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Melissa Wilson setting out quad goals as a Great Britain sculler

Melissa Wilson, second from left, in the GB quadruple sculls. Picture: Naomi Baker
Melissa Wilson, second from left, in the GB quadruple sculls. Picture: Naomi Baker

New crew project takes shape nicely

Melissa Wilson has found a home from home in the Great Britain women’s quadruple sculls.

In a sporting season that has had to be balanced with academic commitments, the former Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club rower has again mastered the art of taking everything in her stride.

Included in that is switching from sweep rowing in the national set-up to sculling, in part because she was finishing off her law studies at Lucy Cavendish College.

Once exams had been sat, Wilson joined forces with Zoe Lee, Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne and Jess Leyden in the quad and had two weeks to prepare for the second World Cup of the summer, in Austria.

Seventh place helped focus the minds, and that was added to by success in the Princess Grace Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.

“There is definitely a really clear sense of momentum because I think we had immediate focus of two weeks to work out what we need to prioritise to get maximum speed going into the first World Cup together,” said 25-year-old Wilson.

“Off the back of that, we just missed out on the A final and so there was then following Linz a good sense of urgency.

“We had another two weeks until Henley Royal Regatta so it felt like although the project started a bit later than some of the others, actually that has allowed us to have a good build of pace.

“Now we’ve got the Europeans in another two weeks so there’s constantly something to keep each session really mattering and the crew stepping on, which is good.”

Wilson was based in Cambridge during term time, but having reached her quota of Boat Races, was training alongside the Light Blues squad in a single scull, which made the transition to that part of the national set-up easier having been in the quad during the January training camp.

She has been aided in the adjustment by Rio Olympic silver medallist Lee, who was also switching sweep rowing for sculling.

“I think it’s been really valuable for me to have Zoe in the crew because we’re both stroke side, both often sitting in the stroke seat,” said Wilson.

“It felt like she had worked out quite a lot of the things so that I could then ride that wave a little bit and she would often predict what I would be finding difficult or where my head would be and what I would be thinking.

“She was good at saying to me ‘look it will be really valuable when you feel that you don’t need to think as much about X, when you can feed that to us and say OK I’m feeling more comfortable, this is coming more naturally’.

“I think it’s been really valuable to have someone who has huge experience as a sweep rower and stroking the Rio crew, and to have somebody who has made the same shift across is definitely really helpful.”

As for Hodgkins-Byrne and Leyden, they have been a sculling force for the past few years.

Leyden was junior world champion in the single, and then joined Hodgkins-Byrne to become under-23 world champions in the double in 2016. Then they won bronze in the quad at last year’s world champions, and so it is easy to see why Wilson describes them as “a great unit”.

“They’ve been a really successful pairing,” Wilson said. “Being in the quad was my aim all year, and that was when I was doing the tests and various trials.

“It had always been on my list of motivations, right at the top, and being able to row with those athletes with that experience, I felt would make the summer a really exciting project.”

It is set to be a whirlwind couple of months for Wilson, with championships and training camps coming thick and fast.

“We’re all very focused about what we can get out of the Europeans,” she said. “A lot of the best crews in our event are European nations.

“It would be really valuable to have two or three races against that group of crews in Glasgow and then to be able to take that into a work camp in France and then a speed camp in Italy before going out to Bulgaria after that.”

Wilson added: “We want to get maximum boat speed and the best unit that we can this year, but certainly there is a sense that it leads into next year and being in a really strong position for the [Olympic] qualification regatta.”


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