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Boat Race 2023: Cambridge University Boat Club’s Carina Graf thankful for opportunity after coming to the sport late

When Carina Graf sits on the start line ahead of this weekend’s Gemini Women’s Boat Race, she may allow herself a brief moment to fully take in the surroundings.

The fact that Graf is part of the Cambridge University Boat Club’s women’s crew is an achievement in itself.

She did not take up rowing seriously until 2018, aged 24. But it has been a dramatic rise to prominence since then for the Germany-born athlete, who learned her trade alongside Cambridge’s number seven seat Claire Brillon at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Carina Graf, left, will be part of the Cambridge women’s boat on Sunday. Picture: Keith Heppell
Carina Graf, left, will be part of the Cambridge women’s boat on Sunday. Picture: Keith Heppell

Graf won a gold medal at the British Universities Championships in 2022 and capped a year to remember by being part of the victorious Blondie crew in the reserve race on the Tideway.

Yet all of those steps have been building blocks to Sunday, with Graf in the bow seat as Cambridge women seek to continue their impressive recent record.

“It’s a little bit hard to grasp at times. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Blondie crew last year so I’m used to being on the Tideway, being in this type of situation, but at the same time being in the Blue boat is quite different,” she said.

“I felt really honoured when I got selected and I know there is a lot of trust placed in me by the coaching team.

“It’s a little bit hard to believe but being here on the Tideway, it’s becoming more real. The first time I was in a boat was back home in Germany but I learned to row properly in Canada with Claire Brillon, who is in our seven seat. We were on the same programme.

“It’s amazing to see that no matter what year it is, the Boat Race gets an international crowd.

“We have so many amazing people from all over the place and it’s interesting to see that no matter where you go, if you mention the Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race, everyone knows what you’re talking about.”

It it is well-documented that the Cambridge women’s crew of 12 months ago was star studded – potentially the strongest line-up in the club’s history.

Experience levels are vastly different this time around with president Caoimhe Dempsey the only returnee in Blue boat, although Graf, Jenna Armstrong and Alex Riddell-Webster did all feature in the Blondie victory while Rosa Millard stroked the lightweight women to an eye-catching 15-length triumph.

“(Rowing for Blondie is) really helpful to know the timings of the day, knowing the routine and knowing the scenery,” she added.

“I know the feeling of being on the start line, what it feels like to sit there waiting to go.

“All of that is going to be really useful, but having done the fixtures, I’m also very much aware that it’s quite different with having all of the media attention.

“Every Boat Race crew is different. For me it’s not necessarily about the crew of last year, it’s more about the history of the event.

“All of the women that have raced before us, we look up to them so much. We know that they have given us the opportunity to now be on the Tideway and be able to row as equals to the men – same course, same time, same exposure and same funding. It’s a thing we’re really excited and happy about.”

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