The Boat Race cox and GB star tells Nick Butler about races, records and inspiration...
Ed spent the last year combining his Natural Sciences degree at Pembroke with coxing the Boat Race squad to victory last year. This year he has stood down from selection and instead competed for GB at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival last month...
Describe your time in Australia.
It was great to be part of the GB under-20 team for the Festival. I already knew a lot of the rowers from competing for GB previously so there was a good atmosphere in the group despite the 46C heat! Meeting athletes from other sports in the village was also nice as it's something you would only be able to do otherwise at a real Olympics. The team's performance overall at the regatta was very strong, particularly for the sculling. My event was the last two races in the eight. Despite winning our heat with the fastest time we geared the blades a little heavier for the final. There was a bit of a head wind and unfortunately in the last 500m we were out sprinted for silver by New Zealand. Bronze wasn't perfect but it was good development and learning for all of us.
How does competing in the Boat Race compare with Rowing for GB?
The Boat Race is tough because all the training takes place through the winter, and Ely isn't the nicest place during those months! There is also a lot of pressure because you only have one race to get it right. In an international regatta (for GB) you race a heat first so you can gauge your opposition and it's also a great feeling to be a part of the national team and to wear your country's vest.
How was last year's boat race?
I felt a lot of pressure during the race, particularly as we were the underdogs and we knew it would require a special performance to win. The swimmer stopping the race actually had a positive effect on our crew because almost all of us had been in a similar situation before (with a race that was stopped in New Zealand in September). I just kept saying what we should do when the race restarted.
What were your feelings when the race finished?
Whilst I was overjoyed at the fact we had actually crossed the line first, I was also a little anxious given what had happened. Lingering in my mind was the thought that if the umpire decided we were responsible for the clash that caused one of Oxfords oars to break, then we could be disqualified. I was also physically exhausted and a little spaced out from not eating or drinking much beforehand! I remember giving a shaky interview to 5 live whilst having no idea what was going around me, particularly about Alex Woods in the Oxford crew who had collapsed.
What made you withdraw from selection this year?
Competing at the Youth Olympic Festival was a unique opportunity that I won't have again, and it wasn't possible to do both. I was also feeling academic pressure so I think it was the right choice. It was a tough decision and I haven't ruled out attending trials in the future. The squad this year is very talented with a lot of depth and competition which is always a good thing. With the Boat Race though you're never safe and Oxford have an equally formidable squad.
What is the camaraderie like within the Rowing club?
The camaraderie is great particularly at Cambridge because we have such a diverse and interesting squad, with rowers from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany etc you get the idea. Everyone sticks to the same program but we have a great role model in Club President George Nash who leads by example.
What is the most outrageous thing you have ever said to a crew?
I'm normally quite conservative but on our way to a gold medal at National Schools aged 14, I remember barking ‘Balls Out! Bury them!' Something I quoted from our legendary coach at the time.
How do you find combining rowing with everything else?
I find balancing rowing with academics extremely hard. It's hard for me to sit down and work when I've just been concentrated for a 20k paddle on the water. I have also sacrificed social life a lot - fresher's week didn't really exist for me! Other big sacrifices are sleep and holidays!
How gruelling is your training?
It's tough! For a cox it's not so much a physical challenge but rather a mental one. Consistently coxing to a good standard (which I didn't always do!) requires lengthy concentration so I'd often get back in the evening feeling mentally drained. You are also required to attend all training sessions so the time commitment is still significant.
How did you get into Rowing and weren't you a Wakeboarding record breaker as well?
Wakeboarding the Channel for charity felt like it would go on forever and that France would never appear. It did though and it was great to prove friends wrong who thought I'd fail! I started wakeboarding around the same time I started rowing at about 13. But this would only be for 2 weeks a year in the summer so it wasn't a main sport but more a hobby that I enjoyed. I learnt to scull when I was 12 and then dabbled in coxing age 13 at school, but I only started taking rowing serious in my lower sixth. Later that school year (2010) I trialled for the GB junior team and went to the Junior World Championships.
Who is your biggest inspiration and did you watch the Olympic Rowing?
My former coach at school, John Gearing, because he taught me how rowers can move boats fast and as such was the biggest factor in my development into a decent cox. The success of the GB Rowing Team at the Olympics was fantastic and I was lucky enough to go to watch on two of the days. Most impressive was the superb bronze that our own George Nash won in the pair with Will Satch!
Will you ever be at the Olympics?
I'd love to go to the Olympics but it would be tricky. Because it's a four year cycle I would need to effectively leave my Cambridge degree at some point to start training with the senior squad full time. However, it would be a risk because there are other people who want that place in the team so as the seat is not guaranteed I'd be reluctant to do this. For now I'm going to stay in the U-23 system and see how that pans out. It might be that I end up too heavy to cox at that elite level and I don't think it's worth dieting to keep coxing. I would rather switch to a different sport!