As we walked away from Henley Royal Regatta yesterday, my friend, Fiona, and I mused that it had been a strange week. The weather in the build-up to the regatta and during the five days of racing had proved testing, to put it mildly. The stream was strong and the wind often even stronger, so that crews, umpires, organisers and spectators alike were faced with unpredictable conditions. Mölndals Tk & Strömstads RK 1992 record time in the Fawley Challenge Cup still stands and they celebrated it with a row-past this weekend. No records fell. Or did they?
People who know me will appreciate my delight when I realised that an extraordinary record was set on Sunday and one unlikely to be broken any time soon. It is all about a foot. Or two, to be precise, and five years apart at that. In Rowing in Britain I told the story of the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup final in 2007 when Shrewsbury School beat Brentwood College School, Canada, by one foot. ‘For the boys of the winning crew and their parents, unsurpassed joy, a matter of lifetime pride and for one man in particular this was a sweet victory. Eighty-three-year-old Michael Lapage watched his grandson, Patrick, help to win this great battle. Nearly seventy years earlier, on the same stretch of river, Mike had won silver for Great Britain in the 1948 Olympic Games. The legacy of a Henley win is a long one. It unites generations and brings tears to the eyes of the strongest of men.’ I certainly did not expect to see the same family involved in a similar Henley drama but on Sunday 1 July 2012 a little bit of history was made and the legacy of Henley was enriched by one more jewel in its enormous crown.
Mike Lapage was back in a boat. He was sitting in the stroke seat of the magnificent royal barge Gloriana along with seventeen other Olympic medal-winning oarsmen and women. The Gloriana made stately progress down the course. Time to Fawley: about 15 minutes. It was a spectacle and a moment of celebration for British rowing and an acknowledgement of great achievements. The river bank was packed and the barge was cheered all the way from the start to the finish. There was an atmosphere of pride and awe. Four hours later a crew from Harvard University took on Leander Club in the final of the Ladies Challenge Plate. For the record, the time to Fawley was 3:09. It was a titanic battle with Leander taking almost a length’s lead in the first half of the race before Harvard pushed to draw level in the Enclosures. They raced neck and neck past the Progress Board and on to a photo finish. The commentary was silent for what seemed like an age. Then the announcement: Harvard University of the United States of America beat Leander Club. The Verdict: One Foot. The smallest winning margin of the regatta, the fastest time of the day and the stroke of the Harvard University crew was one Patrick Lapage.
A record? Indeed. By one foot, and then another.
Oxford, 2 July 2012