Gregory talks of excitement of Brit Champs

The second day of the British Rowing Championships at Nottingham will be shortened after blustery conditions forced event organisers to cancel the semi-finals and Para-rowing races.

Conditions were tough during the morning’s time trials, with Olympic and World fours champion Alex Gregory saying there were plenty of “white horses” for the first 750m.

However, that did not prevent Gregory and his Leander A team-mates of Chris Bartley, Richard Chambers, Matthew Gotrel, Phelan Hill, Matt Langridge, Adam Neill, Peter Reed and cox Edward Rippon registering the fastest time in the men’s eight, ahead of Oxford Brookes University and Molesey BC.

“That was probably our best performance so far this weekend,” said Gregory, who was in the Leander A crew which finished fifth in yesterday’s fours final.

“It felt good – there was real excitement in the crew. In those conditions you never know what is going to happen, there is brinksmanship as well as racing so it makes it a little more exciting. There are white horses for the first 750m but that’s our sport. 

“I’m really enjoying the weekend. It’s good for us international athletes to get to mix with the club rowers, we get so little opportunity to even go back to our clubs and chat to the young guys aspiring to be internationals or who just enjoy rowing.

“It’s a great opportunity to be outside our GB bubble and get back to what rowing is all about. That’s the whole idea behind this event, I think, to broaden the sport.

“It also gives people the chance to see that getting to the top is not out of reach – it’s not so long ago that I was desperately trying and failing to get through the trial system to get in the GB team.”

His sentiments were echoed by fellow London 2012 medalist Alan Campbell who swapped the single sculls for sweeping with the Tideway Scullers men’s eight.

“I will be sculling this season but I just wanted to go back to my club, jump in with the crew and have a bit of fun,” he said. “I’m the inexperienced kid getting all the abuse for pulling the bad strokes from the more experienced sweepers at the club.

I really enjoyed yesterday as well, we had a scratch four that only started rowing together on Wednesday night. We managed to move from 15th in the time trial to winning the C final, so we were really happy about that.

“This weekend is about getting to row with my mates and wear the red and yellow of Tideway Scullers. I don’t get that opportunity too often. Rowing with one oar is a bit different for me as well but a change is as good as a rest.”

Another international gaining a new experience was Grace Clough, the Para-rowing World Champion in coxed four who represented Nottingham RC in a combined women’s eight with Boston.

“It was my first-ever race further than 1k so it was a good experience,” she said. “The conditions weren’t very good, though. At the start it is all over the place, it was like being on the sea.

“I’m enjoying being with my club rather than the Para squad, it is a completely different atmosphere. This is my first time representing Nottingham and I’m really glad I’m able to do so, on home water as well.”

The name Clough is, of course, synonymous with Nottingham and Grace said: “We train at Trent Bridge near the Brian Clough Stand – our coach jokes all the time about having a big name in the crew.”

A vastly-experienced Leander Club crew consisting of Karen Bennett, Rosamund Bradbury, Pippa Whittaker, Katherine Douglas, Katie Greves, Louisa Reeve, Monica Relph, Polly Swann and cox Zoe de Toledo set the fastest of 6:23.6, some 17 seconds quicker than Imperial College London. The Newcastle University eight were third quickest.

Underlining the all-inclusive nature of the British Championships was the presence of a composite school team, all under the age of 16 – and they loved the experience.

King’s Ely pupil Christina Fialova said: “On the way up, we were quite nervous because we saw Leander going fast but then you look at their crew and they have so many gold medals between them.

“Unless we go on and do GB stuff, this is probably the only time we will line up against people with Olympic medals, which is a nice feeling.

“I’ve been rowing at Nottingham since I was 13 and they were the worst conditions I have raced in, there were waves everywhere. I think we coped quite well.”

Class-mate Eloise Curtis added: “It’s really exciting to go up against people at that level and a bit surreal as well. We train in our little sports hall and then you look across and see the GB rowers.

“It’s motivational as well. We haven’t had chance to speak to any of them yet – we saw Helen Glover and are probably going to stalk them this afternoon!

“As a boat club we don’t have a lot of girl representation so it’s really good we do these big composite crew boats. We’re quite a small team and very young, so it’s nice to know we have that in the region.”

They may be more used to sweeping than sculling but the composite crew of Helen Glover, Heather Stanning, Jess Eddie and Zoe Lee – fresh from yesterday’s fours success – set the fastest time in the women’s quad ahead of Wallingford and a combined Hartpury, Gloucester and Reading University crew.

Imogen Walsh, who won World Cup gold in the lightweight doubles this year, was a last-minute replacement for Ellie Piggott as she lined up alongside Brianna Stubbs, Charlotte Taylor and Ruth Walczak in what is otherwise the GB Rowing Team lightweight women’s quad crew.

“Ellie was ill on Friday and my original quad got scratched because of illness as well,” Walsh explained. “It’s nice to mix the crews up, though, and row alongside people you wouldn’t normally get chance to.

“That was an experience, far windier than yesterday. It becomes a really big test of boat skills but there is a big element of luck involved as well, which wave you catch. It’s tough racing but at least the sun’s shining!

“It’s quite normal to do three races in a day in domestic rowing but at squad level it’s very rare to even do three races in three days, so it’s refreshing, it reminds you what you are capable of doing.”

The men’s quad saw the West Borlase School, Agecroft RC and Reading University composite crew of Rufus Biggs, Christopher Lawrie, Zak Lee-Green and Sam Townsend set the quickest time of 6:01.5 ahead of the Leander A and B crews.

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