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Boat Race 2024: Cambridge University Boat Club’s Clare Hole eyeing up Blue Boat seat after two victories with Blondie

When Clare Hole first spoke to the Cambridge Independent back in December 2021, she was relatively new to rowing.

And while she was a triallist with Cambridge University Boat Club women’s openweight squad at the time, Hole was still uncertain as to how far she would be able to go.

After all, Hole arrived at the Goldie Boathouse with an equestrian background. She had represented Great Britain in dressage, both at junior and senior level.

Cambridge University Boat Club profile photographs, Clare Hole. Picture: Keith HeppellPicture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge University Boat Club profile photographs, Clare Hole. Picture: Keith HeppellPicture: Keith Heppell

Rowing was very much viewed as a pastime to help Hole scratch her competitive itch while studying natural sciences at St Catharine’s College.

But it is fair to say that the sport has got under her skin – and she has a talent for it as well.

Hole was part of victorious Blondie crews in 2022 and 2023, with her sights now set on earning a seat in the Blue Boat for next month’s Gemini Boat Race. It is quite the rise in such a short period of time.

Clare Hole first trialled in 2021: Picture: Keith Heppell
Clare Hole first trialled in 2021: Picture: Keith Heppell

The 22-year-old said: “The last few years have been such a journey. It’s been so, so incredible, doing those two Boat Races with Blondie. And to win both of those as well, that was just fantastic.

“It’s those types of experiences that keep drawing you back every single year, especially doing it with such incredible people.

“When I started out I was just looking to enjoy a new sport, but fast forward to now and there’s so much about it that I love. A lot has changed but that drive to keep getting better is still there.

“I never expected to go on to what I’ve done. I didn’t know about the opportunities that rowing as part of CUBC can give you.

“I was very naive to it all back then, that’s for sure. It’s nice to look back on the memories I’ve made and enjoy how far I’ve come.

“Sometimes it’s hard to do that or see that when you’re constantly striving more and more to get better. But reflecting on how much has changed, it’s amazing.

“It really does suit my personality. I came from another sport and found myself looking for that feeling again of wanting to push myself and find improvements. I really fell in love with rowing for that reason.

“In so many aspects of my life, I’m quite a perfectionist. That constant grit and determination that you need in rowing, to keep fine tuning the little things, it’s not always fun when it’s happening but it really taps into my mentality.

“And when you’re doing that with 30-odd other women and the men’s squad, you’ve all got this shared mindset and goal – there’s something really special about that. It really made me fall in love with the sport in the first place and that’s never changed.

“Rowing has definitely taken over in a way that I never expected it to do.”

Picking a favourite between her two wins with Blondie is no easy task. After a sharp intake of breath, ‘that’s a tough one’ is Hole’s initial response to if she is able to separate the two.

Yet there is no denying that 2022 was an experience unlike any other. While Hole was a novice to the sport, she found herself trialling alongside Olympic and world champions. How do you not learn in that type of environment? Hole went into sponge-mode and soaked up every piece of advice that she was given.

“The 2022 year was so special to me for many reasons. I never expected to end up in a crew like that,” she said.

“It was the year of Grace Prendergast, Imogen Grant and so many great athletes. You’ve got all these great rowers and I’m there erging next to them. I was so new to it and I was completely blown away by the experience.

“I was new and impressionable, so to have them around was incredible. They were brilliant at offering advice, especially around Trial VIIIs.

“The crews are mixed up and I was lucky enough to sit behind Ruby Tew. She would turn around and give me tips. I learned so much during that period and rowing in these boats with top people, I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to share that time with them and pick up those nuggets of wisdom.”

And having spent some time being nurtured by rowing royalty, it put Hole in much more of a settled mindset for 12 months later.

She added: “There’s nothing quite like your first Boat Race and that has stuck with me, but last year we had a brilliant crew. It was a really fun race.

“I’d been in the squad a little bit longer, I knew what to expect and sometimes that comes with being able to appreciate things a bit more.

“In my first year I was so overwhelmed and blown away by the magnitude of the occasion. I knew it was a really big event, but it still surprised me how big it all was.

“Whereas last year I was able to take a moment to take it all in and then I could enjoy it more.”

Yet rather than bask in the glory of two Blondie triumphs, an athlete as ambitious as Hole is always striving for more.

The desire to make the step up to part of the main crew burns brightly – and Hole, who was introduced to rowing by Carmen Failla at St Catharine’s College Boat Club, is leaving no stone unturned both physically and mentally in her pursuit.

“I was looking back the other day at some photos from my first year when I was trialling, and now you can physically see the muscle development and my technique in the boat,” she said.

“It’s really encouraging sometimes to look back and see those changes and see that you’re reaping the rewards of the hard work you’ve put in. I’m feeling good at the moment physically and mentally and hopefully it pays off.

“It would mean a huge amount (to make the Blue Boat). That’s something you’re always striving for. I’ve done the two years of Blondie and they’ve both been fantastic experiences, but the Blue Boat is the gold one!

“I’m giving everything I can this year, as you do every year. I’m throwing myself at it and trying to put down the best performances I possibly can.

“If that lands me in the top boat, that would be absolutely incredible. But if it doesn’t, that means we’ve got a really fast boat going out.

“Everyone is going to be striving for the top boat, but if we’re all producing our best it’s going to make the Blue Boat go faster and also all the other boats will go faster as well – that’s ultimately what it’s all about.”

Not only would Hole’s inclusion in the Blue Boat fulfil a personal goal, it would also be a proud moment for the family. Her father, Duncan Hole, rowed in Goldie in 1988 and the Boat Race in 1990, and her mother, Rachel Murray, competed for Blondie in 1987 and in the Boat Race in 1988.

“Both my parents learned to row at college as well and did the Blondie/Goldie route before making the Boat Race step. It would mean a huge amount to follow them,” she said.

“It’s nice to see that as I’ve become more involved in the sport, my parents have rediscovered their love for it, especially my dad – he’s been out sculling. They know the dedication it requires and to have my name on the board alongside them would be amazing.”

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