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Boat Race 2024: Cambridge University Boat Club member Gemma King keen to realise her Blue boat ‘goal’ in 2024

As she enters her sixth year as a member of the Cambridge University Boat Club set-up, there is not much left for Gemma King to experience.

The 24-year-old has been part of victorious lightweight and Blondie crews, while away from the Goldie Boathouse she has represented Great Britain and captained England to glory.

“I’ve been rowing for 12 years now so I don’t really know life without it,” said King, who is a MRes + PhD stem cell biology student at St John’s College.

Cambridge University Boat Club profile photographs, Gemma King. Picture: Keith HeppellPicture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge University Boat Club profile photographs, Gemma King. Picture: Keith HeppellPicture: Keith Heppell

“Representing Great Britain was a massive honour and to captain England in the last two years has been amazing. I couldn’t believe they asked me.

“And it’s been amazing in all my years at Cambridge as well. My first year was as a lightweight and that was the last one at Henley, but I’ve done other lightweights since then.

“The next few years were in Blondie, but one of those was cancelled because of Covid and after it was in Ely. I’ve had a mixture of everything!

Cambridge University Boat Club’s Gemma King. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge University Boat Club’s Gemma King. Picture: Keith Heppell

“After that I was in the lightweight boat, but on the Tideway, so that was on the Championship Course and that was my first race on that.

“It was a different date to the Boat Race, but it was pretty amazing. I never feel confident until the race is over, but just smiling as you row, it’s such a memorable experience.

“Then last year with Blondie, on the Championship Course and winning, it’s quite hard to describe that feeling.

“You’ve worked so hard all year and you just trust everyone around you. You trust your cox, you go as hard as you can and whatever happens, happens.

“You can’t control what Oxford are doing, so you’ve just got to give it everything you can.”

There is, though, one omission from King’s CV.

The majority of athletes that commit themselves to CUBC do so with dreams of one day earning themselves a place within the Blue boat.

And King is no different. The build up to crew announcement in March is always a nervy affair for hopefuls, but the former Lady Eleanor Holles pupil feels like she is on the right path to completing the set.

“I’d love to do it and I’m hoping this year, but you never know. Everything can change, although it’s going well right now so we’ll have to wait and see,” she said.

“It would be so special to have all three alongside my name.

“Every year has had its own perks. I’ve had the most amazing time in Blondie and the most amazing time in the lightweight boat.Every year could be seen as a pinnacle in its own right because they’ve all been so memorable and given me so much.

“In the lightweights we won the race and got the record by 15 lengths and that’s always something I’ll look back on think ‘wow, we were amazing that year’. It was great.

“And in the Blondie boat last year, we just came on so much throughout the season. We started off with quite a lot of people that were inexperienced, but as it went on we really came together.

“But the Blue boat has always been my goal. That’s why you trial. You want to be as quick as you can and then hopefully it’s your year.”

Regardless of the boat that King finds herself in come the big day, the level of expectation is likely to be even greater than normal.

While there is always pressure for all involved in the Boat Race, Cambridge’s dominant display of 2023 saw them complete a famous clean sweep over their Oxford counterparts.

That means, of course, that the Cambridge crews will be up against an opposition smarting from that experience, and therefore gunning for revenge.

King added: “It probably puts a bit of pressure on Cambridge because some people might just be expecting us to do it again, but it’s not like that. Every year is a completely new year and a clean slate.

“We never know who Oxford are going to have, they’ve got a new coach in since then and they’re now one club.

“In a way you hope for the Boat Race that things will be close and exciting. I’d love it if Cambridge won everything, but for the public that might not be so exciting.

“I’d love us to win again but for the racing to be so close that everyone is entertained.”

However, there will be a split in the King household.

Gemma and her twin sister Catherine were both in the Cambridge Lighweight boat in 2019 and 2022, as well as joining forces as part of the Blondie crew three years ago.

But Catherine has since crossed the Cambridge-Oxford divide and after a lengthy period on the sidelines due to injury, she is now back out on the water.

But putting Boat Race alliegances aside, Gemma is keen to one day rekindle her rowing relationship with Catherine.

She said: “For my first three-and-a-half years at Cambridge, in the summer we’d always do pairs and we rowed together as juniors.

“It would always go so well. We’d bicker no end, it was a nightmare, but it just worked!

“It was pretty special and we’d do things that were unexpected.

“I think it would catch some people off guard and they’d wonder how we’d done it. That was really special.

“She’s been injured for the last year and a half but she’s now back into rowing, so hopefully at some point we can row together again.”

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