Olympic silver medallist Zoë Lee announces her retirement from rowing
Zoë was part of the first ever women’s eight to win an Olympic medal for Great Britain
Olympic silver medallist Zoë Lee has called time on her rowing career after an incredible nine years representing Great Britain on the world stage.
Zoë’s Olympic success came at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as part of the women’s eight. A thrilling Olympic final saw the crew in sixth, and last, place at the halfway point, holding their nerve to row through for silver and claim the first ever Olympic medal for a British women’s eight.
“Rio was definitely the highlight for me,” Zoë said. “That whole summer with the crew was just amazing!”
Zoë’s Olympic feat was all the more impressive given that she also completed her PhD in March of 2016. Her doctorate in environmental dynamics, specifically the role of turbulence in aeolian sand transport, instructed her ambitions for a life beyond rowing.
“I’d always planned to retire after Tokyo,” Zoë said, “and the postponement didn’t change that. I’m looking forward to life post-rowing and am currently working as a sustainability consultant for the all-electric racing series Formula E.”
Having never rowed before university and refusing initially to even try rowing while she focused on earning her ‘Blue’ in netball, Zoë took up the sport while reading geography at Hertford College, Oxford. Before long, she had stroked Oxford to victory in the 2008 Boat Race and the same crew was the first ever university crew to win the Women’s Eights Head of the River.
After winning gold for Great Britain at the FISU World University Championships, Zoë was selected for the women’s eight at the 2011 and 2012 European Championships, finishing fourth in Plovdiv and winning bronze in Varese. In the 2013 season, Zoë gained her first selection into the senior GB Rowing Team, initially into the women’s quad (for the World Cup series), a boat category she again competed in during the 2018 season after returning from season ending knee surgery in 2017. It was the eight, however, in which she would enjoy most of her success, taking home a total of 12 international medals.
Zoë was once again selected in the women’s eight for the 2019 season and finished fifth at the 2019 World Rowing Championships, gaining that all-important qualification spot for the Tokyo Olympic Games as she had done four years earlier.
She became part of Imperial College BC while completing her PhD at King’s College London and said the boat club has been “incredible” in supporting her through her GB career.
British Rowing Director of Performance Brendan Purcell said: “Zoë’s achievements within the sport have been outstanding. Her leadership skills as an athlete were hugely valuable and she’ll be missed in the squad.”
GB women’s sweep coach James Harris, who coached Zoë and the eight to their medal in Rio, said: “Zoe should be very proud of her career with the GB Rowing Team. The fact that she managed to complete her PhD and win an Olympic medal in the same year is testament to her work ethic and commitment and she has brought a huge amount to every crew she has been part of.
“I am very sorry to see her go but am sure she will have great success with whatever she does in the future.”