Record number of North-East rowers in GB squad

MEDAL WINNER: Kat Copeland, pictured after winning a bronze medal with her new partner, Imogen Walsh, at this year's European Championships

MEDAL WINNER: Kat Copeland, pictured after winning a bronze medal with her new partner, Imogen Walsh, at this year's European Championships

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

SIR DAVID TANNER has claimed the record number of North-East rowers in the British squad for next month’s World Championships augurs well for the future of the sport.

Seven rowers from the region have been selected to compete in Amsterdam, a record total that reflects the strides that British Rowing has taken in the last few years to spread out from its traditional South-Eastern base.

Olympic champion Kat Copeland leads the North-East contingent, and the 23-year-old should become the region’s first rowing world champion if she maintains the form that saw her claim two World Cup titles this summer along with her new lightweight double partner Imogen Walsh.

Durham’s Jess Eddie will team up with Richmond’s Zoe Lee in the women’s eight, another boat that should be in medal contention, while Yarm’s Tina Stiller has been selected in the quadruple scull.

In the men’s events, Durham’s Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell is part of a men’s eight that should have an outside shot at winning gold, with Chester-le-Street’s Will Fletcher teams up with Creswell’s Jamie Kirkwood in the lightweight double scull.

“It’s fantastically positive to have rowers from so many different parts of the country competing in the team,” said Tanner, who is British Rowing’s performance director. “There are some great accents around, which says a lot about the diversity of the squad and the sport.

“That’s great for the future, and to a significant extent, it’s a product of some of the work that we’ve been doing with initiatives like Start, that has spread rowing right across the country.

“We have a very successful Start scheme on the Tees, and you’re seeing the effect of that with some of the rowers from that region that are coming through. We also have similarly successful schemes in Manchester and Scotland.

“We need to grow the sport in order to discover new talent, and we’re doing that. Our concept is to try to draw from the whole population as much as we can.”

Having failed to compete in the last World Championships because she was taking a year’s break in the wake of her Olympic success, Copeland is determined to add the world title to the Olympic crown she claimed in London.

She only began rowing with Walsh at the start of the season, but the pair’s World Cup victories in Aigubelette and Lucerne mean they will start as firm favourites when the action begins in Amsterdam on August 24.

“I feel like we’ve improved as the season has gone on, but we know there’s still an awful lot more to come from us as a pairing,” said Copeland. “It’s nice to have won World Cup titles, but the big competition for the year was always going to be the World Championships and that’s where the standard is going to be at its highest. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”

Tanner has set a team target of between three and six World Championship medals in the Olympic-class events, but there is no place on the team for 2012 bronze medallist Alan Campbell, who will undergo some medical tests after a series of below-par displays in the World Cup single scull events.

* Tomorrow’s Saturday Spotlight is an exclusive in-depth interview with Kat Copeland, in which she reflects on her Olympic success two years on and turns her sights towards the defence of her title in Rio in 2016.

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