Almost everything about Temple's trip to the esteemed Henley Royal Regatta, a summer staple on the Thames River for nearly two centuries, has been uniquely British.
The rowing team and staff is lodged just minutes from the river at three homes — classic British cottages without screened windows or central air conditioning. Spectators, held to a strict coat-and-tie dress code and no-phones policy by attendants in bowler hats, pack the sides of the roughly 2,000-meter course daily. Races are held in pairs, in part because of the regatta's bracketed elimination format and in part because the narrow Thames can fit only two boats at a time.
But the one exception has been the opponent, as the Temple eight unluckily drew America's best collegiate team, Yale, as its first-round opponent Wednesday in the random seeding process, and that proved to be enough to immediately derail the Owls' British adventure.
Yale, fresh off claiming a U.S. national title last month, cruised to a comfortable 2.5-length victory after a neck-and-neck start in the regatta's Temple Challenge Cup.
"When we got that draw, we were kind of shell-shocked," said Tyler Baldo, graduating team captain. "We were a little nervous going up [against them], but our start and our first 300 meters were the best we've seen during the past month of training for this. Yale's a big deal and they're a superior crew right now; you just have to accept the fate as it lies."
The Owls hadn't competed in the Henley since 1994, the end of a stretch in which the team went almost every year. This year's eight, however, had talked about the possibility of returning to England for it since last autumn, stroke seat rower Dave Buckley said, and finally qualified in May thanks to a dramatic upset win over St. Joseph's in the Dad Vail Regatta.
In addition to their main eight-man boat, the Owls also fielded in the competition a four-man boat that failed to make it out of qualifying rounds and a two-man boat that made it to the pairs semifinals.
As an event coach Brian Perkins described as the "mecca of rowing" — "there's nothing else like this out there," he added — the Henley presented the eight with numerous foreign challenges.
Used to racing in slow, Schuylkill-like rivers wide enough across for a half-dozen racing lanes, Temple found the Thames to be relatively turbulent, crowded by spectators and officials on boats of their own and, most significantly, wide enough for only two teams at a time. Those distractions put extra pressure on the coxswain to keep the boat straight, Buckley said, and made the race even more difficult mentally than physically, Baldo said.
The Owls had rented rooms and equipment through this weekend, not anticipating such an early exit from competition, so some have filled their newfound free time by taking in other races while others have made the journey to London.
Yet it's free time they wish they didn't have.