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Boat Race 2023: Cambridge University Boat Club’s Tom Lynch feels mentally and physically ready for this month’s showpiece





Twelve months ago Tom Lynch knew that he was not ready. He had spent the weeks leading up to the Boat Race rubbing shoulders with some of the stellar names in the Cambridge University Boat Club’s men’s crew, but both physically and mentally he did not feel suitably equipped to have been in the Blue boat.

He did, however, gain some valuable experience on race day as part of the reserve squad that suffered a defeat to their Oxford counterparts.

And fast forward to the present day, with crew announcements set to take place on Monday (March 6), the Irish-born, Canada-raised athlete is primed for the big event.

Tom Lynch is hoping to be part of the Cambridge University Boat Club crew for this month’s Boat Race. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom Lynch is hoping to be part of the Cambridge University Boat Club crew for this month’s Boat Race. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I came in pretty hard, well as hard as you could after Covid, but it was a tough year,” said Lynch, who is in his second year studying for a PhD in engineering at Hughes Hall.

“I arrived and there were four Olympians on stroke side, which is the side I row. Straight away I was like ‘wow’ and I spent the first term wondering if I should try to switch to bow side.

“They ended up switching one of the Olympians over, but even then the standard was so very high.

“I was very lucky in that I was close to the top boat so I sat in on a couple of fixtures when people were sick. I sat in on the Dutch race, which was a pretty incredible experience, and I got to spend a couple of sessions in the Blue boat with the likes of Tom George and Ollie Wynne-Griffith, which was an amazing experience.

“But honestly, on the day of the race I was a little bit relieved to just be in the Goldie boat because seeing the crowds and the pressure, that would have been rough for a first time. I feel a lot more prepared for it now.

“It was a fast reserve crew so I got a lot better at rowing. I figured out the Cambridge thing, I hope!

“I know what the day looks like now and I know what the week leading up to it is like. I know how intense it all is. You do a training camp right before and you try to overcompensate because you know you’ve got a week off after that.

“The crowd, I know what it’s like to sit on the start line and hear all of that. There are TV cameras everywhere as well, but I do feel a lot more prepared for all of it.”

Yet, the Boat Race could not have been further from Lynch’s mind when he enrolled on a mechanical engineering course at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2015.

He had done some rowing in his youth, but ultimately the commitment required to reach any sort of heights was lacking.

“It wasn’t very serious (when rowing as a youngster), I was only ever in a single scull and I was pretty awful,” he added.

“My first year at university, I tried out a bit of rowing and I lasted about two weeks. It was a huge intensity step up. It went from once a week to 11 or 12 times a week. I ended up quitting in my first year and then I did an internship in Germany in my second year.

“When I was in Germany I was given an enormous amount of time off. I spent that time travelling Europe, drinking, staying up late and having a good time. At the end I took the summer off, travelled Europe for another two or three months on my own and with friends and I remember about two months into that – something silly like my 21st night in a row of waking up hungover – I decided that this is fun, but it’s out of my system now.

“It felt like the right time to do something a bit more intense, so I went back to rowing.”

It was then that thoughts of Cambridge and Oxford started to hone into view.

With those carefree days behind him, Lynch had caught the rowing bug and with his time at UBC coming to an end, he had a decision to make – staying at home or taking a gamble.

He explained: “I finished my under-grad at UBC in Vancouver and I wanted to keep rowing. I’d only been rowing for around three years at that point.

“The only way to do that was to stay in school but I couldn’t go to the States because they don’t have grad rowing there.

“My options became between Canada and going to the UK. I had my Irish passport, and although Brexit was happening at that point which made things a little shifty, I decided to give it a go.

“I applied to both Oxford and Cambridge, both are incredible universities. Both accepted me for a PhD and it’s only for three or four years, whereas if I stayed in Canada it would be a two-year masters and then a five-to-seven-year PhD. I’d be a lot older by the time that I graduated. It was a no-brainer for me to take on Cambridge.”

Arriving at the Goldie Boathouse in 2021, Lynch was eager to make an impression.

But before he could do that he had to learn and buy into a new way of approaching the sport, having come from an intense background where rowers go into every single session as if it was their last.

It is a more methodical process in Cambridge, and Lynch feels fortunate to have had a number of good role models to lean on.

“All of the Olympians were so friendly, really incredible guys. I have nothing but good things to say about them,” he said.

“It was cool to see how professional they were about it. We get Mondays off and so they wouldn’t go out any other times than Sundays, which is something I picked up eventually!

“They are very big here at splitting the sessions. There are some where you’re intentionally not going as hard as you can so that when you need to you can go harder.

“For any newer rower, especially if you come from North America, which is famous for going as hard as they can in every single session, it’s a big thing to see.

“I was like that. I wanted to impress without a doubt. When the coach is sitting behind you and you’re doing an hour-long session that is meant to be slightly easier, I wasn’t doing it like that, I was giving it everything I had.

“Then you see guys that have been to the Olympics and won gold medals going relatively slow to their maximum. Seeing that they can do that and still win gold medals, it was an eye opener and I learned a lot about how I should be doing it.

“I learned to keep it easier and then whether it’s a Saturday or a Tuesday morning session, I can then go really hard.

“It was just inspirational. I had a couple of sessions sitting behind Tom George. This is someone that eventually broke the world record. He’s about the same size as me but obviously 10 or 11 splits faster than me, it’s just incredible to see.”

And Lynch will be looking to channel his inner Tom George should he fulfil his ambition of being in the Blue boat on the Championship Course come Sunday, March 26.

“It would mean a lot (to get the call up),” he said. “There are a huge number of returners from last year, I’m actually living with three of them.

“I do hope to make the Blue boat this time around. It’s a really tight group of guys and I think this year especially we’ve really nailed the culture component.

“To have this great year, with all these guys I’m really good friends with, to finish with a win over Oxford would be just incredible.”



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