by Mason Kelley
Picture yourself at the Super Bowl.
Only, imagine that all of the fans in attendance were dressed in their finest outfits - women in knee-length skirts, with fancy hats; men wearing their best coats and ties.
Imagine as well that the teams took breaks during the game - first for lunch, later for tea. While the teams sipped their chamomile, fans would partake of pate and champagne, before returning to the action.
If you can imagine being at a sporting event as grand in spectacle as the Super Bowl, but as refined as an English breakfast, you can begin to understand the unique event that is the Royal Henley Regatta.
"You have got to dress to a certain standard or they wont even let you in," says head UW crew coach Bob Ernst. "Then you have to pay a ton of money to get in this thing. It is just like going to a major sports event, except with a dress code. You can bet that there is no one bringing in their cooler full of Budweiser."
The race itself, first held in 1839, features top crews from around the world racing along the Thames River in London, England. Lining the banks are rows of corporate luxury boxes, while charter boats full of spectators skirt the course.
"It has just gotten bigger and bigger each year," Ernst says. "If you are interested in sports at all, it is great to go and see the spectacle of this thing. It is just amazing. Especially when you win, because it is really special."
The Huskies did just that this summer, winning the Ladies Challenge Plate championship in the eight-oared boat. This year's Henley champion boat of John Lorton, Marko Petrovic, Brett Newlin, Giuseppe Lanzone, Kyle Larson, Andy Derrick, Ian Sawyer and coxswain Ryan Marks, routed Rutgers University in the championship race, winning by 4 3/4 boat lengths.
While on the trip the Huskies were all business, taking just one day to explore London and the surrounding area. The rest of the time the team was focused on the task at hand - winning the Ladies Challenge Plate.
"For most of the guys it is a really busy trip," Ernst says. "They train an extra month past the IRAs in order to go there and participate, and once we're there, we usually train twice a day."
The Henley has a unique format, using single-elimination match races, while most collegiate races can feature up to six boats on the course at once. The racing conditions also differ significantly than that which the Huskies are used to, with the boats racing on an open river instead of the friendly confines of the Montlake Cut.
"Rowing on a river is different," Ernst says. "The environment can change from hour to hour based on the weather and how much the water is flowing up or down the river, as well as how much boat traffic there is. They allow big excursion boats to be on the water right next to where you are racing, and so it's rough water. It is a big challenge to race there."
Washington has been a semi-regular competitor at Henley since 1958, when the Huskies lost to the Soviet Union in the final of the Grand Challenge Cup, the highest level of competition. The Ladies Challenge Plate, which the Huskies won this year, is the second highest.
"The Ladies Challenge Plate is the one all the big universities race in," Ernst says. "Harvard was in it last year and won it. We won it this year."
That Harvard team went on to win the IRA championship, collegiate rowing's national title, something that the Huskies would love to do this year. They know, though, that they'll likely have to go through the defending Henley and IRA champs to do so.
"When Harvard came to the IRAs last year, it was just the second time in 100 years they had done so," Ernst says. "On one hand, you hope they decide not to make it three times. On the other hand, you think, 'If they're out there and they're fast, let's have them come over and we'll race to see who's the best.'"
Few sporting events in the world can rival the Henley, and few collegiate crew programs can rival Washington's. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that the Huskies' win at Henley capped the team's 100th year. The trophy shelf for the first century of Husky crew is full. If they can repeat the success of 2002 Henley winner Harvard, however, the trophy shelf for the team's second century won't be bare for long.