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Boat Race 2017: Melissa Wilson aims to go full circle at Cambridge University

Cambridge University Womens Boat Club Melissa Wilson. Picture: Vikki Lince
Cambridge University Womens Boat Club Melissa Wilson. Picture: Vikki Lince

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The humble manner of Melissa Wilson provides perhaps the perfect reflection of her route into rowing.

She first picked up an oar when she came to Cambridge University to study English at Gonville & Caius, and after being taken into the Women’s Boat Club system, the 23-year-old has not looked back.

Wilson has earned three Blues – in 2013, 2014 and 2015 – and won Under-23 World Rowing Championship bronze and silver medals with Great Britain.

And after a year away she is now back at Cambridge, studying law at Lucy Cavendish, and no doubt eager to rectify a tale of three defeats in the Boat Race.

But Wilson is so polite and friendly that it would seem amiss to suggest that she is seeking revenge over Oxford – although given her rapid progress her characteristics must include a determined, steely nature.

“The Cambridge system has got me right the way through. From starting, through the under-23 system, spending the year with the GB system and even last year when I was training at Caversham I was still in contact with Rob (Baker, the Light Blues’ head coach) a lot,” said Wilson.

“He has always been a great source of support so in some ways coming back does feel like trying to complete a circle because I haven’t won a Boat Race yet.

“That’s obviously a big goal for this year, but also I knew that balancing sport and academics really worked for me.

“I think it helps me keep both sides in perspective to do that.

“I don’t know whether it’s completing a circle in some ways – because I’m doing a different course it feels quite different.”

The training that Wilson refers to at Caversham was with the British squad as she made a bid to get into the team to compete at the Rio Olympics.

Although she came up just short, it was a valuable learning experience.

“It was Olympic year, I wanted to see how far I could go with the rowing in that time,” she said. “It was an amazing experience.

“Obviously, they were gearing up for the Olympics and so it was an incredible time to be with all the professionals in our sport at the top of their game.

“They were very kind to me and it was a great environment. It’s definitely been good to be able to come back to the Cambridge system with that experience.”

Wilson decided to return to do a two-year law conversion course, and although she trained with the Cambridge squad from September 2015 to the December of that year before going to link up with the British set-up, she has seen the development since returning full time.

“I have a sense of how it’s moved on between 2015 and now,” she said. “I was around for parts of last year – I was on the squad mailing list so I got the memos when they ran out of shampoo and things like that!

“I think each year it’s been obvious that the squad has made adjustments, learned from the year before and moved forward.

“And as that’s been happening the calibre of the athletes that have been coming and been part of the programme has increased and that’s been really obvious.

“The depth of experience that this squad has is a very clear difference from previous years ,and it’s exciting as people feed off one another in a good way.

“In terms of raw physicality, there is a lot of exciting stuff and also the energy that people bring to it.

“You’ve got a lot of people who have already invested time in other programmes.

“They have figured out why they love the sport and want to push themselves in this way and that combines to form something really exciting.”

And Wilson will be hoping that excitement reaches fever pitch at Mortlake at around 5pm on Sunday.


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