Mark Mitchell became the first coastal rower in 175 years to represent his club in the Diamond Challenge Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta.
The Bexhill Rowing Club talent gave a splendid account of himself against a Dutch national champion and 2012 Olympic Games competitor at the world-famous international event.
Mitchell said: “It was great to compete at this event and not buckle under the pressure, especially at the start of the race. Having my family and friends at Henley cheering me on made all the effort well worth it, and I’m really grateful for everyone’s support.”
Henley is a unique ‘knockout’ event, where rowers compete against an opponent with the winner progressing to the following stage of the five-day regatta. The event attracts more than 300,000 spectators, as well as some of the world’s greatest rowers.
Having come through qualifying the previous week, Mitchell was drawn against Roel Braas. Despite weighing in four stone lighter than his opponent, Mitchell took to the water determined to prove that coastal rowers can compete at the top level.
To the roars of the crowd (who stand just feet away from the rowers at the start line), Mitchell shot off hard and taken the lead by 20 strokes into the race. Rating at 40 strokes a minute, he pushed on and had a one length lead after the first minute.
This clearly rattled Braas, whose course began to stray. Despite the strong headwind which favoured the Dutch giant, Mitchell kept the pressure on and maintained the lead until nearly three minutes into the race.
It was here that the full-time oarsman found his rhythm and pushed past Mitchell to take the lead. Braas continued to pull away throughout the latter half of the race and Mitchell could do little to stay near him.
Braas went on to beat 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Alan Campbell in the semi-finals and it took the speed of reigning Olympic champion, Mahe Drysdale from New Zealand, to stop him winning the final.
Bexhill Rowing Club captain Nick McCorry said: “It was a fantastic achievement to race in this event and listening to the crowd. It was great for Bexhill Rowing Club and the coast to have someone compete at such a high level.”
Mitchell has now competed at Henley in the coxed four, coxless four, eight, single double and quad sculls.
So depending on retirement plans the only event left now is the Silver Goblets and Nickalls’ Challenge Cup (the coxless pair), which is also an open event and again would consist of an international field.
He is now focused on helping Bexhill win the Coast Amateur Rowing Association (CARA) league title for a record 14th consecutive year. It will be Bexhill’s hardest challenge for many years, however, as their lead has been cut to 13 points by Deal going into the Herne Bay Regatta tomorrow (Saturday).