THREE North-East rowers made it on to the podium as the British team topped the medal table at the European Rowing Championships in Belgrade.
Durham’s Jess Eddie and Richmond’s Zoe Lee claimed a silver medal in the final of the women’s eight, with Olympic champion Kat Copeland winning bronze as she made her return to the international arena after a near two-year absence.
Eddie and Lee’s success was especially notable, as the make-up of the eight has changed markedly since the London Olympics. Yesterday’s performance suggests that the new boat is on track to challenge for a medal in the Rio Olympics in two years time.
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The British eight finished ahead of Germany and the Netherlands, traditionally two of the strongest crews in the event, and were closing on the winners, Romania, as the finishing line approached.
“There were so many good performances across the boat today,” said Eddie, who is a member of Durham Rowing Club. “And some very composed and consistent performances from newcomers. We should not be settling for minor medals or placings though, we should have belief.”
While Eddie was part of the eight that made it to the Olympic final in 2012, Lee has been promoted to the boat this season.
“It was so exciting as we were coming through the last 250m,” said Lee. “We could feel the momentum taking us away from Germany and the others. Jess yelled ‘belief’, and that’s what it is all about. Feeling that momentum was so great.”
Copeland’s bronze medal was a decent return from her first international outing since the Olympic final, with the Tees Rowing Club star teaming up with new partner Imogen Walsh in the lightweight double.
As was the case in Saturday’s semi-final, the British duo started slowly, but they came back strongly in the second half of the contest to move up from fourth to third and claim a medal.
The Italian pair of Laura Milani and Elizabetta Sancassani claimed gold, with the German crew repelling Copeland and Walsh’s late surge to take silver.
“The good thing is that the main bulk of the race was okay today,” said Copeland. “The sprints at the start and the finish will come eventually.”
Walsh added: “I think that’s a good start. I’m not elated about it, but I’m not devastated either.”
Durham’s Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell narrowly missed out on a bronze medal of his own as he rowed with Alan Sinclair in the men’s pair.
The British pair were in fifth position for most of the first half of the race, but moved up to fourth as they challenged Germany for a medal. With five strokes to go, it looked like they would finish third, but they were edged out by two tenths of a second in a race that saw the Serbian hosts win gold.
Yarm’s Tina Stiller finished fifth in the final of the quadruple sculls, while Northumberland’s Jamie Kirkwood and Chester-le-Street’s Will Fletcher teamed up to finish third in the B final of the lightweight double.
Britain claimed two gold medals at the Championships with the men’s four of Andrew Triggs-Hodge, George Nash, Mohamed Sbihi and Alex Gregory setting a new European-best time and the women’s pair of Helen Glover and Polly Swann adding the European title to the World crown they claimed last year.