By Florianne Humphrey and Will Toogood
This summer, Palatinate purple earned its place amongst a multitude of national colours and flags at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The sporting achievement of the Durham University Boat Club at these memorable Games makes this one of their most successful summers to date.
The boat club marked their place in rowing history during the Women’s eight event. Coach James Harris’s (DUBC 2005-2007) team crossed the line in second place to earn Team GB’s first ever medal in this event at the Olympic Games.
From a coach watching their team nervously on the river bank to being in an equally nerve-racking position in the boat, three other former members of the club competed in Olympic boat races for Team GB. Stewart Innes (DUBC 2010-2012) took his seat in the coxless pair against the most successful men’s rowing crew in history, two men from New Zealand who have not lost a single race in eight years. Although Innes finished fourth by a matter of seconds, it was a brutal battle for the medals at his first Olympic Games.
Recent Durham graduate Angus Groom (DUBC 2011-2013) beat all odds, including a member of his crew falling ill just days before the race, and managed to finish fifth. Finally, Will Fletcher (DUBC 2009-2012) just missed out on the A final in Rio but is set to compete in the next Games. Fletcher said that, “Rio was an amazing experience and I still can’t believe I have been to the Olympics. I remember 2012 and cheering on those who I have now competed with. Durham was right at the start of the journey and it’s so great I got to share it with three other fellow DUBC alumni. Bring on Tokyo.”
For one university boat club to provide such sheer weight of numbers to Team GB is a remarkable effort. The outcome constitutes the best set of results that Durham University Boat Club has ever had at the Games. This is not only a statistical achievement but also a testament to the unique talent of the squads and coaches as the club continues to train its next generation of Olympians.
Indeed, beyond Rio the club had astounding success throughout the summer on other international platforms. 2015 graduate Mary Wilson was selected for the U23 women’s lightweight quad this year and came sixth in her final year in the U23 category. Callum McBriety (DUBC 2011-2013) became world champion in the men’s coxed pair in Rotterdam, whilst Will Warr won the gold medal in the men’s fours at the World University Games. Warr participated in the fresher’s programme where athletes learn to row and are fast tracked to become senior rowers for the university within a year.
Ed Gleadowe (DUBC 2012-2015) was also trained under the same programme four years ago. Now in his final year studying engineering, he was also DUBC President last year and this summer was selected to race for the GB Universities’ team at the World University Games and won gold in the men’s eight. Hugo Coussens is another current DUBC athlete also in his final year. At only twenty years old, he won gold at the U23 world championships.
Finally, another current student, Hanna Inntjore was selected to represent Norway in the women’s pairs at the U23 world championships.
Furthermore, this year’s current crop of freshers includes two athletes who have competed at Junior World Championships over the summer. Oscar Lindsay won a silver medal in the coxless four and Lauren Irwin competed in the coxless pair and just missed out on a spot in the final.
The club also took a fleet of six pre-qualified boats to Zagreb, Croatia, to compete at this year’s European University Games. The highlight was the men’s heavyweight quad winning a silver medal behind a very quick German team.
From Europe to South America, the DUBC has, like many students, travelled the world this summer. These alumni and current students may have swapped a backpack for a set of oars, but their experience has been none less exciting. And bringing home a few prizes and medals is a bit of a bonus.
Photograph: Charlotte Jackson