This year at the World Rowing Championships there were six CUWBC members, past, present and future, competing for three different countries in five different boat classes. This is the largest representation the club has had for many years, and alongside CUBC alumni (three athletes, one coach) it was a positive party! CUWBC’s Imogen Grant tells the story of the Championships…
I was the youngest member there, and it was also my first Senior World Championships. I had rowed with Melissa (GB W4x) and Holly (GB W8+) the year before in the 2017 Blue Boat, and had watched them excitedly on TV as they competed in Sarasota, finishing 4th in the W2-. This year Holly was training full time at Caversham, and Melissa was finishing her Affiliated Law degree at Cambridge while spending most weekends also at the national training centre. Hearing about how the system worked, and hearing about their training and progress was great motivation for me.
Also at the World Champs this year was my teammate from the 2018 Blue Boat, Olivia Coffey (US W8+). Liv is no stranger to World Championships, having arrived at Cambridge a World Champion in both the W4x and W4- in separate years. She was the first member of the Cambridge team to juggle studying the MBA with training for the Boat Race. She said, “I feel that rowing for CUWBC this past year gave me the confidence to return to the national team and prepared me well to represent the USA on the World stage. I really enjoyed my experience at Worlds this year because it was the first time I’ve had teammates there competing for another country”.
Training with Liv over the course of the year meant that I had grilled her about her experiences at Worlds, both in another country’s team, but also in sculling and sweep boats. One of the challenges for me was switching from the predominantly sweep programme at Cambridge to sculling for the competitions over the summer. Despite the fact that she described her time sculling as “[got in and out with a Gold medal as quickly as I could]”, competing in the quad and double with her at BUCS was a lot of fun, and definitely helped me improve!
My selection to the LW1x came quite late, with it only being confirmed after my performance at the U23 World Championships. GB had a full complement of strong lightweight boats, and in the GB LW4x was Francesca Rawlins. Fran is another CUWBC alumna, having learned to row at the same college as me, and was the CUWBC Lightweight Captain in 2007. She now rows at Tideway Scullers, and this was her first World Championships too. It was great to experience it with her, and have a fellow Cambridge lightweight to support. In my first year at CUWBC I rowed in the Lightweight Boat Race, and in our boat race week Fran came to the house to chat with us all. I remember being so starstruck by her achievements, so to be training and racing with her on the same team was very special.
With so many Cambridge alumni at Worlds, there was always at least one friendly face on the water and around the boat racks. As I was training in a single, it was always encouraging to heckle or be heckled by people that I knew, and the atmosphere was great. I often walked back to our hotel that was at the other end of the lake and watch my friends row past on the water.
My final was the first one to be raced, as it was on the Friday. I received lots of good luck messages from CUWBC rowers both there and from back home. Rob Baker, now Chief Coach at CUBC, had coached me for three years and up to the end of U23s, and talking to him before my race helped settle my nerves. Finishing with a Bronze in my first Senior Championships was amazing, and although I could sit here wishing the medal was a different colour, I learnt so much and am so hungry for more. The benefit of my final being on the Friday meant that I could focus on being chief cheerleader for the rest of the races on the weekend.
The first of these was the final of the women’s fours. I had met Ida Jacobsen (DEN W4-) briefly at U23s the year before and spoken to her about applying to Cambridge. This year, I watched her finish an excruciating fourth place in a really close race. Ida is now studying an MPhil in Comparative Literature at Cambridge, and trialling for the 2019 Boat Race. I am really excited to watch what she does this year.
Next up was the W4x race, and I was shouting loudly for Melissa and the rest of the GB quad. She said, “The summer was a really valuable opportunity for me to race in a crew sculling boat, which is what I’d aimed for through the year in Cambridge. Coming together late in the season and missing races through injury contributed to us being outside the medals in Plovdiv, but the racing was a great experience and left our crew excited about what can be done this season”. Watching how she approached her racing was really inspiring, as I could see how much she cared about her crewmates and her performance.
Nearly the last race of the regatta was the Women’s eights. This was a race with two of my good friends competing against each other; Holly Hill in the GB crew, and Liv Coffey in the US crew. I was willing them both on, and it was amazing to watch Liv stroke her boat to a dominant Gold medal. She said, “Imogen’s performance really inspired my racing. It was awesome to see her do so well, especially as we were able to help each other and train together all year.” Holly had a difficult year with illness and injury so I was so proud to see her on the start line.
Next year is Olympic qualification year, and all nations will be turning their focus to qualifying crews at next year’s World Championships. I am excited to see what the next year brings for all of us, and to be able to train alongside many Cambridge alumnae in the lead-up.