‘On race day we were blown away by how many people were giving us a cheer’

Karen Bennett was part of the GB women’s eight – Olympic silver medallists from Rio – who reunited for the 2022 Women’s Head. She shares her experiences below

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There was a festival atmosphere as the first Women’s Head of the River Race (WEHORR) since 2018 saw nearly 300 crews take to the Tideway in a celebration of women’s rowing on Saturday 12 March. The headship went to Leander A but there were many other standout performances from clubs around the country.

The stellar line-up included crew no 80 with members of the GB Olympic crew from Rio on board, representing London/Wallingford/Tyrian/Leander/Edinburgh Uni/Marlow/1927/Oxford Uni Lightweight. Coxed by Zoe de Toledo, the crew included Karen Bennett, Frances Houghton, Katie Greves, Polly Swann, Jess Eddie and Zoe Lee, with Helen Glover and Caragh McMurtry replacing Olivia Carnegie-Brown and Mel Wilson.

After the racing, Karen reflected on their day where they finished an impressive eighth overall in 20.09.9 (adjusted for Masters B) and collected the Masters Pennant.

“The last time we were in the eight it was 30-degrees, Christ the Redeemer was looking down on us and we’d just won an Olympic medal at Rio. This time it was just as rough and windy, but it was the Putney Town flag looking down on us as we prepared to set off on our reunion race at the Women’s Head of the River Race (WEHORR).

“We got together the day before the race for a practice row and were generously hosted by London Rowing Club. We rowed up to Chiswick so we could row over the course and Zoe de Toledo could practise her line.

“I’d lowered my expectations as I knew I wasn’t rowing with full-time athletes anymore, but once we got up and going it was like we’d never left!

https://twitter.com/KarenBennett89/status/1502762641198141448

“We did a few race bursts on the way back and the realisation hit me that I was going to have to hold that pace for 7.4k – maybe it’s because it was 2018 since the last WEHORR was raced, but I seemed to have forgotten how long it is!

“On race day we were blown away by how many people were giving us a cheer to the start and during the race. It made the whole experience even better!

“It was fantastic to see nearly 300 women’s eights out there with all experiences! We had a good race although conditions were challenging at times. When the results came out, in true athlete style we picked apart the bits we thought we could have done better and perhaps what we could do if we started eighth next year!

“I really had a great time reunited with the gang and obviously missed Olivia and Mel, but Helen and Caragh did a fantastic job! Maybe we’ll pick a shorter race next time as the following day on our WhatsApp group there were a few messages about how stiff and sore we were!”

For full results from the 2022 Women’s Head of the River Race, click here.

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