A Junior Rowing Christmas Wrap-Up

Christmas has come, and with it a flurry of snow and the cold chills of winter. December is often a quiet period in the rowing calendar, as the majority of clubs and schools focus on training for the new year. Sitting here now, sun-soaked afternoons on the Henley bank feel a hundred years away but, looking back, this year has provided an exciting cocktail of shocks, spills, victories and defeats to carry us through another year of junior rowing.

It makes sense to start at the top. Once again, we saw the big names assert themselves in the eights, as St Paul’s, Eton, Radley, Westminster and Shiplake all produced impressive performances to stake a claim as the UK’s fastest junior crew. After the debacle of the shortened Schools’ Head course, which Shiplake rallied and won to their credit, the summer promised much. Bobby Thatcher’s St Paul’s unit, who have firmly taken on the mantle as one of the leading junior rowing programs in the world, produced a stellar row to take gold at the National Schools’ Regatta, beating out all the usual suspects in their first victory on the grandest junior stage of all. Much is owed to the hard work of Thatcher in cultivating a style and intensity about the boys from Hammersmith and his program now regularly feeds athletes into the top junior international British boats. For evidence, look no further than the gold medal-winning coxed four at the junior world championships – three of the athletes were from St Paul’s.

Beyond that, Alex Henshilwood continued his strong work at Eton as they won silver at the National Schools’ Regatta before pushing Scotch College, Australia to the wire in the semi-finals of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup. After two Henley victories in three years, Henshilwood won’t have been satisfied with a Saturday exit but there was little he could do to match the pace and power of the Australian unit. Stacked with the raw materials to make a boat go very very fast, Scotch became the first overseas winners of the Princess Elizabeth trophy since 2008. To come over to the UK three months after their own domestic championships and still out-do every challenger takes a special type of crew and Scotch were worthy winners on the blue Henley waters.

Junior sculling has gone from strength to strength in the past few years, epitomised by the depth and breadth of entries at the business end of the category. Windsor Boys School, eternal dwellers at the top of junior sculling, secured victory at both the National Schools’ and Henley Royal Regatta, putting to an end their multi-year campaign to reclaim the Fawley Cup. In a recent interview with Junior Rowing News, coach Mark Wilkinson said he doesn’t really care about racing before Easter and so it proved as his crew saw off all-comers to crown themselves as the fastest junior quad in the country. Leander, Maidenhead and Claire’s Court, who pushed themselves to a second Fawley Cup final in as many years, were all notable mentions. 2018 could see Maidenhead stake their claim after several years serving as the pretender; they were third at the Fours Head, a second behind Leander Club.

Junior Women’s Eights had become almost tediously predictable over the past few years, as Headington racked up win after win after win at the National Schools’ Regatta; 2017 put an end to that spell of unchallenged dominance as the girls from Henley finally came of age. Having amassed a trophy cabinet of sizeable proportions throughout their careers, Henley came into the season determined to ruffle a few feathers in the bigger boats. They finished second at both the Schools’ Head and the National Schools’ Regatta, but pushed Headington harder and closer than any crew have managed in some time. 2018 may be the year they finally tip the scale; they won their category at the Fours Head by 45 seconds.

Gloucester flew under the radar for much of the season, before coach Tom Pattichis pulled the rabbit out of the hat again to secure a fourth successive Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup. Their transformation from fourth place at the National Schools’ Regatta to outright winners at Henley was another example of effective program management and event-specific training. Can anyone stop Gloucester making it 5-in-a-row in 2018?

At J16 level, it was almost a mirror image as Eton College and St Paul’s won gold and silver respectively in the J16 Championship eights at the National Schools’ Regatta. Their integration will be key to the future successes of the clubs.

 

And so, as we head into the bleak disorientation of mid-winter to squeeze harder, lift heavier and pull longer, it is with the knowledge that the small things can create huge results in the summer. Last year’s victors are committed to immortality, and 2018 is a blank page waiting to be filled. Who will be left standing when regatta season rolls back around?

 

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