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Cambridge University Boat Club’s new assistant women’s coach Matilda Horn looking forward to her new role

Having grown up watching the action unfold from the banks of the River Thames, there are still moments when Matilda Horn feels as though she should pinch herself to check that she really is now on the inside of the Gemini Boat Race.

Horn, who turned 31 earlier this month, is currently preparing for her role as the new Cambridge University Boat Club women’s assistant coach to get fully under way, having been appointed as Autumn Manell’s successor in June.

And as someone that is so deep rooted within the sport, she is looking forward to being part of such a prestigious institution.

Matilda Horn is the new assistant women’s coach at Cambridge University Boat Club. Picture: Keith Heppell
Matilda Horn is the new assistant women’s coach at Cambridge University Boat Club. Picture: Keith Heppell

“It’s amazing. I remember watching it when I was younger on the bank with my family or on television,” she said.

“The Boat Race is such a big thing – everybody knows it. I was on holiday recently and people asked me what I do for a job. I said I was about to start this job in Cambridge and they were amazed – they knew nothing about rowing, but they still loved the Boat Race.

“To know I’m going to be involved in it, it’s a proud feeling and I’m really excited.”

Matilda Horn is the new assistant women’s coach at Cambridge University Boat Club. Picture: Keith Heppell
Matilda Horn is the new assistant women’s coach at Cambridge University Boat Club. Picture: Keith Heppell

It was aged nine that Horn became transfixed by rowing. Her father, Alastair, was the catalyst and it has become a passion that bonds the two closely.

She started rowing after her 11th birthday and has been ‘hooked’ ever since, while Alastair’s showed his devotion to the sport by giving up his day job to become boat club manager of Fulham Reach Boat Club, located on the Tideway Course between Putney and Mortlake.

She explained: “It all started with my dad. He randomly took up rowing and me, my mum and my brother and sister went to watch. I just thought it was the coolest thing, I was amazed and it hooked me.

“I was only nine and every rowing club said I had to wait until I was 11 to start rowing. I remember starting secondary school, asking to start and finally I was told ‘yes’.

“I was obsessed from the start. I started a little bit at Eton Dorney but I really got into it at Eton Excelsior. I remember my dad driving me and a lot of my friends to training with the teacher following behind us in another car. They were great days, I loved it.

“It’s a nice thing for a whole family, although I think they like it when me and my dad go to do it on our own because it gives them a break from us two talking about it all the time! The family love it, but us two really love it.”

Horn will arrive at the Goldie Boathouse with an impressive CV – the most notable inclusion being her stint as the cox of Great Britain’s Women’s 8 at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“I transitioned into coxing when I was 20. I was desperate to stay in the sport but my back was not allowing me to row comfortably,” she said.

“I made the transition into coxing and I found that I was better at it than I expected to be.”

But while the Olympics should have been the pinnacle for all concerned, it was a tough Games for British rowing, who won their least amount of medals in 49 years.

The world was also still very much dealing with the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, which made properly experiencing the Olympics nigh on impossible.

“It was strange in some ways. On paper, yes it’s such a big thing to do and obviously it was an incredible experience. But it got delayed because of Covid and I think had it gone ahead as planned then it would have been an incredible experience,” said Horn.

“There were a lot of challenges but the races they put on were fantastic and the Japanese people were amazing, it was just such a shame that we did not get to see any of the country.

“From our point of view we raced to the best of our ability at that time. As a squad we were just not able to put all of the pieces together.”

Yet, while Horn was a successful rower in her youth and is the cox of two medal-winning World Rowing Cup crews, coaching has not always been a part of the plan.

Initially it was something that helped to make ends meet, but as time wore on the prospect of helping others to realise their potential became more and more appealing – not that she believed working at Cambridge would ever be a legitimate option.

Horn said: “I’ve been a coach for a while, probably since I was 18. It was a hobby because I loved the sport and it helped to fund my rowing and my degree.

“When I stopped rowing and went to being a cox I was adamant that coaching wasn’t the right pathway for me. I knew I wanted a role where I could mentor people, just away from rowing.

“But I started to do it and I realised I could do it. I love the mentoring side, helping athletes to find their pathway and I didn’t think I’d get as much fulfillment from that as I do.

“I started to get into the mindset that this could be my career, but I wanted a really good job that I could be proud of. I’d actually stopped looking and I hadn’t even considered anything like Cambridge.

“You just presume those are closed jobs that are taken, but then Paddy (Ryan, chief women’s coach) got in touch and it went from there. It’s an amazing opportunity and one that was a no brainer for me to take.

“Everything just aligned. Autumn wanted to pursue something else and it presented this chance for me.”

Preparations for next year’s Boat Race will start to rev up throughout September before accelerating around the Christmas period.

It’s a process that Horn is relishing, particularly after admiring the way in which Cambridge enjoyed a famous clean sweep over their Oxford counterparts in 2023.

“I come from a rowing background where you have something to work towards. Obviously with the Olympics it’s every four years, and it suits me to have goals to focus on,” she said.

“But it’s a different scale at Cambridge. You have six months from when you start until the Boat Race and that’s a really exciting challenge. When you think about it, and factor in everyone is studying, six months is not a long time to prepare and then produce your best performance at the Boat Race live in front of millions of people on the television.

“From the small amount of work I’ve done with Paddy, his vision is so clear.

“You can see from how the team operates, the culture that is set and from speaking to athletes – everyone is pulling in the same direction and it’s a deeply rooted system that works. You can see from this year’s Boat Race and how successful they were that it gets amazing results.

“Clearly we want to win and that’s very important, but if nine, 12 or even 15 of the athletes learn so much about themselves during this process that it sets them on the right pathway for whatever comes next, then that is so rewarding.

“Again, we want to win and we’ll be doing everything to make sure that happens again, but if you look beyond the basics of a result and study why and how they’re winning, what sets them up to achieve, both in the water and in life, that’s a really important aspect.”

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