Coach proud of Stratford Boat Club’s Henley heroics

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Stratford’s coxed four crew excelled at the Henley Royal Regatta.

STRATFORD Boat Club coach Bill Sullivan said he was “very proud” of his crews who took part in last week’s Henley Royal Regatta.

The event is the pinnacle of the UK rowing season as well as being one of the places to be seen over the summer.

Famous for its Pimms, its blazers and riverside picnics, Henley also boasts a tough 2,112 metre stretch of river marked off with unforgiving log booms on either side.

This year saw two crews from Stratford aiming to bring back some rowing glory to the West Midlands.

First up was the Wyfold Cup coxless four entry of club captain Oli Smith, Ben Smith, Alastair Collier and Harpreet Mander, who were asked to go through Henley Qualifiers held the Friday before the Henley Royal Regatta start.

The aim of the qualifiers was to whittle down the 60-strong entry to 32. Unfortunately, despite rowing strongly, the crew fell just ten seconds short of qualifying.

The second crew targeted the Britannia Cup for coxed fours.

The crew of Chris Thomas, Ben Twiney, Tom Coles and Ed Lewry were coxed by Eleanor Willetts.

Only 16 crews were allowed entry and due to their early-season form the crew was automatically qualified into the main draw, where they were pitched against Riverside Club from the River Charles in Boston, America.

In all, eight crews had flown in from around the world to take on Britain’s best club rowers and the Riverside Club crew were strongly fancied by many to make progress through the draw.

The race took place on Thursday morning and the Stratford crew who had trained extensively over the course, managed to nail their start giving them a quick half-length lead.

However, Riverside had other ideas and over 1500m they whittled Stratford’s advantage away until the two crews reached the grandstand enclosures, about 500 metres from the finish, dead level.

Stratford were not to be denied and in an epic sprint to the line, stroke man Chris Thomas raised the rate again with ten strokes to go to cross the finish line just four feet ahead.

This meant Stratford’s next opponents on Friday were St Andrews, an Edinburgh University alumni crew, containing a number of ex-GB and Canadian internationals.

After a sustained battle along the course, the St Andrews crew won by just over a length. St Andrews went on to contest the final, losing by only a length to a crew from Norway.

A delighted Sullivan said: “Both crews can be very proud of their achievements this week. Stratford were one of only three British crews left in the Britannia cup at the quarter final stage and we gave the eventual finalists a real fright.

It gets progressively harder for smaller, provincial clubs to make a mark at this level but this is the third year that Stratford-upon-Avon Boat Club have made the last eight places at Henley Royal Regatta.”

Meanwhile, Olympic gold medallist Matt Gotrel will be the guest of honour at Stratford Boat Club’s Fun Regatta on Sunday.

Now in its 15th year, the regatta attracts competitors from local companies, villages and groups of friends.

Gotrel will be at the event throughout the day and will present the winning crews with their medals. Racing starts at 10am and the victors are likely to be crowned by around 5.30pm.