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Henley Royal Regatta

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Henley Royal Regatta is one of those British summer traditions that looks very appealing from close up or half a world away. You have a beautiful stretch of the River Thames, an island temple marking the start, slim boats rowed by young men, and a dress code that adds charm to the loafers on the riverbanks. Though rain may dampen Henley's first heats tomorrow, the Finals at Sunday Noon will be bathed in light. Or so the Stewards hope.

I have been told that 18th century watermen providing ferry and taxi service on the River Thames launched the first modern rowing races and soon had huge crowds watching them and betting. The oldest surviving race, Doggett's Coat and Badge, was first contested in 1715.

In 1839, the townspeople of Henley decided in a public meeting to take advantage of the great influx of visitors coming to watch races on the Henley reach of the Thames. Thus was the Regatta born, mingling in a very British way profit and sport, judicious organization and spontaneous public support.

This year, the Regatta will see 467 crews competing over the one mile and 550-yard course. Overseas crews are coming from Germany, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Belgium and the USA.

The oldest race at Henley, the Grand Challenge Cup, attracts the world's finest eights (eight-man crews, using eight oars). The Stewards predict that the new British eight, competing as Leander and Oxford Brookes, will have very strong competition from a new Canadian crew and from the reigning World Champions from Germany. In The Stewards' Challenge Cup, the British coxless four, racing as Leander and Molesey, are the reigning World Champions, and face formidable crews from Canada and Australia.

The new British star, Alan Campbell, will row in the Diamond Challenge Sculls against Marcel Hacker from Germany and double World Champion Mahe Drysdale from New Zealand.

It's a lovely way to spend the first weekend in July.

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