Henley Royal Regatta was held from 2nd to 6th July this year, and a large number of Australian crews competed, including the women?s national team, a men?s eight and sculler from Curtin University (WA), and schoolboy quads from Brisbane and Sydney. Henley holds a prize-giving ceremony at the end of the finals on the Sunday, and the identity of the prize-giver is a well-kept secret until the day of the finals. Usually he or she is a member of the Royal Family, or a significant political figure, like the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese last year. This year the Stewards of the Regatta chose John Coates, the President of the Australian Olympic Committee and former President of Rowing Australia.
Coates is the fourth Australian prize-giver in the 170 year history of Henley Royal Regatta. Two Australian High Commissioners to London and the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, have been prize-givers over the years. John Coates was no doubt selected by the Stewards in view of his role in the successful Sydney Olympics and his dedication and contribution to rowing through his AOC, RA and FISA roles.
John began his sporting career at Homebush High teaming up with SUBC?s Danny Stiel in his school crew. His connection with the Home of Rowing comes from his 1972 coaching of the IV Lightweight Four.
Of the Australian entries at Henley, 6 made it through to the finals, but only Catriona Oliver, in winning the Princess Royal Challenge Cup for women?s single sculls (defeating her double sculls partner Donna Martin) got to meet John Coates on the victory dais to receive her trophy.
In his prize-giving speech, Coates referred to the long and close relationship Australian rowing has had with Henley Royal Regatta. The first Australian crews competed in 1906 and the first winner was a men?s eight from Sydney Rowing Club which won the Grand Challenge Cup in 1912. Famous winners of the Diamond Sculls have included Bobby Pearce, Merv Wood, Stuart Mackenzie, Ted Hale and Hamish McGlashan, and in 2001 Australians won 5 events in our best Henley ever. But perhaps, as Coates pointed out, the closest connection comes from the Henley Royal Peace Regatta in 1919, when His Majesty King George V donated a trophy for the Grand Challenge Eights competed for in that year by crews from the Allied Armed Forces. The race was won by the Australian Infantry Forces (AIF) crew, and, after some time, the trophy returned to Australia and became, with the King?s permission, the trophy for the men?s interstate eights race ? the revered Kings Cup.
Next year Henley Royal Regatta will be held from 30 June to 4 July.