Henley is the last chance to see world’s best crews on British water before 2012

Olympic rowing tickets have sold out but there is still one chance left to see some of the world’s top rowers – including all the GB men’s Olympic boats – in action on British waters before 2012 at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta starting from tomorrow (29 June – 3 July).Britain’s Olympic gold medallists Tom James, racing in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup for men’s fours, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed, competing in the men’s pair event, will join top-flight boats from the USA, Australia and Germany amongst others on the stretch of water that hosted the last home Olympics in 1948.Over 1,600 rowers in 302 crews, including 97 overseas entries and a host of World and Olympic champions, will savour the Henley experience this year which Sir Steve Redgrave once described as “the nearest rowers get to racing in a football stadium”.“Henley is very special and the great thing is the atmosphere on race days”, said Regatta Chairman Mike Sweeney.“The crowds are almost on the end of the rowers’ blades along the river bank. It’s side-by-side and quite gladiatorial. It’s just a tunnel of noise and quite amazing”.Extra spice has been added to the Regatta this year with many overseas and British crews seeing the Regatta as part of their build-up to the World Championships, starting in Slovenia in late August, which doubles as the Olympic qualifying regatta.“It is incredibly important this year that rowers secure their nation’s Olympic place. So getting the planning right is important and it is great that so many are making Henley part of those plans”, added Sweeney.Racing at Henley is conducted on a knock-out basis. There are also events for the all the top University, College, Club and School crews with future stars, including rowers like 2010 Henley Royal Regatta schoolboy eights winner Constantine Louloudis who today got his first GB world cup call-up today, often making their name for the first time.If the draw’s selected (similar to seeded) crews reach the finals, there could be some stunning contests, chief of which will be the Grand Challenge Cup, where Germany, the current world eights’ champions, rowing as Hansa Dortmund, may well face the British crew that took silver, only feet behind them in last year’s World Championships.The British eight of course features 1992 Olympic gold medallist Greg Searle who is making his comeback to international rowing after a gap of 10 years with the aim of winning gold in London 20 years after his last Olympic victory.But both boats face tough struggles just to make Sunday’s finals. The Germans will race the USA’s top crew on Saturday, while the British, rowing as Molesey and Leander, must first get past Australia’s top eight.Britain will also face scintillating opposition with their arch Olympic rivals Australia in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup for men’s fours.  James rows in this event with 2009 World Champions Alex Gregory, Ric Egington and Matt Langridge. Australia, meanwhile, have a four containing their very best rowers who are “seeded” in the opposite half of the draw to GB and include double Olympic Champion Drew Ginn, a member of the previous Oarsome Foursome, as well as top newcomer Josh Dunkley-Smith.The Australians have also re-formed their Beijing–winning men’s double scull of Scott Brennan and David Crawshay who will provide a tough test for Britain’s 2011 world silver medallists Marcus Bateman and Matt Wells if both crews progress.Perhaps the most stellar field, though, at this year’s Regatta comes in the Queen Mother’s Challenge Cup for men’s quadruple sculls.  Croatia, the World Champions, and Poland, the Olympic Champions, are joined by top Australian and American crews as well as Great Britain’s Sam Townsend, Bill Lucas, Stephen Rowbotham and Tom Solesbury – the first three of whom were last year in the first British crew for almost three decades to reach a World Championships Final in this event.World Champions, the USA, will contest the women’s eight event, the Remenham Challenge Cup, at Henley this week providing a developing British combination with the chance to test their mettle against the world’s best before the world cup finals in Lucerne in mid-July.Early rounds of racing take place on Wednesday and Thursday with quarter-finals on Friday and semi-finals on Saturday. The Finals take place on Sunday starting at 11.30am and there are 293 races on the programme of events over the five days of the Regatta.Tickets are available in the Regatta Enclosure priced from £15.00 for all days bar Saturday which is already sold out.For further information contact the Henley Royal Regatta Press Office on (01491) 572 153 or (01491) 579387