Olympic Rowing was hosted at Henley in 1908 and 1948
In 2012 Olympic Rowing was on the Eton Rowing Course at Dorney Lake


From the Henley Royal Regatta program, 2012 -

In 1894 Baron Pierre de Coubertin established the International Olympic Committee and looked around the world for a structure for his new organisation. He deided that the best model for the IOC to follow would be the organisational structure of Henley Royal Regatta. He saw the Regatta as a well established event, with great continuity, and managed by experienced people who were all committed to the future success of the Regatta.
De Coubertin created 'three concentric circles' of management. In the first circle he placed the President of the IOC - the equivalent of the Regatta's Chairman of the Committee of Management. In the second circle he placed the IOC Executive Committee - the equivalent of the Regatta's twelve Stewards who form the Committee of Management. The third circle was comprised of the IOC Members - the equivalent of the Stewards of the Regatta.
In both organisations it is only the IOC Members or the Stewards who have the right to elect new persons to their body and election is for life.
In 1905 Lord Desborough became the first Chairman of the British Olympic Association.
In 1906 he was on his way to fence for Great Britain at the interim games held that year in Athens, going by sea.
Shortly before they passed Italy Vesuvius erupted.
He wrote Vesuvius is not to be seen. Two days ago it was very bad here - but nothing is falling at the moment. Everything, roofs etc. is deep in dust.
Italy had been chosen as the venue for the 1908 Olympics and then Lord Desborough realised that, such was the impact of the eruption, they would have to withdraw.
Not being a man noted for missing chances he set about offering London as an alternative venue.
The details are in the (as yet unpublished) book 'Titan of the Thames, the life of Lord Desborough' by Sandy Nairn and Peter Williams. This book is being CROWD FUNDED so you can contribute - see https://unbound.com/titan/
Lord Desborough had rowed for Oxford in the famous Dead Heat Boat Race in 1877 and he was a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta. Needless to say the 1908 London Olympic Regatta was held in Henley and was effectively organised by the Stewards of the Regatta. ...
Soon after the end of World War II the IOC decided that it would be possible to hold the fourteenth Games in 1948, and early in 1946 the Games were awarded to London. Once again Henley was chosen as the venue and a three lane Course was used, from the top of Temple Island to the Regatta Finish. ...
The town of Henley and the Royal Regatta thus hold a unique position in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

Lord Desborough wrote Rowing at Oxford, 1889


1908: Olympic Regatta held at Henley.

Olympic Regatta, 1908

In the four competitions Great Britain won four gold medals, three silver and one bronze.
Complete results and crew list

From the Official report of the Fourth Olympiad -

The regatta was held at Henley-on-Thames on July 28 and the three following days.
The Chairman of the British Olympic Council having expressed a desire that the course should be made as long as possible, a course 1.5 miles in length was marked out with piles and booms on both sides, it being impracticable to obtain a fair course of a greater length. There were four events, viz. Scullers, Pair-Oars, Four-Oars, and Eight-Oars. ...
Many of the races were well contested, and every prize was won by the United Kingdom.
The Committee of the Amateur Rowing Association placed on record their sincere thanks to the Committee of Henley Royal Regatta for so kindly lending all their piles, booms, stands, tents, fencing, boathouse, and rented lands, free of cost, for the purpose of the Olympic regatta, thereby saving an enormous expenditure. ...
The Committee were also much indebted to the Thames Conservancy Board for their assistance in keeping the course, and for the services rendered by their officers in the general arrangements for the regatta. The weather was fine throughout and very like that experienced at the regatta earlier in the month. The conditions were very nearly perfect, what little breeze there was being off the Berkshire shore at the start and straight up the course afterwards. ...
The course of 1 mile 880 yards was laid out by placing the start some 270 yards lower down and the finish some 60 yards higher up stream than in the usual Henley Regatta course of about 1 mile 550 yards. It was practically straight and boomed for the whole distance, with one slight bend (near the start) on the Berks side, and another (about halfway) on the Bucks side.

The 1908 Olympic finish at Henley -

Olympic Finish, Henley, 1908

EIGHT: 1st GBR (Leander) 7:52.0
2nd BEL (Royal Club Nautique de Gand) 2 lengths
3rd Canada (Argonaut RC)
(7 crews from 5 nations)
Bow: Albert Gladstone
2: Frederick Kelly
3: Banner Johnstone
4: Guy Nickalls
5: Charles Burnell
6: Ronald Sanderson
7: Raymond Etherington-Smith
Stroke: Henry Bucknall
Cox: Gilchrist Maclagan

Eights Quarterfinal 1: 1 p.m. Canada v Norway

Both started at 39 with a good following wind which blew slightly off the bushes at the start.
Canada led at once and kept a fast stroke going for longer than Norway, which resulted in their getting nearly two lengths by halfway.
Canada halfway time was 3:55.
Norway made tremendous efforts from this point, but their strength and courage did not produce an equivalent in pace, and the Argonauts won by two lengths and three quarter.

Quarterfinal 2: 3.20 p.m. Leander v Hungary

The English crew started at 41 to their visitors' 40 and led after the first ten strokes, but on reaching Remenham they were able to drop to 34 and still be two lengths ahead at halfway with time 3:51.
Hungary never relaxed their efforts, but went after the leaders with the greatest determination. The gap, however, was never reduced, and Leander, rowing beautifully together with a reserve of power and pace that was most exhilarating to observe, won by about two lengths without extending themselves.

Guy Nickalls (rowing 4 for Leander) wrote -

The actual racing was really too easy to be exciting. We drew Hungary in the first heat, and paddled after the top of the Island.

Leander v Hungary at the 1908 Olympics -

Olympics 1908, Leander v Hungary
Olympics 1908 1st heat, Leander v Hungary
(This picture must have been after the finish)

Semifinal 1: 1.15 p.m. Canada v Leander

The Canadians started at 43 to Leander's 40, but were beaten for speed by the top of the island and were one and a quarter lengths behind at halfway, where the English boat set a time of 3:56.
The hometeam were never allowed to take it too easily, though they were usually able to stall off all the plucky efforts made by the Argonauts, who kept on rushing at them, their stroke's spurts being splendidly backed up by his crew who worked like Trojans to the finish, and that last spurt on the Berkshire shore will not easily be forgotten as an example of indomitable courage against a much superior crew. Leander won by a length.

Guy Nickalls (Leander 4) wrote -

In the next heat Canada made a better show. They started at 43, and never got much below 40 at any point of the course. We started at 41, and, continuing at a level 36, we were from a length to a length and three-quarters ahead all the way up the course. After the Henley Regatta three-quarter mark, we let the stroke down to 34, and paddled in firmly, easy winners.

Semifinal 2: 3.45 p.m. Belgium v Cambridge

Any advantage which the Belgians may have had from the slight bend in their favour in the first part of the course was counterbalanced by the wind off the bushes. They started at 43, but Cambridge were faster at 40, and both boats went dead level all up the island. They still fought for the lead the whole way to Remenham, where the Belgian canvas was a few inches in front.
Here the English faltered a trifle, but Douglas Stuart and John Burn pulled them together again, and Cambridge were soon going great guns and racing splendidly. But the Belgian crew was the more perfectly together, and therefore managed to get a lead of about 20 feet at halfway (time 3:57) and to increase it afterwards, for they were not so exhausted by their previous efforts as the Cambridge crew, who showed unmistakable signs of staleness, and in a short time began to go to pieces.
There was clear water between the boats after a mile and a quarter had been rowed, and here Stuart's spurt took the last ounce out of his men, who worked with great determination, but were no longer rowing together. The result was that when the strain came the crew disintegrated, but they never stopped shoving till the flag fell. The Belgians won a well deserved victory by a length and a third.
This race was the only rowing heat in which a British boat was defeated by a visiting nation. In each of the other three events, the two British boats won both semifinals.

Final: 3.15 p.m. Belgium v Leander

The Belgians started at their full pace and perfectly together, rowing 12, 23, and 43. Leander, showing beautiful precision and great power, went off at 11, 22, and 42. Only, however, by about six inches did the English crew keep ahead until they had passed the island, up which both eights went at a tremendous pace and nearly dead level. But Leander were gaining about an inch at every stroke, and by the first signal they had half a length in hand.
The Belgians spurted suddenly at about half a mile from the start, but Leander answered them at once in no uncertain fashion, and Henry Bucknall's timely quicken brought his men three-quarters of a length ahead at halfway, which the leaders passed in 3:34.
Once more the Belgian stroke made a great effort, and his men responded gamely, but it took too much out of them. They had faltered once before, and recovered themselves with the greatest courage. This time they rolled badly, and for a moment seemed to go to pieces. Like a flash the English crew went away from them, and, with a quarter of a length clear water between the boats, the Belgians spurted again and again as they neared the grand stand, but human nature could do no more. They were willing to the end, and they never for a moment stopped their legwork, but as a crew they had shot their bolt.
Leander, keeping together, though every man was tired, swung past the finish some two lengths ahead.

Guy Nickalls (Leander 4) commented -

In the final we met the redoubtable Belgian crew, the terror of the then modern English oarsmen, the crew who had beaten the famous Cambridge crowd more easily than even we veterans had expected. We were known to one and all as "the old crocks". I may say our style was admitted to be of the best, but would-be-wiseacres shook their heads knowingly. Wait till the Belgians press them. Well, I had never been beaten by either a colonial or foreigner, and I certainly wasn't going to be in my old age, and this my absolutely last race.
The start was beautifully level; they did 43 and we a long crisp 42. I had never felt the like of it, and never in my life had I felt like galloping at full tilt the whole distance. We had a quarter of a length lead at the end of a minute, and, letting the stroke drop to 38, led half a length at the end of two minutes. At the second signal box we led by three-quarters of a length, rowing 37.
Cockie [Maclagan] had warned us that unless absolutely necessary he was not going to ask for more than one "ten", and that we were to let ourselves go and give it good and strong. The psychological moment had arrived. Cockie's clear voice rang out immediately after the Belgians' great spurt at Remenham Farm had subsided.
"Now then, Leander, we'll have our ten strokes and let them know it! One---"
The boat fairly leapt out of the water, up to 38 again. We fairly sang along, cleared them at once and began sailing away.
Bucknall dropped to 36 again. The race was over. We had them beat. Don growled and broke into a paddle. I was all for rowing in at 40, but Cockie looked back.
"Take it easy and keep together, Leander", shouted he,
and we swung over the line easy winners, by more than two lengths, in record time.
I had finished. Thanks entirely to the unselfish and patriotic action of the "old crocks" turning out again to show the younger generation how to row properly, I remained unbeaten by any colonial or foreigner. The victory of the orthodox in 1908 not only restored England's prestige as the greatest rowing nation in the world, but straightened out the prevailing ideas on style and form which W.A.L. Fletcher and others had begun to decry.

W B Woodgate wrote of the 1908 Olympic rowing -

I venture to criticize the form there. It was below the average of ordinary Henley regattas between 1890 and 1902.
The Leander eight was good, but not superlative: the Grand winners of 1893 and 1902 would have beaten it, and others have tied it. Fours, pairs, and sculls were all below Henley average.
Belgians, weaker than us, teach us valuable lessons in (1) uniform slide, (2) clean feather, (3) lively arm recovery. If they adopted our longer trunk swing they would be deadly. It is discredit to modern Oxford coaching that good men like Kirby and Southwell should be spoilt, and Leander be driven to fall back on veteran welters.

SCULLING: 1st GBR (Harry Blackstaffe) 9:26.0
2nd GBR (Alexander McCulloch) 1.25 lengths
3rd GER (Bernhard von Gaza)
(9 scullers from 6 nations)

Olympics 1908, Harry Blackstaffe
Harry Blackstaffe, Olympic Gold Sculler 1908

Olympics 1908, Alexander McCulloch
Alexander McCulloch, Olympic Silver Sculler 1908

COXLESS PAIR: 1st GBR (Leander, J R K Fenning & G L Thomson) 9:41.0
2nd GBR (Leander 2, G E Fairbairn & P Verdon) 2.5 lengths
(4 crews from 3 nations)
COXLESS FOUR: 1st GBR (Magdalen College, ) 8:34.0
2nd GBR (Leander) 1.5 lengths
(4 crews from 3 nations)
Collier R Cudmore
James Gillan
Duncan McKinnon
John Somers-Smith

Coxless fours:
In the first semi final Magdalen beat Canada in 8 minutes 34 seconds
In the second semi final Leander beat Netherlands in 9 minutes 4 seconds
In the final Magdalen beat Leander in 8 minutes 34 seconds

1908. Games of the IV Olympiad.
Speech by Lord Desborough of Taplow, IOC member, during the medal ceremony for rowing in Henley-on-Thames.
Credit: IOC/Olympic Museum collections.

Imagine that ceremony without public address amplification - public personages had voices in those days ...

The regatta was a great success, and concluded with an imposing ceremony at the distribution of the prizes, arranged and carried out by Lord Desborough, the Chairman, and Mr. T. A. Cook, another member of the British Olympic Council. Lady Desborough kindly presented the Gold Medals to the successful competitors, and the bronze Statuette of Pallas Athene, given by Comte Brunetta d'Usseaux, to be held by the winning eight-oared crew until the next Olympic Games.


1948: Olympic regatta held at Henley

Movie of 1948 Olympic Rowing at Henley

The Committee of the Amateur Rowing Association at the request of the Organising Committee undertook the general management of the Olympic Regatta. This work was thereupon deputed to the Stewards of Henley Royal Regatta under the chairmanship of Mr. Harcourt Gold, O.B.E. Mr. David Williams was then appointed secretary of the Regatta by the Organising Committee.
The Stewards placed the whole of their equipment and land at the disposal of the Organising Committee. The six boat tents, landing stages and changing tents for competitors were left standing after Henley Royal Regatta. Booms and piles, however, had to be removed in order that the course could be widened.
The layout of enclosures was broadly as at Henley Regatta, but an additional stand to seat 4,000 people was erected. A special Press box to seat 150 was built on piles in the river and positioned just behind the finishing line, and this gave a view of the whole course. Broadcasting arrangements, under the supervision of the B.B.C., were made available to all countries, part of the Stewards barge (moored opposite the Judges box) being set aside for this purpose.
The rowing events were governed by the rules of the Federation Internationale de Societes d'Aviron, and all matters affecting the layout of the course, times of races, starting, umpiring and the draw for heats and stations were its sole responsibility. ...
Never previously in the history of the Olympic Games had 86 crews taken part, a welcome sign of the popularity of rowing the world over. ...
In 1948, the distance was 1,929 metres (some 200 yards short of the regular Royal Regatta course). The course had been widened from 24 metres to 36 metres to take three crews abreast instead of two. The familiar piles and booms had been dispensed with and their place taken by underwater cables, moored six feet below the surface, and to which were attached marking buoys at each 50 metres mark. These, painted yellow with a red and white ringed base to the flag poles, marked the course very effectively. Overhead, at each 5 00 metre mark, hung, respectively, pale blue, red and yellow indicators marking stations or lanes 1, 2 and 3 to aid boats in keeping their correct positions over the course.
The umpire lost his time-honoured duty of having to start the race. In his place a starter, in a tower built on piles in the river bed above the centre stake boat, undertook this task and, as he shouted the word "Partez", a button was pressed which was connected by cable to the three stop watches at the finishing box, which were thus electrically set in motion. As each boat crossed the line, the electric circuit to each watch was broken and the time returned to a tenth of a second. The photographic finish apparatus which was installed to be called into service to confirm the result should a verdict be questioned, was happily never called into use. All decisions were given in seconds and tenths of a second.

Popular Mechanics illustrated the 1948 timing arrangements -

Olympic Rowing Henley 1948
Olympic Timing - Popular Mechanics, Henley 1948

Olympic Rowing Henley 1948
Olympic Timing - Popular Mechanics, Henley 1948

Olympic Rowing Henley 1948
Olympic Timing - Popular Mechanics, Henley 1948

... Thursday, August 5, was cold and rainy with a light following wind.
The day's racing opened with eight heats of the Fours with Cox, all with two in a heat, the United States, Italy and Denmark, returned the fastest times.
Then came the Coxswainless Pairs, and here the British pair Laurie and Wilson only got home by a bare half length from Italy.
In the Single Sculls three Diamond Sculls winners were competing in different heats, Kelly of U.S.A., Sepheriades of France and Mervyn Wood from Australia. All won convincingly.
The Coxed Pairs heats were rowed off too, and here Denmark were beaten by Italy, but the Danes went through the repechage heat and then won the final.
This also happened to Great Britain in the Double Sculls, when they were beaten by France, only to come through by the repechage and win the final.
Repechage heats occupied the whole of the second day.
On Saturday, the third day, weather conditions were at their worst, with a strong head wind blowing and almost tropical rainstorms occurring at intervals. Under such conditions the most dramatic race of the day took place, a Single Sculls heat between Kelly (U.S.A.), Rowe (Great Britain) and Risso (Uruguay). The American went off at a tremendous pace, with Rowe hanging on to him, leaving Risso well in the rear. These two virtually cracked each other, and Risso sculling his best pace over the course came up with Rowe at 1,500 metres, went through, got a view of Kelly and, in a tremendous spurt, caught him and won by half a length. Wood of Australia was much too powerful for Sepheriades and won comfortably.
In the Coxless Fours, Denmark beat Great Britain by 3 seconds after a hard race.
Great Britain beat U.S.A. fairly comfortably, with Belgium well behind, in the semifinal of the Double Sculls.
U.S.A., Denmark and Switzerland all won their semi-finals convincingly in the Coxed Fours.
In the Eights, U.S.A. overwhelmed Italy, winning by 16 seconds, Switzerland were third some 10 seconds behind Italy, Great Britain beat Canada by 6 seconds, and Norway beat Portugal by 6 seconds.
The finals were rowed on Monday and on this day the weather was sunny with a cross wind blowing.
The first final was for Fours with Cox between U.S.A., Switzerland and Denmark. Switzerland led, with U.S.A. and Denmark level; Denmark then challenged and at 750 metres were only a few feet behind, with the Americans a quarter length astern. At 1,200 metres the Americans were second only a canvas behind Switzerland. At 1,400 metres U.S.A. were just in the lead, and then a tremendous struggle ensued, America crossing the line 3 seconds ahead of Switzerland, with Denmark a length astern. After the presentation of the medals, the American tradition was observed by the throwing of the cox of the winning boat into the river, which was repeated when California University won the Eights for U.S.A.
In the final of the Coxless Pairs, Switzerland led, with Italy and Great Britain racing level. At 1,000 metres Switzerland held an advantage of a third of a length. Then the British pair challenged the leaders and gradually forged ahead to win by a bare length from the Swiss. The Italians tired perceptibly over the second half and finished two lengths astern of the Swiss.
The Single Sculls final was an anti-climax. Wood of Australia was held by the Italian for a minute or so. Then his power and stride overwhelmed his opponents and he finished easily, many lengths ahead of Risso of Uruguay, who came second, with Catasta of Italy a distance astern.

Olympic Sculling Henley 1948
Olympic Sculling, Henley 1948

In the Coxed Pairs Italy led for the first 1,200 metres. At 1,300 metres the Danes just got their nose in front and then they steadily drew away, finally winning by three lengths with Hungary well in the rear.
The Italian Coxless Four went away like a shot from a gun and led the Danes by two lengths at 750 metres. The Danes were now out of their water, having moved over to the Bucks station instead of the centre. With a lead of one and three-quarter lengths over the Americans, they began to press the Italians. In the final burst the crew from Italy had the measure of the Danes and won by a length and a half, with U.S.A. a length astern of Denmark.

In the Double Sculls final, Burnell and Bushnell, representing Great Britain, went out for the lead from the start. At 250 metres the Danes were second, followed closely by Uruguay. Then the Danish crew hit the buoys and Uruguay came up into second place some two lengths behind the British. At 1,200 metres, the Danes, sculling strongly, had overhauled the Uruguayans and were only one and a quarter lengths behind the leaders. The British, sculling with great power and determination, staved off the Danish challenge and won convincingly by 4 seconds. Uruguay were 7 seconds behind the Danes.

Olympic Double Sculling, 1948

The last race of the day, the final of the Eights, proved conclusively the great superiority of the American crew from California University. At six successive Games, the Eights have been won by U.S.A. This final was far and away the easiest win, for in Berlin in 1936, and in California in 1932, the verdict each time was "1 foot" and each time Italy was second.
Great Britain (the Cambridge Boat Race crew) went out for the lead at once and went away fast, obtaining a lead of a bare length at 500 metres, but at half-way the Americans were ahead. They went off the mark in a steady rhythm, never hurrying, just rowing like a machine, entirely ignoring the opposition. Racing against the watch the whole way, their final "row in" was a joy to watch. The beat went up quite gradually and a perfectly balanced tremendously strong eight fairly swept home to win by 10 seconds from Great Britain.
The British crew fought the whole way and never faltered, but even so they were gallantly hunted home by Norway who were only 3 seconds behind.

And so ended a wonderful Olympic Regatta, the greatest ever, a wonderful exhibition of oarsmanship and, even more important, of international friendship and good fellowship at its best.
The Victory Ceremonies for the rowing events took place at Henley after each final. The excitement and cheering of the contest died away as the victorious crew turned their boat and paddled slowly back down the course to the special raft built out from the enclosures.
They climbed out and stood erect to receive the Olympic Medals, while once more the spectators cheered their victory. Once again came the hush, the national flag was raised, and the strains of the victor's National Anthem floated across the water. Weary shoulders were braced, tired legs straightened as those lithe figures stood to attention in honour of their country.
For weeks and months these young oarsmen had trained, had dedicated every moment of their lives that they might, at Henley, give of their best to strive to win the greatest rowing honours of the world.
The poignant simplicity of the brief ceremony was enhanced by the colour which surrounded it. The brilliant green of the grass, the white flagstaffs, the blazers of the men and the frocks of the women, the white canvas of the grandstand, and the scarlet, blue, green, yellow and white of the ensigns of the nations, outlined against the green of the hillside, made an unforgettable picture.
The music ceased, the tension eased and the winners climbed back into their boat to give place to the crews who had taken second and third places. They too, received their medals, silver and bronze, and the cheers of the crowd. They too, had striven and, even if they had not won, they could recall as consolation the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic Games:

The important thing in the Olympic Games
is not winning but taking part.
The essential thing in life
is not conquering, but fighting well.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, 1908.
Words that every man, woman and child in the world would do well to carry in their hearts, aflame like the Olympic Torch.

Monaco Rowing Stamp 1948
Monaco Rowing Stamp, 1948
Two! You're early!

2012 Olympic Rowing

In 2012 Olympic Rowing was on the Eton Rowing Course at Dorney Lake