Friday, 17 September 2021

A year on, what’s become of Olympic torch rowers

MADDY WYNN JONES, 18, won the inaugural junior women’s quadruple sculls at last year’s Henley Royal Regatta but she has

MADDY WYNN JONES, 18, won the inaugural junior women’s quadruple sculls at last year’s Henley Royal Regatta but she has given up rowing in favour of hockey.

The 18-year-old, of St Andrew’s Road, Henley, played for both Henley and Reading hockey clubs and represented Berkshire before taking up rowing.

She says: “I don’t think I will get back on the water. I achieved more than I expected and I have finished that chapter in my life.

“With my ability, I don’t think I could do any better than winning at Henley royal but I think I can go to the next level with hockey.”

Maddy was 14 when her best friend Jenny Norman introduced her to rowing and she joined Henley Rowing Club to learn.

“I enjoyed it because it was different,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I was a natural — I fell in a few times — but I got used to it.”

She began to take the sport seriously after winning some races.

“I got more passionate and competitive and I wanted to work harder and train harder and put in longer hours,” she says.

“I wanted to row at Henley because of the experience — there are so many people watching you and cheering.

“It wasn’t until we won at Henley Women’s Regatta that we knew we had a chance of winning and when we did I was just speechless.”

It was after this victory that Maddy was chosen to be a member of the eight that rowed from Mill Meadows to Leander Club with Sir Steve Redgrave carrying the torch.

Maddy says the experience was “incredible”, adding: “I was concentrating so much on rowing well because so many people were watching.”

Since then, she has combined playing hockey with studying for A levels at Luckley-Oakfield School in Wokingham and she is hopeful of achieving the grades to get her into either Leeds University or the University of Kent.

JAMES MILLS has not been in a competitive boat for a year after picking up repetitive strain injury in both hands.

“It makes it difficult gripping the blade with both hands,” he said. “I have taken some time off but I am hoping to get back into rowing at university.”

The 18-year-old, of Victoria Road, Wargrave, last competed in a single scull at Nottingham last August but his highlight of last season was reaching the quarter-finals of the Britannia Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.

He says: “I wouldn’t quite say other regattas pale in comparison but Henley has such an atmosphere and we have a myriad of distractions. To win at Henley is a goal of mine.” James first got into a boat at age 12 after a coach from Henley Rowing Club visited Piggott School in Wargrave and invited him to a beginners’ session.

He says: “After beginner training there is a number of development squads and as you get older it gets more serious and more competitive.

“I was considered good for my size — I am not particularly tall, 6ft, so when I was racing with the senior men last year I was at bow because you have the lightest person there usually.”

He won’t forget sharing a boat with the five-times Olympic champion last summer.

James recalls: “I was a bit nervous rowing with the great Sir Steve Redgrave — he is an absolute legend — but he was a lovely chap and had time for everyone.

“I was very lucky to get a ticket for the Olympics and to be part of the Dorney roar.”

He is hoping to go to Bristol University to study maths and physics and to continue rowing.

NATASHA HARRIS WHITE finished runner-up in the junior single sculls when she made her debut at this year’s Henley Women’s Regatta.

It was just reward for the 17-year-old who had to combine intensive training at Upper Thames Rowing Club with studying for her AS level exams at The Henley College.

“It was stressful balancing it all,” she says. “I was going down to the club every day, practising starts and doing pieces such as 1,500m, then 1,000m and then 500m.”

Natasha, who lives in Henley, was forced to compete on her own when her double sculls partner quit at Christmas. Her first solo race was the Abingdon Head.

She finished ninth among the British entries at the Ghent International Regatta in April. She also competed at the National Schools Regatta and narrowly missed out on victory at Marlow Regatta at Dorney Lake in June.

She says: “I am normally in a single because I have nobody at the club at my age. I am better at the single because I have done more of it.”

Natasha would love to compete at Henley Royal Regatta.

“Henley is my home town,” she says. “I have lived and rowed here all my life. I love Upper Thames because they have been so supportive and have given a lot of help to make me better.

“Since the torch relay a lot of people have come up to me and said they saw me, which also means that at Upper Thames I can be recognised as being more serious.”

JOHNNY JACKSON competed at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta in the Wyfold Cup as a member of Upper Thames “B” crew. It was an improvement on last year, when his crew failed to get through qualifying in the same competition.

He took up rowing in 2008 after realising he wasn’t good enough to play football and didn’t have the build to be a rugby player.

Johnny, who is 18 and lives in Peppard, says: “I approached Upper Thames because after looking at a few clubs it seemed to have the best location. I came down for a taster session and knew by the end of it that rowing was the sport for me.

“I started off in the junior squad and rowed in local regattas and national schools events and progressed to the performance squad and national events.”

He has had a good season, coming second at the Metropolitan Regatta in a four, fourth at Wallingford Regatta in an eight and fourth in a four at Marlow Regatta.

Johnny jumped at the chance to row with Sir Steve and the Olympic torch.

He recalls: “It was a pretty surreal experience to be honest as I didn’t expect such a huge crowd to be there to see us.

“I had met Sir Steve a few times before — I was part of the corridor of oars that met him when he opened our new clubhouse.”

Johnny hopes to do lightweight trials for Team GB next year and his dream is to compete at the Olympics.

But he says: “I am realistic and take it a step at a time and do not get ahead of myself.”

OLI COLLINSON was part of Star and Arrow, Leander Club’s development crew that failed to qualify for the Fawley Cup at this year’s royal regatta.

However, the 17-year-old Henley College student says he was only “a little bit disappointed”.

“We only just missed out,” he says. “It wasn’t our best race but we hadn’t been together as a crew for very long.

“I was in the quad last year in the Fawley Cup but we got knocked out on the first day by the Australians. It is my goal to win at Henley.”

He was part of the Leander Club quad that won at the Metropolitan Regatta in June and came second in the double sculls in Reading in May and second in the double under Star and Arrow.

Oli, who lives near Watlington, has been a member of Leander since he was 15 when he was still at Icknield Community College.

He says: “They came to my school and asked me to do some testing. They saw my physique and fitness and invited me to come along to trials. I did well and they asked me to go on a six-month training course where they would teach me all about rowing, which I did.

“I think they have been quite pleased. I have done some trials with Team GB and got quite far with those in a single scull.”

Oli says last summer’s torch relay will live long in his memory.

“It was amazing,” he says. “Just touching and seeing the torch and meeting Sir Steve was incredible. I was surprised by how many people were there.”

After college, Oli wants to become row full time. “My first goal is to get into the GB team, which I hope to do next year,” he says. “I am pleased with how I have progressed but I would have loved to have qualified for Henley.”

BRENDAN EDWARDS is back in light training after almost 18 months off rowing due to an injury.

The 17-year-old Henley College student ripped his shoulders while playing rugby.

Brendan, of Fair Mile, Henley, says: “What it meant was my muscles were weakened but it wouldn’t be a problem until I trained at high intensity.”

He joined Leander Club a week before his 15th birthday in January 2011 but his muscle problem materialised near the end of that year.

He says: “I grow unilaterally — one side faster than the other — which puts more pressure on the chest band and back, so I stress fractured one of my ribs.

“In mid-November my coach and physio advised me to stop rowing.”

A year later, Brendan returned to the water in a single scull but aggravated his injury.

Now he is back doing just light sessions in the hope that he will be able to build his strength back up.

He says: “Because it is muscular I have been given exercises to do three times a day and I hope to be able to train at a high intensity over the summer and to compete at the GB junior trials next October.

“Next year I would like to be in the top quad and compete in the Fawley Cup at Henley royal. Full-time rowing is a possibility but it depends on how I get on next year.”

Brendan would like to win a scholarship to row at a university in America but if this doesn’t materialise he plans to apply to join the Royal Marines.

He was chosen to be part of the Redgrave eight last summer because he had been training so hard to get back to full fitness.

He says: “I never thought I would row with anyone that great and so well known worldwide — it was a privilege. The occasion was a bit nerve-racking. I didn’t want to mess up or anything and was keeping my game face on.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say