Marlow Regatta 2015 – J18 Eights

As there is a lack of a dedicated J18 event at this year’s Marlow Regatta (rather, there are several J18 crews entered into the ‘IM3 8+ (School)’ category, and a smattering of other Championship crews entered into IM2, IM1 and Senior events), I will be basing the majority of my preview on the IM3 category, but I will also preview the junior crews entered into other categories – any category with a J18 8+ present, I’ll briefly preview.


IM3 8+ (School)

This is the only dedicated schoolboy eight event in the regatta this year, and will see generally some Child Beale schools and second eights competing with J16 eights. At the forefront of the category will be Eton College‘s ‘Hayes’ entry. Whether this is a 1st or 2nd VIII remains to be seen (although it would seem unlikely Eton would enter it’s 1st VIII into IM3, particularly as it’s already racing Senior), but this shouldn’t change any eventual outcome. The only ambiguity here lies in the name of the boat – Theo Hayes has seemingly been oscillating between 1st and 2nd VIII, although I had assumed his position as stroke man at National School’s in the eight, and his seat in the arguably better four Eton fielded on the Sunday, had more or less ensured his continued position in the 1st VIII. I digress. Eton have had a very successful regatta season, most notably in the 2nd VIII, where they are continuing to establish dominance and show the sheer depth of their program – testament to this is Eton’s stunning gold medal tally at NSR – wins in six categories. What’s so extraordinary about this depth is that it can produce a 2nd eight that can not only dominate the competition in it’s category, but could comfortably race in other categories and still hold their own – indeed, if Eton’s 2nd VIII would have won 1st8+ at the School’s Head of the River. They were run perhaps a little close for comfort at NSR – particularly in their semi-final, where King’s Chester’s charge in the middle 1K left Eton lagging 3 seconds behind – but I’m sure the 2nd VIII will be really gearing up to qualify for Henley’s Temple Challenge Cup. Marlow Regatta will be an important stepping stone for them, and I expect them to take the win here.

However, Hampton School‘s ‘Sandford’ entry will have something to say about this. Despite being well behind Eton at SHORR, Hampton’s 2nd VIII have been improving a great deal of late, and showed strong grit at NSR in attempting to chase down Eton, who really shot out of the blocks. Hampton has done a bit of seat racing since NSR, probably due to the slightly lackluster performance of the 1st VIII, so positions may have changed around – but I fancy that NSR was a real wake-up call for the entire Hampton squad, who, despite managing a good amount of silvers and bronzes, will have surely been disappointed to see themselves so far down on the medal table – particularly given they generally feature very highly. This isn’t a particularly physically strong crew, compared to Eton’s much more powerful boat, but Hampton have a fluid, relaxed style that is tailored well for 2nd VIII racing, where discrepancies in technique are slightly more magnified. I reckon that they’ll pose a strong challenge to Eton, and won’t let them blast out of the blocks in the same way they did at NSR.

Latymer Upper School have been interesting to watch over the season as they develop. Way back in late 2014, good results in the Pairs and Fours Head saw talk of a possible Latymer entry into Championship Eights, and good results at early eights heads, where Latymer were really mixing it with the bigger Champ Eight schools, seemed to strengthen this. It was perhaps disappointing, then, when Latymer decided to enter First Eights at School’s Head – although there are clear and justified reasons behind it – but since then I’ve felt like Latymer’s 1st VIII is a crew that doesn’t quite believe in it’s own potential. They’ve got some good athletes in the boat – Tom Yates recently rowed for GB at the Munich Regatta, and by all accounts he’s not the standout athlete of the crew – and physical strength to boot. They look good in training; determined and thoughtful in their technical approach. And yet they don’t quite produce the speed to match – perhaps this is a problem of mentality, or a perceived ‘underdog’ status. They’ll be looking to get as far as possible at Henley, however, and arguably they are in with a much better chance of winning the PE than Eton is winning the Temple, so Latymer will have taken this post-NSR period seriously – and I think this will show in racing. They’ll be hard pressed by Eton and Hampton, but I think these guys have the class to take the win here, provided they have a good race. My prediction for Eton still stands, but only because I feel Latymer is slightly unpredictable – I can only hope they prove me wrong.

King’s College School will be also hunting for the win here. The crew entered under the name ‘Olsen’ appears to be the 1st VIII, and it’s a crew that’s seen a few ups and downs this season. Some fairly mediocre results suggested that the crew might have a more productive season in the 1st eight category after its stint at SHORR in Champ Eights – but the switch paid off, and KCS took the silver behind Shiplake in the Child Beale Cup, a good few seconds ahead of Latymer. This is undoubtedly a solid crew, with a smattering of trialists in the boat – Will Nelson and Alex Oldroyd in particular have been trialing together this year, with some good success – but as I’ve said in previous previews, they don’t quite have the raw strength to compete with the upper echelons of British schoolboy rowing. However, this event won’t see any Champ Eight crew,this should give them a good footing in the event. I don’t think they’ll win it, but I’m sure they can come close.

There are a few other boats of note in previewing this event; Kings School Chester have a good 2nd VIII that was edged out by St Paul’s at NSR, but will be back with a vengeance in the hunt for a qualifying position in the Temple Challenge Cup, and perhaps won’t go down so easily this time. On that note, St Paul’s School have seen good development in their 2nd VIII after a fairly average winter and spring season, ending in a fine bronze medal at NSR – they’ll certainly be eager to try and win a qualifying position, and assert their speed compared to other 2nd VIIIs – not only Kings Chester, but also Abingdon School who have a physically strong 2nd VIII (but perhaps not one that is technically as skilled as, say, Hampton, or indeed St Paul’s). In terms of other 1st VIII schools, Sir William Borlase have shown decent speed and will be challenging for a spot in the final, as well as London Oratory, who made the Child Beale final despite only just qualifying for its semi! However, LOS was rather off-pace in the final; much more ‘in the mix’ was Reading Blue Coat, whose 1st VIII is challenging well at the top end of the Child Beale crews and might give 2nd Eights such as KCH or SPS a run for their money. Watch out too for the Americans: Lawrenceville School, USA will be competing in both this event and IM2 8+, and look to have notched up some good results in the States, including a spot in the final of the Scholastic Rowing Association of America Regatta, and they’ll be quickly acclimatizing in their preparations for Henley.

Prediction for the final: 1st: Eton  2nd: King’s College School   3rd: Latymer Upper School  4th: Reading Blue Coat  5th: London Oratory  6th: St Paul’s School

IM2 8+

This should prove an exciting contest in terms of the J18 eights entered into this event. Attempting to lay down a strong marker for Henley will be Radley College, who performed very well, on reflection, at NSR to come 4th – particularly without their main man, Charlie Elwes, who entered their top coxed four on the Sunday and won gold over SPS. This is a talented boat, that has both power and technical finesse, and it should be a concerning force for schools like Eton, St Paul’s and even Westminster at Henley – particularly as it is likely that Radley will be seeded, given their NSR position, thereby giving them (probably) an easier route through the early stages of the regatta. I rate this crew a great deal; I think they’ve handled the illness of Elwes maturely, and have really developed since their disappointing showing at Wallingford Regatta some weeks back. They are ferocious racers, and they’ll be quick out the blocks – this will certainly play into their favor at Henley, where racing is as much a mental battle as it is physical. I fancy these guys to not only be the fastest junior crew in the IM2 event, but they might well be looking to take the win outright – the standard of other crews entered really isn’t anything Radley can’t handle.

Bearing down on Radley, however, will be Hampton School, certainly eager to right the wrongs of NSR, and desperate to bring a level of hope back into the crew in this crucial stage before Henley. These guys are good, and are doing well considering the relative weakness of their crew in comparison to some of their Championship Eight counterparts; I’ll reiterate my admiration for athletes like Tom Long and Dom Jackson who performed so well at trials and yet were not, in my opinion, properly taken into account due to their size – Jackson beating David Bewicke-Copely, the massive Etonian with the stonking ergo, in a coxed four seat race at Spring Assessments is no mean feat. However, I can’t see them managing to match Radley’s speed. They don’t have the firepower, and if they do manage to hold their own against Radley, I doubt it will be for any more than the first 1K – indeed, Hampton were holding their own fairly well in their semi final at NSR until they just couldn’t hold onto the pace of the leading boats. I hope they make the final, though; a Radley/Hampton match will certainly be an interesting one to watch, particularly given Henley’s imminence.

Westminster School have entered an eight hear under ‘Williams’ – Alex Williams from their 1st 4+ – and so I imagine that this is a composite of that four from NSR and four of the talented Westminster J16s, not unlike the eight they fielded back at Hampton Head, when Westminster was really breaking onto the scene as the ones to watch in schoolboy eights. This is, then, clearly not a 1st VIII – but this shouldn’t deter them. Westminster have done a fantastic job this year, bringing the club from what was once considered proficient solely at sculling to a leader in Championship sweeping. The athletes are of excellent pedigree, and these guys will be spurred on by the results of the 1st VIII this year in winning NSR for the first time in Westminster’s history. While the 1st 4+ didn’t perform as well as they were perhaps expecting at NSR, they have an opportunity to fly Westminster’s flag here at Marlow, and I’m sure they’ll want to fly it as high as possible. Watch out for these guys.

King’s Chester have another boat entered under the name of a rower who was in the 2nd VIII for NSR, although this does appear to be their 1st VIII – they haven’t been performing well in Champ Eights this year, but their strength is unquestionable in the form of Alex Slater, who is fast becoming one of the best junior rowers in Britain, and they are sure to challenge – Hampton and Westminster will have to look out for these guys.

IM1 8+

This event is populated by several J18 American crews, all looking for practice before Henley, and some British schools – headed by St Paul’s School, who will be on the hunt for Westminster in these last few days building towards Henley, and eager to establish total dominance over all other J18 crews before they meet the men in pink at Henley. They’re a strong crew, and have probably dispelled the common accusation that St Paul’s is a ‘head season school’ (or indeed that it peaks for SHORR) – they’ve managed to keep their speed that was evident in the Winter and Spring through to the Summer, and I think that if anyone can challenge Westminster for the PE title, it’ll be St Paul’s. With some fantastic athletes in the boat – Arthur Doyle, who went to Worlds last year and recently won NSR pairs with David Ambler, and Ambler who won GB trials twice with Freddie Davidson – these guys will be the ones to watch in IM1.

St Edward’s School are a crew that had a bad NSR. Perhaps they took the time trial slightly too light – talk was going around that they’d done the entire piece at rate 32, at 75% – whatever the case may be, they found themselves in the ‘Little Final’, but produced the 4th fastest time of the day in Champ Eights. It would be foolish to write them off – they performed well in Champ Coxed Fours, winning the bronze medal, and quite simply the size and strength of their athletes cannot be overlooked, as well as the fact that this is an experienced crew – it’s important to remember that seven of the guys in that boat (including cox Hugo Marsh) have rowed in the Henley final. That’s no mean feat, and that has to be playing on the minds of crews like St Paul’s, Eton, Radley, or Westminster. Teddies could be a force to be reckoned with at Henley, and they’ll be looking to show what they can do at Marlow.

I’ve already previewed them for IM2, but Hampton School will be looking for a good showing here as well – it’ll be interesting to see a potential battle between them and Teddies, after St Edward’s emphatic win in the Little Final at NSR aforementioned. Aside from these British crews, Americans populate the event in terms of the juniors, with entries from the previously discussed Lawrenceville School, who might pose a challenge but who I doubt will trouble the likes of SPS; Boston High School who performed incredibly well at the Head of the Charles – let down by a crash and relegated to 4th place – and who also performed well at the recent NEIRA Regatta in Massachusetts, Salisbury School who beat Boston at NEIRA and who have some really strong guys in the middle of the boat, and Kent School who despite not entering Henley have come to race Marlow and who have beaten both Boston and Salisbury at home. It will be interesting to see how these crews stack up against the Brits; the only indication we have really is the Head of the Charles, and of course times have changed and crews have come on dramatically since then. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if an American crew gave the likes of SPS a serious run for their money.

SEN 8+

This is arguably the most exciting race in terms of junior rowing in the regatta (in terms of looking forward to Henley), for one simple reason – the battle between Eton and St Paul’s, two schools that have been touted already as potential candidates for the PE victory, even on Henley’s website. The ‘big three’ in Champ Eights this year has indeed been Eton, St Paul’s, and of course Westminster, and in both national events – School’s Head and NSR – Westminster have won, St Paul’s have come second and Eton third. Both SPS and Eton will be determined not to be overhauled again by Westminster, and this race between them will be pivotal going into Henley. Whoever wins will gain a massive confidence boost, and yet also will take on an increased burden of pressure as the victor. There will be mind games being played, and both crews will have their separate tactics, and separate ways of dealing with any eventuality. This promises to be an exciting and close race; St Paul’s have a good base pace, but Eton are strong in the last 500 and threatened to overhaul St Paul’s at NSR. It’s a tense affair, and one that should be watched with great interest by anyone looking to follow Henley – these are two crews that both feel they have a chance at the title.

A rather verbose preview, but I hope I’ve covered everything.

Good luck to all crews racing!

Five Man


Five Man