Boat Race 2021: Adriana Perez Rotondo to fly the flag for Spain as trailblazer for Cambridge University
History beckons for Adriana Perez Rotondo in the Gemini Boat Race on Easter Sunday.
There is a very different look and feel to the 75th Women’s Boat Race because of the pandemic, with it being staged on the River Great Ouse at Ely as a closed event, but the 25-year-old will still be blazing a trail for a nation.
Spaniard Perez Rotondo, who hails from Madrid, arrived in Cambridge in 2017 to do a masters in applied mathematics and theoretical physics having never before picked up an oar.
In itself, that is not unusual for students arriving in the city, with it being a hotbed for novices in rowing. But most people have at least heard of the sport and the Boat Race – not so Perez Rotondo.
“I didn’t know anything about rowing; I saw once or twice a boat on TV and that’s it,” she explains.
“I didn’t know what the Boat Race was, nothing at all – I had never heard about it.
“In Spain, rowing is not such a big thing. There are some different kinds of boats. In the north of Spain is the Basque Country, but it is a fixed seat, although still the same oars, and they row on ergos. But nothing like rowing as we have here.
“I hadn’t heard about the Boat Race until I came here.”
Perez Rotondo, who is now studying a PhD in engineering in computational neuroscience, is at Newnham College and it was there that she was first introduced to rowing.
Thanks to the curiosity of hearing others talk about the sport, and having been active in different disciplines growing up, she felt like it may be something worth trying.
She started as a novice in October 2017, and in the February there was an invite from Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club’s assistant coach Paddy Ryan to colleges for budding rowers to trial for the development squad.
“It didn’t feel like a huge jump, it just felt like slowly, one thing at a time,” says Perez Rotondo.
“I had only rowed for a couple of months but I felt I could do these ergs.
“Although it was really scary to be in Goldie [Boathouse] with all the people trialling, it just felt like it wasn’t a big deal.”
Having been encouraged by the experience, Perez Rotondo decided to do the development squad during the summer and that led to trialling for what was CUWBC the following season.
“I think it was a bit less of a natural progression once I started trialling because I was suddenly surrounded by these people who had been rowing for years and years at a completely different level,” she explains.
“But at that point, I just wanted to do the best I could to see where it took me. It was a great year, I learned so much and I made it to the Blondie crew and I was really happy about that.”
Perez Rotondo trialled for last year’s crew and would have been in the reserve Blondie boat again but the race was cancelled.
But now she has made the step up to the Blue boat, and it is believed will be the first Spanish rower to take part in the Boat Race, with the men’s event in its 166th renewal and the women’s in its 75th staging.
“When I did my Blondie race, I got contacted by a bunch of Spanish media and they said they had been looking through archives and it doesn’t seem that anyone from Spain had done the Boat Race before,” says Perez Rotondo.
“I guess I was the first Blondie and now I’m going to be the first Blue boat – Spain being an under-represented country.
“It’s so weird especially because I’ve realised how big it is here, and not just here but internationally as well.
“I see people come from different countries just because they have heard for their whole lives about the Boat Race and want to be part of this. And I think ‘how did I miss out on such a huge thing?’.
“It becomes so meaningful that I am part of this great event.”
Perez Rotondo is anticipating an exciting race at a place that Cambridge know so well.
“We’ve done so many strokes on this stretch of the river, we know every single part of it – as much as there is to know – and I think that is an advantage, I’m not going to lie,” she adds.
“It will give us confidence in that way, having all those references from our training.”