One of the great experiences of Henley Royal Regatta (HRR) and Henley Women’s Regatta (HWR) qualifiers/time trials  is the announcement “The following crews have qualified in alphabetical order for ‘event name'”. I’ve been on both sides of the sharp line of HRR Qualifiers as a coach and an athlete. I know it makes the heart pump and the feeling of joy or despair is part of the Henley experience. Except, now the events are streamed live on TV and on YouTube, do the new generation of sports spectators have time to wait for a website to be updated or a tweet to be sent 20/30 minutes after a race has finished? Is it time for results to be instant and live?

The excitement of qualifying races and time trials in other sports like Formula 1 or in Cycling keep viewers in their seats and on the theirs waiting for the next car or bike to cross the road. Think back to when Sir Bradley Wiggins or Lance Armstrong were racing the time trials at the Tour de France, the excitement are they up or behind? Whilst F1 shows the excitement when there is a cut off, following drivers slowly drift to below the cut off. This can all be done in rowing today and it’s easy and seamless.

In rowing there are complaints that crews would have an unfair advantage of knowing the time previous crews did. Yes, that would be the case but it already happens like that in other sports. Imagine watching a cycling time-trial and finding out the time for everyone at the end. Would your attention be gripped for the whole hour or would you just tune in at the end? In rowing we have the opportunity to provide a new and common experience using instant and live timing.

At Women’s Henley we sat on the banks with two android phones, two iPads and three people. Two of us at the start one at the finish. All for a little experiment to see if we can time the qualifiers to provide live results, albeit unofficial live results. Using an app built for the Time-Team timing system we provided live positioning and some ill-timed released results during the morning.

Why we did this?

  • We’ve partnered with Time-Team to bring their functionality to coaches and athletes into the platform and this was our public experiment with the system.
  • Coaches are already timing the events themselves to know the results, whether this is to prepare for the worst or to know the opposition’s speed. The data is already accessible to some crews, why not make it accessible to everyone.

What happened?

We saw that this is what some people want and some people don’t.

  • During the qualifing race for Senior Quads Tideway Scullers set the fastest time and then out of no where the Headington School equaled their time. I’ve never seen the bank erupt with a collect “Oooo” as we all saw the times, immediately. The eventual final in this event was won by Tideway Scullers against Headington by a canvas.
  • Another by product of our timing is the excitement around the cut off, coaches were following their crews getting closer to the cliff edge between qualifying and not qualifying.
  • Coaches and athletes were privately tweeting and messaging us to give them the results of racing, showing us there is demand for the data.

What’s next?

We are running a twitter poll to see what coaches, athletes and specators really want to see. Please take part to see if the rowing world wants to see change or not.

Image: © Neil Rickards