst onto the scene to be right up there with the big junior names. I would compare to previous year’s champ quad results, but there aren’t any! Taking a surprise win at Hammersmith Head has affirmed these boy’s speed to all other competitors, likely working on last year’s B Final win at NSR to slip under the radar. These boys could be a serious upset at SHORR.
Claires Court. Say it and you’re transported back to those amazing 2016 and 2017 Fawley finals between Claires Court and Windsor Boys. Last year, Claires Court struggled managing to win the C final at NSR and making just the Thursday at Henley. But this year’s results have suggested a comeback, with their quad coming second at Hammersmith, albeit void of much of the competition, and a decent result at Fours Head. We’d love to see them come back to the top of their game, but we might just have to wait another year for that.
A very different line-up to last year’s competition where Molesey cleaned up the competition, the fours category is a great mix between larger programmes’ second crews and smaller programmes’ top boats, providing some really close racing for the schools not lucky enough to have a large squad. Being billed as the front-runners for this event, St Edward’s School have placed their top boat in this category after deeming they didn’t have the depth for a truly competitive eight. Following on from last year’s champ 8 they only had 1 leaver but have split into a top four and second quad regardless. This boat is full of experience and talent from last years’ season and know that coming into racing they will be right up at the top. A fantastic programme took them to the A Final last year with even a J15 in the crew, so this streamlining could really take St Edwards to a gold medal.
Similar to St Edwards, Dulwich have also entered their top 4 guys into this event, a break from the eights they usually run. Last year in this event they came 9th but are setting off in third this year. Some recent trials performances will give Dulwich some confidence coming into Friday, and on their home water where fours are much more affected by the elements than eights, they’ll reap the benefits of being Tideway grown.
Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association are a surprise entry in this category. Last year they raced in Championship Eights, coming a disappointing 14th in the event. Later in the year the pair of Miles Beeson and Robert Powell split off to win at NSR and eventually become the GB 2- for Junior Worlds. There’s a lot of talent in Aberdeen which they couldn’t transfer into an eight last year, so maybe a smaller boat will suit them better. It’s a long way for them to travel so they’ll be wanting to make the most of it.
Oratory School have some history in fours, albeit not a hugely successful one. Last year they made huge bounds from the previous years’ result, coming 5th in the category with a very competitive time. Another school hoping that channelling their top athletes into a smaller boat will work, all of the crews who beat them last year aren’t racing, so this could be their time to shine.