KAT COPELAND is predicting a golden era of North-East rowing after seven of the region’s athletes were selected in the British squad for the forthcoming European Championships.
Having taken a year’s sabbatical after her 2012 Olympic success, Stokesley’s Copeland will return to international action alongside Imogen Walsh in the lightweight double, the same event that saw her become the North-East’s first ever female Olympic champion two years ago.
Copeland will be joined in the women’s squad by Durham’s Jess Eddie and Richmond’s Zoe Lee, both of whom will compete in the eight in Belgrade, and Yarm’s Tina Stiller, who forms part of the quadruple scull.
Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell, who is from Durham, will compete in the men’s pair, with Northumberland’s Jamie Kirkwood and Chester-le-Street’s Will Fletcher forming an all-North-East lightweight double for the Europeans, which take place between May 30 and June 1.
“It’s really nice to have us all together on the same team,” said Copeland. “When I was watching all the trial races, I was secretly rooting for all the northern rowers and hoping they would make the team.
“The more North-East people there are in the team, the more attention the sport will get and the more popular the local clubs will be.
“There’s no reason why the British team should be concentrated in one part of the country. We’ve got really good athletes and really good rowing clubs in the North and it’s great that’s starting to be recognised.”
Copeland’s Olympic success was a breakthrough moment for North-East rowing, and while her 2012 partner, Sophie Hosking, opted to bow out on a high, the Tees Rowing Club star is determined to make it to the 2016 Games to defend her title.
This month’s championships represent the first step on the road to Rio, and after making a late leap from under-23 level to the 2012 Olympic squad in the months preceding the London Games, it should be beneficial to be at the heart of the senior team at a much earlier stage of the current Olympic cycle.
“Two years ago, it probably helped me to be doing my own thing until just before the Olympics started,” said Copeland. “It meant I could stay under the radar a bit and avoid all the stuff that was flying around in the build-up to the Games.
“But this time around, I think it’ll do me good to have two years of hard competition before the Olympics begin. The more time you spend together as a double, the more you learn about how to row as a team, and the better you should become. Hopefully, that’s the process we’ll be following in the next two years.”
Eddie was an Olympic finalist in the eight in 2012, and is the most experienced member of a new-look crew that will feature Lee, who is now based at Imperial College.
Kirkwood and Fletcher filled the first two lightweight places at the recent British trials, and have been offered the chance to cement their place in the double for the World Championships, which take place in August.
The duo have been preferred to Olympic medallists Peter and Richard Chambers, who competed in the double for most of last season.
“The European Championships have emerged as an important event in their own right, and we are ambitious to do well in Belgrade,” said GB performance director, Sir David Tanner. “We are excited to see how our winter’s training translates into these first races before making decisions on the World Cups in June and July, and the World Championships in August.”