#WSW2017: ‘We’ve got fabulous role models in women’s rowing, and there always have been’

Chief Coach for the GB Rowing Team women’s, Paul Thompson, explains why talented female rowers should consider pursuing the elite pathway


Photo: Naomi Baker

As female participation in rowing continues to rise, GB Rowing Team coaches are encouraging the next generation of Olympic champions to put themselves forward for the challenge to aspire to join the best athletes in the country.

Under the guidance of Chief Coach Paul Thompson, Great Britain has developed into one of the top female rowing nations in the world. Indeed GB was the top performing women’s rowing nation at the last two Olympics. Heather Stanning and Helen Glover won GB’s first gold in women’s rowing at London 2012 – one of three golds for the squad that year – and backed it up four years later.

Dame Katherine Grainger, meanwhile, holds the title of GB’s most decorated female Olympian, with a gold and four silvers from her 20 years at the top of the sport.

“People can see the wonderful performances the women’s rowers have delivered and they run alongside the fabulous tradition of the results that the men get. I’m really proud that the women are doing as well as they are, and long may it continue,” he said.

“We’ve just got fabulous role models in women’s rowing, and there always have been. We’ve got some exceptionally impressive people who have come through rowing and really contributed to British sport – Dame Di Ellis, Annamarie Phelps and now Katherine Grainger is up there.

“We’ve also got Sarah Winckless, who’s Chef de Mission for the England Commonwealth Games team, there are lots of athletes who have come through the sport being fantastic role models who have also moved into influential positions within rowing and have been successful in business and life.”

“I’m really proud that the women are doing as well as they are, and long may it continue”

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Rowing is one of the few mainstream sports that can boast a near 50/50 split in gender participation, with 45 per cent of British Rowing members being female.

At university level, the participation split is equal, while expanding the age bracket to 19-24 sees more females rowing than males. At J14 the split is almost equal, which bodes well for the future of women’s rowing.

With many people learning to row at university, Thompson and his fellow coaches appreciate that not all of them immediately aspire to reach the highest level of the sport.

But the Chief Coach does believe that many rowers are of a sufficient standard to be considered for the senior team, but aren’t aware of the opportunity on offer or how to pursue it.

“Most people don’t get into the sport because they want to be world or Olympic champions,” Thompson said. “Those that do will find a high performance club or the World Class Start programme. But there are a lot of women rowing for a whole bunch of different reasons who don’t appreciate they have the talent to be on a pathway for international success.

“One of the real challenges for our sport is connecting the pathway for the people out there; inspiring them and engaging them in the pathway.

“We’ve got an open assessment in October, where we do ergos and 5km time trials. We look there for new talent coming in. Anyone can turn up to it and I’d encourage as many people as possible to come along to chance their arm.”

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He added: “It’s a fantastically challenging and rewarding opportunity to be the best you can be. We’ve got a really good women’s squad; we’ve just come back from [World Rowing Cup II in] Poznan where the women’s eight won a silver medal.

“Three members of that eight have recently come straight into the squad from clubs. Vicky Thornley continues to be right up the top end of the single scull. We really offer that challenge, reward and camaraderie that comes with going around the world and trying to be the best in the world.”

Find out more about rowing for Great Britain and the pathways into the GB Rowing Team by clicking here