It will be a while before Eric Suan looks back on today with any pleasure.

As coxswain for a Yale heavyweight crew, the 22-year-old from Vienna, Va., competed twice in the space of an hour. The first race ended in a dead heat and, 45 minutes later, the crew set out again only to lose narrowly to a University of London eight in the semifinals of the Ladies Challenge Plate of the Henley Regatta.

Suan is no ordinary chap. His parents were born in Shanghai and, before moving to Virginia two years ago, the family lived all over the world. Suan's father works for an oil company. Suan recently graduated from Yale with the highest grade-point average in science of any senior. Next fall he enters Yale Medical School.

Moreover, he was cox during the regular season for an undefeated crew, one of three that Yale sent to Henley this year. On Saturday, the eight beat a boat from the University of California, after trailing at both major checkpoints.

So it was not surprising that Suan and the rowers were bitterly disappointed when they barely missed the final. First there was exhaustion, then grimaces, then some embraces and tears.

How do you get a crew up for two hard races in a hour, Suan was asked. "You get everyone moving fast," he answered sadly, "you get them ready physically, then mentally, then give it all you've got."

What's he going to do the rest of this summer? "I'm going to think about this race," he said, as though he'd never be able to smile again.

For other Washington-area oarsmen, this year's Henley Regatta, one of the leading events in international crew, may have been less frustrating, but it was no more succesful.

William Funderburk Jr., a St. Albans graduate from Washington who is going into his senior year at Yale, was in another heavyweight boat from the university, this one competing in the Visitors' Challenge Cup. They lost in their second day of racing to a combined boat from University College Hospital and Imperial College of London.

But by today, Funderburk was feeling fine. He'd enjoyed Henley, he said, enjoyed the nearly 400-year-old farmhouse the crew lodged in, enjoyed the special atmosphere of dressed-up civility that marks the spectators at Henley. "Henley is like the British Crown," he said. "It will always be there doing things its own way."

Like Suan, Funderburk represents a minority. He is black, an outstanding competitor in a sport in which few blacks compete. He said that being distinctive that way "simply wasn't a factor" in his Henley experience. Next year, he will row again for Yale--moving up, he hopes, to Yale's No. 2 boat, from No. 3. And, maybe again, it will be Henley.

Only one Washington university competed, Georgetown, making its first foray into an eight-man race at Henley. The Hoyas were defeated Saturday in the semifinals of the Ladies Challenge Plate by the Isis Boat Club, a crew from Oxford. The gap was 2 1/2 lengths.

Coach John Forster said he was pleased with Georgetown's performance, considering the strength of the field. His eight defeated crews from Britain's Bristol University and Reading University to gain the semis.

The University of Santa Clara, which was beaten earlier in the Ladies Challenge Plate, is coached by Brian Murphy, who was in two national high school championship crews while at Jeb Stuart in Fairfax County, Va.

The defeat of Yale, Georgetown and other American schools in earlier heats meant that most of the top races at Henley this year were dominated by British clubs. Four strong boats from East Germany dropped out just before the regatta began for unexplained reasons. And several crews dropped out to protest the presence of a South African crew.

In the Grand Challenge Cup, Henley's most prestigious race, the winner was a combined British national crew from Leander Club based in Henley and the London Rowing Club. They defeated a crew from London University and the Tyrian Boat Club. Incredibly, considering that this was most important race of the regatta, the timekeeper failed to record the finishing time. All that the winners--and the spectators--were told was that the margin was a half length.

In other places that kind of officiating might draw boos and catcalls. But the crowd at Henley, decked out in boaters, old school ties, flowered dresses and the rest, took it in gentlemanly and ladylike stride.

In its worst showing here since 1975, the United States won only one major trophy. The Charles River Rowing Association, a composite crew of East and West Coast rowers, claimed the lone American victory, its second straight Thames Cup.