WHEN Jo Wratten and Beth Bryan were schoolmates at Egglescliffe School, their thoughts were hardly by dominated by rowing.

“I wasn’t really into any kind of sport,” said Wratten. “I just didn’t really think it was for me. I wasn’t fussed about PE, and I don’t even think I’d heard of Tees Rowing Club.

“I think Beth was pretty much the same. The thought of getting into a boat on the Tees had never even crossed our mind until someone came to visit the school as part of British Rowing’s Start programme.

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“They were basically looking for a bunch of tall, long-armed girls who might have been suited to rowing. They picked me and Beth, and we thought we’d give it a go.”

Almost a decade on, and it is safe to say they are doing more than ‘giving it a go’ now. Next week, the pair will compete in the European Rowing Championships at Racice, in the Czech Republic, having been promoted to British Rowing’s senior squad in the wake of last summer’s Olympics.

Wratten will be part of a new-look women’s eight that will attempt to live up to the British boat that secured the European title last summer before going on to claim an Olympic bronze in Rio. Bryan, a former Youth Olympic medallist herself, will be part of the women’s quadruple sculls crew.

They compete in different disciplines, but in most other ways, their lives remain every bit as intertwined as they were when they were sharing a classroom. They live together close to British Rowing’s high-performance training base in Caversham, on the banks of the Thames, and are proud members of a Tees Rowing Club graduation group that also features Kat Copeland, Olympic gold medallist in 2012 and still a key member of the British team.

“It’s mad that we’ve been on this whole journey together,” said Wratten. “It’s mad, but it’s great because it means I’ve got my best friend beside me with whatever I’m doing.

“I think it’s helped both of us because we’ve been able to support each other. We were doing that when we training at Tees, and we’re still doing it now. It could have been really difficult to leave the North-East and come somewhere completely new, but it hasn’t really been like that for us and I think that’s made the whole settling in thing so much easier.

“Kat was obviously down here already too, so we’ve got a proper Teesside group going on. We even persuaded the chef here at Caversham to put on parmos for the whole of the team the other week – that was probably our greatest achievement since we’ve been here!”

Greater feats undoubtedly lie ahead, with both Wratten and Bryan having been identified as hopefuls for Tokyo 2020 as a new Olympic cycle begins.

A lot can change over the course of four years, with some established Olympians currently taking time out before making an expected return to the group in a couple of years’ time. But strong performances now can still make a big difference when it comes to influencing the selectors’ decisions in 2020.

“It’s massively exciting to be part of such a successful team,” said Bryan, who at 24 is one year younger than Wratten. “You come into training and wherever you look, there are people who have won Olympic medals or world titles.

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FOUR-SOME TALENTS: Beth Bryan (left) will be part of the quadruple sculls crew that represents Great Britain at the European Rowing Championships

“We’re part of that now, and we know we have to live up to it. That’s a massive inspiration because you want to emulate those people and make sure British Rowing continues to be the huge success it has been for the last 20 or 30 years.

“There’s always a bit of a transition in the year after the Olympics, and that’s what’s happening now. Some great people have retired or left, but there’s a new generation coming through that want to take their place and win things too.

“Even Sir David Tanner (British Rowing’s performance director) was saying there’s a real sense of youthful energy about the team at the moment. Hopefully, the European Championships will be the start of turning that energy into results.”

Bryan’s quad confirmed their potential as they claimed a bronze medal at the season’s opening World Cup on Lake Varese earlier this month, and as well as renewing rivalries against the crews that beat them – Poland and the Netherlands – they will also encounter the reigning Olympic champions, Germany, at the Europeans.

“We feel as though things are slowly coming together,” said Bryan. “Although we also know we’ve still got a long way to go.

“Different crews are at different levels, and whereas some European nations regard the European Championships as the peak of their season, we tend to use it as more of a building block towards the Worlds.

“Even so, we know we need to keep chipping away at the Poles and the Dutch so we can get past them. Then, it’ll be interesting to see where we’re at in relation to the Germans.”

For Wratten’s eight, next week’s championships should provide an early opportunity to claim some silverware before a much greater test arrives at the end of the summer when the World Championships bring them into contact with an all-conquering US crew.

“We know we have a lot to live up to because last year’s boat (which featured Durham’s Jess Eddie) was probably the best eight in the history of the British team.

“What they did when they won an Olympic medal was incredible, but we have some returning Olympians as well as some younger rowers like myself who have come up from the Under-23s.

“It’s a good blend, but in a boat with as many different constituents as the eight, you don’t bring things together overnight. It takes time, but we can already see we’re improving and making progress. Hopefully, that’ll be reflected in our performances at the Europeans.”