Thames waters stirred at Henley as women's regatta marks 30 years


Reuters

By Jeremy GauntHENLEY-ON-THAMES, England, June 19 (Reuters) - The river
running through the Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames was
heaving with boats, oars and athletes this past weekend, but it
was not, as might be imagined, the storied Henley Royal Regatta.
    That 178-year-old event - known for its blazers, boaters and
boozing - comes 10 days from now. The splash and sparkle along
the river this time was from the Henley Women's Regatta.
    One of the world's premier women's rowing events, the HWR
celebrated its 30th anniversary over three days with a record
number of entrants, now totalling more than 1,800 rowers from
190 clubs across the world.
    Crews came from Britain, Ireland, Australia, the United
States, Canada, Germany and Switzerland - all vying for 25
different trophies in 214 races featuring 418 entries.
    It was a far cry from the one-day, 109-entry, 97-race
launch in 1988, when women's rowing was still relatively rare
and had only been included in the Olympics 12 years earlier.
    There was little place then, for example, at the more
well-known - and famously traditional - Henley Royal event,
which squeezed in only a few invitational races.
    "Women did not have a chance to row at Henley Royal," said
Miriam Luke, the HWR's chairman. "(Now at HWR )we have elites,
top clubs, academic, juniors, intermediates."
    Luke herself is something of a women's rowing trailblazer.
    She won silver at the 2000 Olympics in the quadruple scull -
Britain's first women's crew to medal - and gold at the 1998
world championships in the double scull, among other awards.
    Henley Royal Regatta now has some women's events, which the
better crews at HWR stay on for, getting, as Luke puts it, "two
bites at the cherry".
    But for women-only regattas HWR is in a fairly exclusive
class. There is a women's Tideway Head of the River in London
and the college-only U.S. NCAA women's rowing championships, as
well, of course, as the women's events in the Olympics and
worlds.
    Luke says women's rowing has grown in leaps and bounds in
part because it thrives on a special closeness between athletes
that you do not necessarily get in individual or other team
sports.
    "It's a different sort of niche sport," she said. "You build
a lot of community with the women you row with."
    Organisers estimate that around 30,000 people attended the
three-day regatta, which was free for spectators, many of whom
were young women like those in the boats.
    Nicholas Edwards, a Henley local and father of one of the
rowers, looked on with a mixture of pride and joy.
    "It is such a collective spirit," he said of the regatta,
which is a far more relaxed affair than the longer-running
event.
    "It really celebrates women's achievement," he said.

 (Editing by Ed Osmond)
 ((jeremy.gaunt@thomsonreuters.com; +44 207 542 1028; Reuters
Messaging: jeremy.gaunt@reuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: BRITAIN ROWING/WOMEN (PIX)



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