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Cancer Research UK Boat Races: Rob Baker praises Cambridge University's strength in depth

Cambridge University Womens Boat Club head coach Rob Baker. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge University Womens Boat Club head coach Rob Baker. Picture: Keith Heppell

Standard keeps rising at the Light Blues

When you look at the performances of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club at the Women’s Eights Head of the River Race earlier this month, it says a lot about the strength of their squad.

With the A crew finishing second and the B crew seventh, it meant they were the only club to have two crews inside the top 10. And the C crew were 62nd overall.

That illustrated the progress made at the club and the calibre of oarswomen in their ranks this year, which was further supported at the announcement of the Blue boat for the Cancer Research UK Boat Races three days later.

It is an eight that has vast experience of racing at the highest level, with reserve crew Blondie having a similar ilk of athlete.

“It’s definitely quite different because we’ve got more experienced, older athletes in the squad,” said CUWBC head coach Rob Baker.

“It’s not become about them necessarily, it’s actually the influence they end up having on the younger, developing athletes in the squad which is the powerful piece for me really.

“We’ve got some really good young people coming through and doing good things, but I think when they see those experienced athletes and sometimes see them failing at something, it’s as important as seeing them do something really well.

“They’re human. We’ve got an Olympian finalist and you can beat her, you can keep up with her and you can do things as well as her – I think that is quite powerful.”

While the international flavour in the squad may be provided by rowers from Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and France, there is a young British core as well.

And if their recent results at national trials are anything to go by, Imogen Grant, Melissa Wilson, Holly Hill and Alice White could be mainstays of the national squad in the future.

Grant was top under-23 lightweight sculler, sixth overall, despite having mainly done sweep rowing.

Wilson and Hill competed at under-23 level for Great Britain, and finished second – behind Olympic silver medalist Karen Bennett and Katherine Douglas – at the trials, while White and Thea Zabell, who is in reserve crew Blondie, were seventh.

“We’re developing people there, and some people that have done a bit more – but they are still young seniors – in Melissa and Holly,” said Baker. “We’re always trying to encourage that.

“We are quite closely linked with the British team and actually Melissa and Holly are going on training camp straight after the Boat Race with the senior team, and I’m actually going out with them a couple of days later in Italy for training.”

While the Light Blues may have lost the last four Boat Races, their successes through the squad and at other regattas show that they have been developing the club rather than just a crew.

And now is the time to let that show on the biggest stage, on the Tideway.

“We’ve finally got to win this Boat Race,” said Baker. “But we’ve been trying to do something long term here, not have a flash-in-the-pan success.

“We’d like to have had more success so far with the Boat Race but the people really involved understand what we’re trying to do and the successes we’ve had in the build-up.

“Helping to produce Hollys and Melissas and helping them develop is a big part of that. We want our athletes to go on and be successful, whether it’s in rowing or outside rowing, and I hope that we’ve got a really sustainable programme here now.”


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