Highlight 8# of the decade: U23 rowers’ gold rush at Sarasota

Britain’s U23 rowers gave a dazzling display at the U23 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida, topping the medal table with six golds and two silvers


At number eight in our highlights of the decade are the GB U23 team who achieved their best-ever result at the U23 World Rowing Championships last July.

Pete Sheppard, GB U23 Chief Coach, adds more context to the U23 team’s standout performances, saying: “The results in Sarasota will hopefully be significant in setting up our 2024 Olympic campaign for Paris with the next generation of successful Olympians having a winning mindset already.”

Rewind to July 2019 when 50 rowers from 21 different clubs around the country represented GB at the U23 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida.

With the mercury soaring into the 30s at the Sarasota-Bradenton course, Britain’s U23 crews produced a series of scorching performances, collecting gold medals in the men’s and women’s quadruple sculls, lightweight women’s single sculls, women’s and men’s four and men’s eight. The men’s coxed four and women’s eight brought home silvers contributing to GB’s first-ever pole position on the U23 World Championships medal table with 40 medal-winning athletes.

Three of Britain’s sculling crews returned home as world champions. The men’s quad with George Bourne, Matthew Haywood, Josh Armstrong and Sam Meijer, coached by Kieran Clark of Tideway Scullers School, led their race for the final kilometre to retain their world championship title.

Britain’s U23 crews produced a series of scorching performances

Meijer is now a three-time U23 world champion after winning gold in the quadruple sculls in 2018 and double sculls in 2017.

Meanwhile, the women’s sculling team earned two stylish gold medals in the women’s quad and the lightweight single sculls.

Coached by U23 Chief Coach Pete Sheppard, the quad featured three GB 23 debutantes – Lola Anderson, Ella Toa and Molly Harding – with Lucy Glover the only crew member to have raced at a U23 World Championships before. A sprint finish saw the GB boat pass a faltering Dutch crew in the last 250m to cross the line first, ahead of Germany and Romania.

Lightweight single sculler Susannah Duncan had an exceptional competition, setting the fastest qualifying time in Friday’s semi-finals, with Germany’s Johanna Reichardt in second and Austria’s Lara Tiefenthaler third. The final finished the same way with Duncan winning gold and the German and Austrian taking silver and bronze respectively.

The men’s quad led their race for the final kilometre to retain their world championship title

There were stellar performances from the sweep squad too, with British crews claiming three golds and two silvers.

Coached by former GB rower Richard Chambers, the men’s four of David Ambler, Thomas Digby, Freddie Davidson and Charles Elwes led their race from start to finish, crossing the line half a second ahead of the New Zealand crew.

In the men’s eight, returning U23 silver medallists David Bewicke-Copley, Leonard Jenkins, Harvey Kay, William Stewart and Felix Drinkall (from the 2018 men’s four) were joined by Henry Blois-Brooke, Callum Sullivan, Matthew Rowe and cox Vlad Saigau.

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Coached by Brian Young of University of London BC, the eight recorded the fastest time in the heats. And in the final they were outstanding, leading from start to finish ahead of a stacked US crew with returning gold medallists – going one better this year with another amazing gold for GB.

The men’s coxed four were also in superb form, putting on an extraordinary final sprint to clinch silver in a race where less than a second separated the top three crews. Henry Jones, Oscar Lindsay, Casper Woods, Cormac Molloy and Scott Cockle, coached by Hugo Gulliver of University of London BC, finished just 0.09 seconds behind Australia.

In women’s sweep, GB crews brought home a gold and silver with the women’s four crossing the line half a length ahead of the Irish in their final. Coached by John Higson of Edinburgh University BC, Lydia Currie, Hope Cessford, Lauren Irwin and Alex Rankin narrowly missed out on directly qualifying for their final but won their repêchage in style.

Everyone from rowers and coaches to physios played their part in producing so many impressive performances

In the final race of the regatta, the women’s eight took silver with Megan Slabbert, Sophie Paine, Hannah Scott, Holly Dunford, Lucy Edmunds, Alexandra Watson, Margaret Saunders, Johanna Gannon and Autumn Mackay on board, coached by Lauren Fisher of the GB Rowing Team. A tight race early on was won by the Netherlands with GB holding off a fast-finishing US crew to secure the silver medal and put GB at the top of the medal table.

Summing up, Sheppard said: “It was a great team effort and everyone from rowers and coaches to physios played their part in producing so many impressive performances.

In particular, it was good to see an outstanding contribution from our funded high performance centres, who between them supported 17 of the 40 medallists, with Edinburgh, Durham, Newcastle and Oxford Brookes universities being the leading contributors.

“All our crews delivered what they had promised in training. It was also pleasing to see all their hard work rewarded and to have so much strength in depth.

The foundations are hopefully there now to build on further as we look ahead to Tokyo 2020 and beyond. The challenge for 2020 in Bled will be to repeat these performances with so many returning medallists.”

See more of our highlights of the decade: numbers 6 to 10