The Power of Start

The power of the GB Rowing Team’s acclaimed and innovative “Start” talent identification and development programme was apparent at last weekend’s GB Rowing Team Senior Team and U23 Trials.

All six open weight winners are graduates of this scheme. Alex Gregory and Mohamed Sbihi won the men’s pair.

Gregory and Sbihi were identified at school and were placed with the Start programmes at Reading and Molesey Boat Club respectively. Gregory worked with coach Mark Earnshaw, first at Evesham and then at Reading, whilst Sbihi worked with coach Sue McNuff.

Both rowers went on to join the national training group and became Olympic medallists in 2012.

Gregory won gold in the men’s four and Sbihi took bronze in the men’s eight. Since London the duo have raced in the GB Rowing Team’s men’s eight that won the nation’s first gold in the men’s eight at the World Championships of all-time in Korea last autumn.

Vicky Thornley, a former model and talented show-jumper, Helen Glover, a former PE Teacher, and Heather Stanning, now also a Captain in the British Army all learnt to row at the University of Bath’s Start centre.

Glover, of course, famously came into the sport through the Sporting Giants scheme publicised by UK Sport with the help of five-times Olympic Gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave.

She was taught to row at Bath and was then teamed up in the GB squad with Stanning who was spotted whilst a student at Bath. Paul Stannard was the Start coach at Bath and now coaches with the GB Rowing Team senior squad.

Together Stanning and Glover won the women’s pair title at the weekend – their first competitive event together since taking the women’s pair title at the Olympic Games of 2012 – Britain’s first gold of those Games. Glover was also crowned World Champion last year with Polly Swann, from Edinburgh, whilst Stanning reverted to her Army career for a year and completed a tour in Afghanistan.

Wrexham’s Thornley won the women’s single scull title by a considerable margin from twice Olympic silver medallist Frances Houghton.

Thornley is a previous World medallist in the eight and was an Olympic finalist in the same boat in 2012. Since the Games she has competed in the single scull.

Finally, Charles Cousins won the open men’s single scull. Part of a large family from Willingham in Cambridge, Cousins was also identified at school and was then coached by Adrian Cassidy as part of the Start programme.

Cousins was part of the GB Rowing Team men’s quadruple scull which won a landmark first medal – a bronze – at World Championships level last year. Cousins was part of a crew which included other Start graduates Sam Townsend and Graeme Thomas. The latter was a close second to Cousins in the weekend’s trials.

“We started this talent identification and development scheme as far back as the 2001/2002 season and it continues to pay dividends. It allows us to reach beyond the traditional and still strong pools of talent that rowing traditionally draws upon at school and university level. We can target resources effectively with the support of funding from the National Lottery”, explained Sir David Tanner, GB Rowing Team Performance Director.

The Start programme is managed by Steve Gunn who was a coach with the GB Rowing Team for many years and who coached the Searle brothers and cox Garry Herbert to victory at the 1992 Olympic Games.

All six of the weekend’s Trials winners will now be pitted through further internal trials and testing against their counter-parts in the national squad until the crews for the European Championships are named on May 14th.

The Trials at Caversham at the weekend were raced in a single day rather than the planned two due to forecast heavy and gusty winds.

In the lightweight divisions, Jamie Kirkwood and Kat Copeland (also a Start graduate through Tees RC but who had learnt to row before joining the programme) were the single scull winners.