Drysdale and Knapkova sculling challenge at Henley Royal
With only a two interruptions, Great Britain’s most famous regatta has taken place in Henley-on-Thames each year since 1839, the Henley Royal Regatta.
The single sculling events for men and women have been a big part of that history, attracting some of the world’s fastest scullers since they were first raced in 1844 and 1982 respectively.
The 2015 winners of these events were New Zealand sculler Mahe Drysdale, who captured his fifth title in the Diamond Challenge Sculls, and Czech sculler Mirka Knapkova, who also won the Princess Royal Challenge Cup for the fifth time. Both are defending Olympic Champions in the single and both seem determined to make Henley history as they prepare to defend their Olympic titles at Rio 2016.
Of the two events, the women’s single race at Henley is the more recent, introduced as a one-time event in 1982, but only raced annually from 1993. Fifteen women have won this event in its 24 occurrences. Knapkova’s five victories (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015) mean that she is now tied with Maria Brandin of Sweden (1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998) for most number of wins. Together, Knapkova and Brandin account for over 40 per cent of all wins in this event.
The men’s race, on the other hand, has a much longer history with a total of 108 winners over the 161 times the race has taken place.
“Over the years I have had a number of great races at Henley,” said Drysdale when asked which races stand out from the rest. “Battles versus (Marcel) Hacker (GER) and (Roel) Braas (NED) stand out, but the toughest person I have faced at Henley would be Alan (Campbell, GBR).”
Campbell beat Drysdale in the Diamond Sculls final in 2007, but the tables turned in 2009 with Drysdale coming out on top. Even the premier Grand Challenge Cup event for eights was rescheduled to give centre stage to that epic 2009 final. “Alan is a great friend, club mate and rival of mind,” Drysdale said. “He is mentally tough, so well suited to the one-on-one battles. It was very satisfying beating him that day. I would love to take him on again at Henley.”
“It has been my goal throughout my career to race (and hopefully win) all the world’s biggest regattas. Most Olympic Champions in the single sculls have won the Diamonds, so I always wanted to be part of both groups. Since 2012 I am.”
With his fifth win this year at Henley, Drysdale became a member of an even smaller group of four scullers to win five times in the single at Henley.
Great Britain's AA Cassamajor was the first man to win five times in the single (1855, 1856 1857, 1858 and 1861). His accomplishment was then matched in 1883when J Lowndes completed his fifth victory in a row for the Twickenham Rowing Club in London. Lowndes’ other wins were 1879 and from 1880-1882.
It took 80 years for this feat again to be matched, this time by Australian/British sculler Stewart MacKenzie. MacKenzie, who captured a silver medal for Australia at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, went on to win the Diamond Sculls for six consecutive years between 1957 and 1962. He raced his first three times for the Sydney Rowing Club (AUS) and then alternated between Leander Club (GBR) and Mosman Rowing Club (AUS) for the final three. Impressively, Mackenzie also raced and won the Double Sculls Challenge Cup in 1959 along with the single and the Silver Goblets & Nickall’s Challenge Cup for the men's pair in 1963.
With Drysdale now on top for the fifth time, he stands tantalisingly close to MacKenzie’s single record, while it will take Knapkova one more win to be the most winningest woman for the Princess Royal Challenge Cup.
“My next (Henley) goal would be to at least match Stuart Mackenzie with six titles and be the (equal) most successful [men’s] single sculler in the history of Henley.”
For full results: https://www.hrr.co.uk/