Building a base at Cambridge University Boat Club is the pride of Steve Trapmore at the end of a Boat Race era
The driving force of the Light Blues is heading to pastures new with GB Rowing
When the launches reach the Mortlake beach and unload their passengers after the Cancer Research UK Boat Race on March 24, it will signal the end of an era.
Stepping off the following vessel for the last time as chief coach will be Steve Trapmore.
After eight years at the helm of Cambridge University Boat Club, the Sydney Olympic gold medallist will be departing for pastures new to become the high performance coach with GB Rowing.
It will signal the end of an interesting period at Goldie Boathouse, during which the calmness and focused approach of Trapmore has been ingrained in the fabric of the club.
History will show that Cambridge have won two of the seven races during that time, but it will not tell the tale of the far greater work that has been undertaken.
Success in the Boat Race and the Varsity Match is absolute, one result can mask all of the efforts that have been achieved throughout the rest of the year.
Such is the nature of the events, that it is something everyone associated with the two clubs just comes to accept, but during Trapmore’s time at Cambridge, he has been up against a foe that was able to call upon some of the greatest rowing talents in the world.
What must not be overlooked, therefore, is the strength of the Cambridge system, which has seen novice or raw oarsman exit the programme to go on to achieve international selection and glory, and the transformation of many aspects of the club.
“The club, the programme and the support within it has come a long way since I started in 2010,” he said.
“You look at it then, and the first time I walked in the door, the guys were about to do an ergo test on ergos that were 10 years old and had never been serviced.
“You wonder, what have I let myself in for here? Actually, it was a massive opportunity to help build infrastructure, strategy and confidence and to win some races that would set something in motion that is a platform for the long term.
“If I have come anywhere close to achieving some of that then I will look back on this period of my coaching life as being successful.”
The infrastructure that Trapmore refers to has certainly changed during his tenure, with the landscape of the club looking very different now.
Goldie has been extended as the women’s club have moved in, while a new boathouse has been built out at Ely, something which will benefit CUBC, the women’s and lightweights’ club for years to come.
“The club has always had aspirations, it’s just needed a lot of stars to be aligned at the right time and help from a lot of different people to make things possible,” he said.
“It took 10 years to make that happen, that was in planning before I got here. To be involved and part of that process has been really interesting and really exciting.
“For me, doing that sort of stuff gives the team and the prospective students coming in a lot of confidence that the club and members of the university are really supportive and trying to give them every single opportunity to get the best out of the days they’re training to ultimately make the boats go faster and win our annual challenge against Oxford.”
What is not so obvious though, is the work required to get to that day against the Dark Blues on the Tideway.
Trapmore had coached at Imperial College for three years before arriving at Cambridge, and his expectations of the role and the reality soon came to light
“One thing that people don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes,” he said. “People talk about sacrifices and all that sort of stuff, but I don’t really buy into that. Doing what the students do, and doing what I and all the supporters and alumni do is a choice.
“Within that choice, there is expectation and responsibility and you have to live up to that.
“The job that I have is not just coaching. Coaching is probably 10 per cent of what I do.
“At the old boathouse a team of coaches and students helped renovate it. The heating didn’t work so we had to fix it.
“There’s this perception that money grows on trees here, well it’s not the case; we’re just as strapped as everybody else.
“We have to make things last, we have to fix things, all the boats we fix ourselves, we trail boats ourselves – there are no bells and whistles.
“But I like that. I think that’s what makes the teams what they are. The expectation that someone has to clean the duck poo off the landing stage, otherwise it’s not going to get done; there is nobody paid to do it, so we need to do it and take it in turns as that’s everyone doing their bit.”
Making the most of developing the talent at Cambridge has been the primary focus for Trapmore, be it Olympic champions or beginners, and maximising everybody’s role on the team.
It must be said that it has not been an easy challenge at times, with Oxford having two of the best oarsmen in the world during that period, in Constantine Louloudis and Malcolm Howard, as well as many other internationals.
Yet, Cambridge have pushed their rivals all the way, even when it seemed unlikely.
“Every boat and every team ,whether we’ve won or lost, has got better and better and I’m sure there will be a point in the future where that is not the case,” he said.
“But it’s always been building and always momentum. The job is to maximise that potential; create it then maximise it.
“I think the programme now is in a place where it has capitalised on all of the experiences of previous crews in my time, and even before that.
“It’s been supported by other coaches and other experiences of other athletes.
“I’m really excited about this year. It’s a fantastic bunch of guys, we’ve got some good prognosis on the boats at the moment.
“Underlying this is putting in place a structure for next year’s campaign and the year after that – it’s all rolling.”
However, it is time for Trapmore’s journey with Cambridge to come to an end as he moves on in the next stage of a career that seems destined for the top.
He will look back on his time fondly having created an environment that was all about team spirit, and everyone chipping in together.
“That mentality, that ethos is built up and has been building up for years and years, and because of all of the previous teams that have helped develop it to where it is today, that is the thing I’m most proud of,” he said.
“It is the thing I will look back on with satisfaction. It’s going to be incredibly hard to leave after putting so much effort in; even my kids help out, painting the boathouse.
“Everybody does their bit. It’s going to be hard to move on, but in terms of coaching, it’s the next stage for me.”
Steve Trapmore reminisces about Cambridge University Boat Club’s rowers and crews
Many rowers have passed through the doors of Goldie Boathouse during Steve Trapmore’s eight-year tenure as chief coach.
Not all have earned Blues, and fewer still have had that winning feeling on Boat Race day, but each and every one has made an impact on Cambridge University Boat Club and Trapmore.
“The club today wouldn’t be what it is without the sequential growth that each of the previous squads has been responsible for,” said Trapmore.
“This can be hard to see when you don’t win the Boat Race every year, particularly as it is victory that we deem as success. But to build, you have to look deeper than that and I think this is what we have done really well over the last eight years.
“Every team has learnt from the last, built and moved forwards.”
It has been an eclectic mix of individuals that have come through the doors, and many have gone on to achieve international success after a spell in the CUBC programme.
George Nash, Henry Fieldman, Henry Hoffstot, Clemens Auersperg, Alex Leichter, Lance Tredell, Pat Eble and Ben Ruble are among those to have represented their countries after being with the Light Blues.
“Every president and vice-president has also played a huge role and it is my privilege to have worked closely with every one of them,” said Trapmore.
“Not only do they have to cope with the programme and a rigorous academic schedule that befalls everyone at the university, they are also the club figurehead and help me and the other coaches keep the team moving in the right direction.”
He stresses that he will not forget any of the rowers on any of the teams that he has coached in his time at Cambridge, but there are some that particularly standout for achieving beyond what might be expected.
Moritz Schramm had rowed in the reserve Goldie crew in 2010, then retired to focus on his nine-year medical course.
“In 2012, he gave the Blue boat one last shot and made selection only to have to undergo a knee operation six weeks before the race to fix some ligament issues,” said Trapmore.
“He recovered, consolidated his seat and went on to win what was to be the most infamous race in the history of the Boat Race.”
Helge Gruetjen was a German PhD student, who weighed 120kg and smoked heavily, but he changed direction and after a couple of years earned a Blue in 2014.
Then there is Luke Juckett, a mature student from Wisconsin University.
“He was small for a rower but was incredibly passionate and loved to push himself,” said Trapmore. “Often over critical, it took time for him to really discover the inner giant and he ended up a linchpin in the middle of the victorious 2016 Blue Boat, a position usually reserved for the DNA blessed.”
Then there was Felix Newman, a rowing product of Abingdon School.
“His prowess on the water far outstretched his ability on the land,” said Trapmore. “Hugely passionate about the club and always willing to help with whatever needed to be done.”
It is a rower from 2016 that the coach concludes on.
“If I was to single out an individual it would have to be Ali Abbasi,” said Trapmore.
“Unlike Helge, he was not a giant. Like Luke and Felix he was small for a heavyweight rower. But he had no previous rowing experience before coming to Cambridge.
“He started rowing at his college [Trinity] and then joined our development programme. He then made the Goldie boat and then the 2016 Blue boat, joining Luke, Felix and others I have already mentioned.
“For me this is what the Boat Race is all about. Guys like Ali discovering something phenomenal and joining a team of talented focussed individuals trying to achieve something remarkable.”
He added: “To be a small cog in the development of the club and all these individuals is something I will cherish forever.”