As mentioned in our pre-Henley roundup, 2018 is the 50th anniversary of an epic win by four Salopians who were part of the Leander Club crew who competed in the 1968 Thames Cup. Seven members of this crew rowed past the enclosures during the tea interval at Henley on Friday July 6th.
With 124 Olympic and 3 Paralympic medals to its credit, Leander Club in 2018 is the most successful rowing club in the world. In the mid 1960’s, however, the Club had been in the doldrums for some time, inviting membership, as they always had, mainly to Oxford or Cambridge Blues and HRR winners. In 1965, an initiative to restore the club’s fortunes with a squad of young oarsmen drawn from schools, was conceived and implemented. It was largely the brainchild of Donald Legget, Captain of Leander (ex Radley) working with Old Salopians John Hall-Craggs (Rt 1945-50) and George Brown (S 1950-55). Brown later succeeded Legget as Captain.
In late 1967, Legget persuaded the Emmanuel School coach Derek Drury to take the so called ‘Cadet’ scheme in hand. From a squad of 15, after training and selection almost entirely in sculling boats, the eventual Thames Cup line up in 1968 consisted of 1 Radleian, 4 Salopians (Charles Parry (I 1960-65), Ian Morton (SH 1962-67), Graham Davidson (SH 1960-65) and Tim Redfern (SH 1962-67)), with the remainder from the outstanding 1966 and 1967 Emmanuel School crews.
After a shaky start to the racing season, wins at Marlow and Reading regattas prompted the newspapers to follow Leander more closely.
Drury’s carefully choreographed training schedule, begun in September 1967, was designed for the selected crew to peak in Henley week and was evidently succeeding. Following a practice row on the Monday of that week, Desmond Hill of the Daily Telegraph, wrote "The incredible Leander Cadets, on a morning which left the flags limp and motionless, rowed unpaced to the barrier in 1 minute 49 ½ seconds, only 2 ½ seconds slower than the record set, in a following wind, by the world champions, Ratzeburg, when beating Olympic champions Vesper." The current Thames Cup barrier record stands at 1.45.
The subsequent Thames Cup win (which was repeated in 1969 and 1970) is widely credited as the beginning of the revival of Leander and indeed British rowing.
After Henley, the ARA somewhat inevitably had selected the University of London winning Grand Challenge Cup crew to go to the Mexico Olympics, prompting Desmond Hill to write "It makes one wonder even more whether last-minute arrangements cannot, after all, be made to vaccinate the Leander Cadets for Mexico. They beat Quintin at Reading and could well be faster than the big guns of the Grand".
Even though that was not to be, members of the crew went on to become Oxbridge Blues, win numerous Henley, and World, and Olympic medals and no less than 6 members of the crew are still rowing competitively as veterans. Coach Donald Legget, who has been a part of the coaching team at Cambridge for 50 years, is also one of the coaches of the outstanding St.Paul’s winning Princess Elizabeth crew of 2018.