Emily Simmons (third from left above) and Abi Smith (front row 4th from left below) from Henley Rowing Club were part of the GB U19 team to win the Coupe de la Jeunesse for the second year in a row last weekend in Amsterdam.
Emily who won the Herald’s Young Sporting Superstar award this year competed in the Coxless Four and won 2 silver medals and Abi in the Eight won 2 gold medals.
Both girls started trialling for the GB team last September with time trials on ergos and then out on the water in Boston over 2 weekends. There were then further trials in Nottingham in the Spring and then seat racing ranking over 4 days. The week after Henley Royal where the girls competed in the Wargrave Cup (JW8+) they then had five days of further seat races (over 20+ races) over 1500m before finally being selected.
Emily started rowing when she was 13 after taking a learn to row summer course when she was 12. Emily said, “I had friends already rowing so I went along. I thought I would try it but I didn’t know whether I would like it. I was really excited when I was selected as I didn’t think I would be. It was quite a shock.” Emily’s first big win was in the National Schools Regatta in J16 8+. Emily and Abi won the Tideway Four Heads together last November in a record time.
Abi who lives in Ascot only started rowing in Year 11. She said, “I saw a family friend competing in the boat race and I wanted to be her. I rowed at Staines Rowing Club for the first year and they nurtured my love for the sport. It is however a very small club and I knew if I wanted the standard of rowing and coaching I needed to move to Henley. I now go to Henley College so I train after College. I was ecstatic when I was selected as the plan was to get to go to Coupe next year as I thought I was too inexperienced. “
Emily said, “We only had 2 weeks together and then straight into race so we were really happy how we did. We had to go through a heat to get to the A final each day at the Regatta. The conditions were windy and quite rough. We were beaten by Poland on both days by 2 secs on the Saturday and 3 secs on Sunday. We were ahead of Poland on the Sunday at 500m.”
Describing the Eight races, Abi said, “On the Saturday we won by nearly 6 secs comfortably leading out of the block. At 750m we did a big push. It was a lot more relaxed than the Sunday where the Italians had an incredible fast start. We wondered what they had eaten over night! They were still leading with 400m to go so we put on a massive sprint to win. One of our coaches said afterwards, I didn’t know you had the sprint in you – we replied nor did we! Beforehand we thought we wouldn’t win so it was a massive surprise. On Sunday it was much more rewarding as we had to work hard for the win. It was much more of a relief – we didn’t want to go from gold to silver. It was incredible to part of the team to win overall. It was a record number of medals for the GB team.”
Looking ahead, both girls are looking at American Universities for rowing. Abi hopes to get into the U19 GB team again either for the Coupe or the Worlds next year. Abi added, “I’ve got 100% taste for it so I want to do it again.”