September 5, 2016, by Lindsay Hall

From novices to European Champions in three years…

This summer saw gold medal success for our University of Nottingham Boat Club, with students Jessica Eastwood, Eleanor Ball, Amber Hickson and Freya George powering across the water in the Women’s 4 at the European University Games held in Croatia.

Three of the team had never even tried sweep rowing before coming to Nottingham and learning to row, so this has been an outstanding achievement that the boat club and university are extremely proud of.

Here the team talks about the preparation and training leading up to the games and what it felt like on the water in that crucial final…

‘Croatia 2016 – The word EUSA was one, which was thrown around in conversation since the beginning of the year. It is something, which with the right training and build up, was entirely within our reach. Yet, we still joked ‘imagine if we ACTUALLY did qualify for Croatia’. It wasn’t until the crew for BUCS regatta was set – and achieving medal winning times in training – that we believed it was possible. BUCS regatta came and went in a flash and before we knew it we had qualified for the European University Games.

The training began soon after the Henley campaign with early mornings and late night sessions which meant increased intensity and 100% focus in all sessions.

We had our ups and downs and it wasn’t until the final week of training that we believed we were flying. It was at this point when the kit arrived and the boats went that there was nothing left for us to do – aside from a slightly stressful final night of preparation where we successfully stuffed two sweep oars into a Fiat 500 in order to transport them to the trailer.

We had an early start at Heathrow airport but the Carluccios breakfast Amber had promised, set us up for the long day ahead. Arriving in Zagreb was surreal, with banners of EUSA GAMES everywhere, we felt like celebrities. But the celebrity feeling didn’t end there when we found we were staying in an Olympic style athletes village. That evening we took a walk to the lake where the event was to be held before being sidetracked to watch the euro final –we do sometimes appreciate other sports as well!

It’s the day before our heat and we still have no idea who we are racing (aside from Edinburgh who we beat at BUCS). But taking to the crystal clear water for a gentle paddle we kept an eye out for our competition. Provisionally, the draw was then published and we had no race on the Wednesday, meaning just a heat and a final, the heat being a race for lanes. This took the pressure off and gave us a chance to assess the opposition.

Nonetheless we came through the finish line second, behind the French crew and ahead of Switzerland and then Edinburgh. The French were monstrous but yet the Swiss were still in the game. The competition was tough and all to play for going into the final so we couldn’t take anything for granted.

A day off before the final meant we had some time to venture out for some real food and find a swimming pool to cool off from the blistering heat.

Taking to the water we knew what needed to be done, fly out the start, scare the French and hang onto them. Well that’s exactly what we did. France on our right, Edinburgh on our left. The French went off fast, but so did we. They gained some distance over us and made a push at 750m. Knowing this we went with them, they didn’t pull away as they may have hoped so we pushed again at 1000m. They couldn’t hang on. Just after 1000m we dug deep and clawed back at them slowly moving past. But we didn’t stop, we just kept moving! Yet it wasn’t until we had clear water at 500m to go that we realised we could win. There was no way they were coming back at us now. Coming into the red buoys, approaching the grand stand we could hear the crowds screaming as we kept moving on, crossing the line in FIRST PLACE!

Winning was surreal and crossing the line first was pure elation. We landed and couldn’t wait to see our coach, John, who we could hear shouting (rather screaming) from the bank throughout the race. Honestly I don’t think we could quite believe what we had just achieved, but the overriding memory is one of extreme pride at ourselves and outstanding accomplishment.’

The University of Nottingham Boat Club have a long tradition of excellence in rowing. Whether students are just beginning or aiming for the next Olympics, we have the high quality facilities and coaching that will help them to achieve those goals. Click here to find out more about our Performance Sport.

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