Thames Rowing Club won their second trophy in as many years at Henley Royal Regatta in dramatic fashion as their opponents crashed just metres from the finish line in Sunday’s final.
The Thames coxless four were a boat-length down to the crew from University of California when the Americans made a steering error and hit one of the wooden booms that line the course, almost capsizing.
“That was a hell of a race!” said Thames head coach Ben Lewis. “My last orders to them were, ‘Hold your nerve, you cannot make a mistake.’
“They [California] made a mistake under extreme pressure. It’s not a great way to win, but a win’s a win and it is a fair one.”
Three of the Thames crew that won this Visitors Challenge Cup were in the eight that won a historic Thames Cup title at Henley for the Putney-based club 12 months ago.
After being warned for steering off the start, they dropped back slightly on California – half of the eight that won the US national title in June – but never trailed by more than a length and a quarter.
Rating 38 strokes per minute, they were pushing back hard through the enclosures in the last few hundred metres when umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent warned Cal for their steering, and the Americans veered too far the other way.
It was the first time since 2007 that a single, non-student club has won the Visitors Cup – an event classed as ‘intermediate’ and open to all except selected senior heavyweight international crews.
Thames RC captain Alan Bowling, who watched the race from the umpires’ launch, helped appoint Lewis as head coach in 2013 with the aim of winning the Ladies Plate – the intermediate event for eights.
“Our aim was the Ladies Plate in five years, so this is a stepping stone to that,” he said.
“We’ve got plans to keep pushing forward, looking to build a good coaching structure around Ben, to spend a bit more time developing, finding and recruiting athletes and keep investing in the programme.”
Bowling emphasised that the crew had come through the club system, including bow man Ant Lester who has been at Thames since 2008 and now won two Henley medals in as many years.
“The club comes down and claps them out, there’s a really good club spirit and we’re just trying to build on that and see where we can get to,” he said.
Finals day brought less happy results for west London’s other two representatives.
A coxed four from Putney-based Sport Imperial, made up of British athletes attending US universities, were beaten by Bayer Leverkusen of Germany in the Britannia Challenge Cup.
And St Paul’s School, based in Hammersmith, were unable to defend their title in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup for junior eights, suffering defeat by a length and a half to Eton College.
However, the eight from Molesey Boat Club won their third Thames Cup in eight years, beating NSR Oslo of Norway by more than two lengths.