The quarter-finals are here – after weeks of voting, 32 moments have been whittled down to just eight. The draw has been made: the First VIII’s triumph in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup in 1985 will compete against Chris Mahoney’s Olympic Silver in the first quarter-final.
Quarter-final One: First VIII win Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup vs Chris Mahoney’s Olympic Silver
There are certain moments in sport which transform the fortunes of a team. For the Chicago Bulls, it was drafting Michael Jordan in 1984; for the England cricket team, it was bringing in Duncan Fletcher as coach in 1999. The Hampton rowing version, thus, can be pinpointed as the 1985 Henley Royal Regatta.
That is not to say that the Boat Club was not successful before 1985 – it had already produced at least two international stars, in the form of Chris Mahoney OH (1977) and Mike Hart OH (1970). But what was missing was success at the most celebrated of rowing races: Henley Royal Regatta.
The Princess Elizabeth Cup is widely considered to be the most prestigious contest in schoolboy rowing – at the end of the season, First VIIIs from across the globe flock to England to compete in the race. Yet success had always been elusive. Before 1985, Hampton had never won the Cup.
But that would all change in 1985. At the end of a strenuous season, in which the crew had already won Gold at National Schools’ Regatta and Schools’ Head of the River, Hampton’s First VIII travelled to Henley with a particularly young crew, made up of just one Upper Sixth, with two Fifth Year rowers too. To say they were underdogs in the competition, then, would perhaps be an understatement, especially given the intense opposition from overseas.
Yet that did little to dampen the spirits of a pugnacious Hampton crew, who came through race after race after race as victors, setting up a final tie against Americans St. Paul’s School, Concord – considered one of the elite boarding schools in the USA, who were the undefeated American Champions.
It wasn’t just the name which was a threat to Hampton, though: physically, St. Paul’s were much stronger. Across the boat, the Americans had an advantage of over 130 kg, as well as one-and-a-half more years of experience.
But this mattered little to Hampton, who produced a stunning performance to win the Princess Elizabeth Cup for the first time in the School’s history. With such a young crew, it was a formidable achievement for the First VIII.
Beyond the success of that day in Henley, the victory had a transcendent effect on the School’s rowing programme. Hampton would go on to win three of the next four Princess Elizabeth Cup titles, with two of the successful crews winning the prestigious Triple in the process. Hampton’s victory in 1985 can, therefore, be pinpointed as a moment at which the School went from being good to exceptional in the sport.