This weekend, the Women's Eights Head of the River returns to The Thames for the first time in four years after successive pandemic and weather-induced cancellations.
Commonly referred to as WEHORR, this event attracts women's crews from up and down the country as perhaps the pinnacle of the long, dark, and cold head season. For some, this will represent one more step on the road to dappled summer waters and the scent of national and international silverware in the months to come. For others, it's a great chance to get out on the world-renowned Championship course a mere 3 weeks before Oxford and Cambridge tear it up under The Boat Race moniker. Whatever floats your boat (pun intended), we can't wait to see the best of domestic competition in action. Let's take a look at the runners and riders...
For the Head Pennant and bragging rights as fastest female crew in all of the land, the usual suspects are up to their usual tricks. Leander Club, widely regarded as the leader of performance rowing in the UK, and the self-anointed most successful Olympic club in the world, have boated four crews in a serious bid for the headship. Hot on their heels will be the likes of Oxford Brookes, whose women's program seems to go from strength to strength as the seasons come and go, and Tideway Scullers School, a club whose resurgence into the mainstream of Thames dialogue owes much to sound leadership and savvy talent acquisition. A super exciting entry appears in the form of the Rio Olympic Eight, which features eight of the nine women who made history in Brazil as the first British female eight to win a medal at the Olympics. The only change is the inclusion of double Olympic champion Helen Glover - which doesn't seem like a bad swap.
On the university side, the names are once again pretty household - Edinburgh won BUCS Head in February whilst Durham are enjoying a return to the summit after a few years of peering in at the top table from the outside. Newcastle consistently boat competitive crews in this division, such is the strength of their conveyor-belt like program up on the Tyne. It would be remiss of us not to mention Oxford Brookes (again) who missed BUCS Head but are under the new stewardship of Hugo Gulliver.
The club pennants are split out by province and size, which makes predicting an outright winner tricky. Leander 'B' continue the increasingly common phenomenon of club crews from the pink palace appearing on the domestic circuit. Thames, Tideway Scullers, Vesta, Marlow, and Auriol Kensington are all in the mix to compete alongside London, whose recruiting drive over the past 12 to 24 months look to be bearing fruit.
Despite the proximity of the Schools' Head of the River (which takes place 48 hours after WEHORR), we've got a healthy offering of junior women's crews playing their opening hand of a packed few days of racing. Henley arrive as pre-event favourites, after resuming their usual canter towards various headships. Headington, holders of the inaugural Prince Philip Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, arrive as perhaps the closest challengers alongside a very interesting combination under the guise of Scottish Argonauts, which is essentially composed of top Scottish rowers from lots of different clubs.
Whatever happens, and whoever emerges triumphant on what is likely to be a classically wet and windy British spring day, it is such a pleasure to once again see crews taking to the water in the name of competitive racing.
words by Junior Rowing News
photo by Roesie Percy