Rowing gold the aim for 2012

  • Oxford Brookes University Boat Club (OBUBC) has produced some of the finest rowers in the world.

    Rowing crew in training

    Rowing crew in training

    Since Sydney in 2000 our rowers have won five gold, five silver and one bronze medal at Olympic regattas.

    At London 2012, James Roe picked up the university's first Paralympic gold medal.

    Producing Olympians isn't easy, yet Brookes has done so time after time. The first Brookes golds were won by Fred Scarlett, Ben Hunt-Davis and cox Rowley Douglas in the men's eights.

    Steve Williams followed that up with gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics in the men's coxless four - successfully defending the title in Beijing.

    The silver medal-winning men's eights at Beijing in 2008 included four Oxford Brookes rowers - Al Heathcote, Tom Lucy and Alex Partridge. Matt Langridge, who studied at Brookes briefly, also rowed in that squad.

    Carla Ashford, Richard Chambers, Caroline O'Connor and Tom Parker all represented Great Britain at Beijing.

    At London 2012, Richard Chambers and his brother Peter won silver in an incredible race in the lightweight men's fours.

    Alex Partridge added to his silver medal with a bronze while Caroline O'Connor again represented Team GB coxing the women's eight.

    Elite performance

    So what does it take to build the world's best rowers?

    The boat club has about 50 elite athletes (five of whom represent Great Britain) split into three tiers: the high performance rowers coached by Henry Bailhache-Webb, a central group of advanced athletes and the development squad comprised of talented novices.

    Brookes' growing status attracts elite schoolboy champions.

    Athletes train up to 25 a week, depending on their experience, and whether stepping into a boat for the first time or arriving at Brookes as fully fledged junior internationals, they become part of the most powerful undergraduate unit in the UK.

    Humble beginnings

    All this success began from an inauspicious start. The forerunner team of OBUBC began life in the early 1970s renting rack space in whichever Oxford boathouse would offer room.

    Throughout the 1980s, the club moved home regularly and, although the squad was steadily improving, the lack of a permanent base and coach before 1991 was telling.

    The arrival of Richard Spratley, the coaching director, speeded up the important process of finding a home.

    Cholsey near Wallingford was eventually chosen for the quality of the river, if not the boathouse that once stood there.

    Once described as a cowshed, that building (with a leaky tin roof, crumbling walls and no shower) has been replaced with a purpose-built facility.

    Video of Steve Williams winning gold at Beijing.