As the World Championships in September in Sarasota, Florida, draw nearer, I am so excited about seeing two of this year’s winning Cambridge Blue Boat representing Great Britain in the coxless pair.
Melissa Wilson and Holly Hill have been selected to row in what is my favourite boat class and have been on a crash course learning all about the weird and wonderful world of coxless pairing. For me, the pair is the ultimate experience in sporting interdependence – you are the only person with an oar on the side you are rowing, you are 50% of everything that happens, you are responsible for 50% of the balance, and your oar is like half of a tightrope walker’s pole, with your pairs partner holding the other half. You can’t make the boat go anywhere on your own, so if you have an argument, unlike in a double scull, you cannot get to the bank on your own! (I’m not sure if that’s why I didn’t have many arguments when pairing, or whether I was fortunate with my understanding partners!)
Melissa and Holly follow a few CUWBC predecessors who have gone on to represent Great Britain in a pair: Kate Panter was selected in the pair at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Kate Grose raced in a pair in 1991, and I was fortunate enough to occupy the stroke seat of the GB pair for much of 1997-2004. [And as I write this, I realise that Melissa and Holly will be the first people not christened C/Katherine to row for CUWBC and the GB women’s pair!]
After medal-winning success at U23 International level, they stand at the beginning of what could be two very exciting international rowing careers. They have large shoes to fill as they step into those left empty by Double Olympic Champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, but that should be the last thing on their mind. Sarasota will be a huge learning curve for both of them, and they can only come out of it stronger, faster, wiser. Their innate talent, strong physiology and suitably fanatical commitment to the pursuit of trying to go backwards in a boat as fast as possible is sure to stand them in great stead. And I know that the foundations laid while at CUWBC – from those earliest days of Dev Squad for Melissa, through heartbreaking Blue Boat losses for both, then that dominant, triumphant performance at the Boat Races earlier this year – have given them the best grounding in the sport that they could want.
Look out for the results, we’ll be posting them on social media, and don’t forget to cheer loudly whether you’re watching on the BBC, listening to Radio 5 Live or watching the World Rowing livestream. Let them know we’re behind them all the way!
Photos Copyright Chris Wade