This year sees Todd Jesdale's final Henley for Shrewsbury. Todd fosters championship mentality, although other variables preclude every crew being a champion. Not only to RSSBC as an institution but to individual Salopian athletes his legacy is enormous. Many of his protegees go on to row beyond school and even to coach. This year's Henley, despite being 'only' a Friday Henley for the crew can also be seen as a tribute to him through the huge number of competitors and coaches he has spawned.
On a different note, please will you excuse a reference to three strokes from the same family taking part in the same regatta? This year's stroke of the RSSBC crew has a brother and an ex-Olympic grandfather who also rowed the course.
The striking view of the blue and white striped boat tent across the river, which, for competitors, is that adrenaline-pumping sight as one rounds the corner in Henley at the first approach, was softened and colourfully complemented this year by the presence of the newly built Gloriana, the pageant-leading 18-oared Royal barge. Proudly adorned from stem to stern with no fewer than ten large National, Royal and House flags streaming out to their full extent in the wind (which cruelly blew relentlessly straight down the course against the crews for the full five days) she graced the Regatta in many ways. The wind combined with the current this year to slow all the crews down considerably, a fact which drew comment from the Regatta Chairman in his address at the presentation ceremony: the winning time in the Grand this year was about 50 seconds slower than that of last year. Think of what that means next time you try a 2k ergo: put the brakes on the flywheel and draw the effort out by nearly a minute! But then, the Henley course is even longer, at 2112m (or, for the traditionalists, 1 mile 550 yards – the longest straight course attainable when the regatta started in 1839). It was, as the Chairman also commented, a tough regatta.
The First VIII
Meeting Monmouth in the first round was not as easy as some might think, although as it happened this shake down round was exactly what the crew needed to steady the inevitable nerves. Monmouth shot off the start, “front-loading the race”, as their coach commented, “so as to probe any weaknesses in the Shrewsbury crew. Unfortunately there were none!” Shrewsbury quickly recovered a canvas deficit and steadily overpowered a tough crew with a reputation of never giving up. So to face Ridley College, the Canadian National Champions. Perhaps the memory of a resounding victory last year on the Thursday against St Joseph’s (USA) helped, for “Shrewsbury made a Selected crew look like novices” was the comment of one Steward. Shrewsbury’s start was fast, but so was Ridley’s; then, having settled to race pace, an early, therefore risky and surprising, strong push saw the Shrewsbury boat almost lift itself out of the water to take the lead by a length. It is possible, following a race, to pin it down to within a stroke or two when a crew member cracks under pressure; one can only speculate here, but the headwind conditions somehow seemed to affect Shrewsbury far less than Ridley from about this point of the race. Shrewsbury romped home in style to a two and a quarter length victory. Thus was the Shrewsbury-Radley Friday rivalry propagated for the third consecutive year with the score at one-all from the previous two. In the event Radley were simply faster. To be heavier by almost a stone a man into a strong headwind has a certain ring to it! The crew valiantly raced and, in typical fashion, did not crack; typical also that the emotion after the race was highly coloured by the sense of having let down the coach simply through not winning, but Todd’s post-race talk was cathartic. Most of the departing U6 from this crew have raced in the first VIII at Henley for the last three years, never less than quarter-finalists. Todd has been an inspirational – and challenging – coach, and there have been some memorable victories over talented crews along the way. But this is an annual competition, and the remaining squad is forward looking and there is a job to do over the next year or so. We wish Athol Hundermark, the newly appointed coach, every success as he takes over in September. Athol joins us from Abingdon and he has coached Henley winners both last year and this!
Although a fuller tribute will appear in the autumn edition of the Salopian, it is entirely apposite to reflect here on the huge influence Todd has had during the seven years of his tenure. Through his input the club remains squarely on the aquatic map with an impressive record: a Henley win, three semi-finals and the three quarter-finals; at the Schools’ Head three consecutive years of winning at both first and second eight level, and for the 1st VIII two further second places and two third places. At National Schools Regatta the collection of medals is similarly impressive, to say nothing of the other major Regattas on the circuit. Those who have been coached by him have been fortunate indeed; he fosters a champion’s mentality, and provides via his crews an inspiration for the younger generations, also coached to a high level. He takes with him our heartfelt thanks for his dedicated service to his athletes: we wish Natalie and Todd every possible happiness back home.
10 Old Salopians competing at Henley. A long list (and please forgive any omissions or errors).
Richard Hawley-Jones entered the Britannia Cup with Agecroft, and competitors in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup included Camilla Aylwin coxing Edinburgh University, Jack Lowrie for Durham University and Ben Spencer Jones for Imperial College. Ben reached the semi finals; he is also Captain of Boats at Imperial this year. The Temple Challenge Cup saw Chris Blake in a combined Pembroke College/Lady Margaret Hall crew while the Thames Challenge Cup saw three Salopians: Will Gray rowed for Upper Thames RC, Tim Perera for City of Bristol, and Will Robins for Thames RC. Will Robins was a finalist. Medal winners included Fred Gill, of Cambridge Blue Boat winning fame, rowing at stroke for Molesey and Oxford Brookes in the Visitor’s Cup and Patrick Lapage of Harvard-Yale winning fame at stroke for the third consecutive year for Harvard University in the Ladies’ Plate. Gill’s crew was not seriously pushed, their smallest margin of win being two and a quarter lengths and their final won ‘easily’. The same cannot be said of Lapage: it is of some note that this was his second Henley medal won with a margin of only one foot. Harvard came from over a length down at the mile-post to storm through the enclosures at a rating of 40, rising to 42 for the last 20 strokes (yet still somehow covering) to snatch the smallest of margins in the nick of time for a win over Leander. It was the fastest time of the day by 3 seconds. The crew unity under stress was fabulous. “Thank goodness he’s got two feet now” was the text from a family friend: one of his races having been won on Bucks station and the other on Berks!
Proud parents, grandparents and family friends abound on the towpath throughout the year, perhaps nowhere more so than at Henley, and their support is utterly invaluable. Then, many families have good reason to celebrate when successive generations enjoy success. But in a transient and rather ephemeral way, the two strokes Sam and Patrick Lapage might be permitted a moment of pride in their 88 year old grandfather Mike; having last raced at Henley 64 years ago to a silver in the ’48 Olympics he stroked Gloriana down the whole course on the Sunday morning at a stately rating of 18, increasing to 20 through the enclosures, along with another ’48er and a host of Olympic youngsters as crew. The row-past was co-ordinated by Henley Steward Chris Baillieu (Montreal ’76 and Moscow ’80), uncle to Patrick and Camilla Aylwin (both ex RSSBC top squad). But then, these traditions only start with one person who has an ambition....
An article on the Regatta website quotes "you could barely move in the Stewards’ Enclosure (on Sunday) without bumping into a (former) British Olympian" and some of them rowed the Royal barge Gloriana down the course that morning: www.hrr.co.uk/feed/read.php?itemid=674.