STAGING World Class Start talent tackles Tideway - British Rowing

World Class Start talent tackles Tideway


A trio of girls on the ARA’s World Class Start scheme, sponsored by Siemens and backed by the National Lottery, achieved a third place finish at the Women’s Head of the River, held on Saturday 7 March on the Thames.

Gemma Akers, Helen Glover and Vicky Thornley, who all train at Minerva Bath Rowing Club under the guidance of World Class Start coach Paul Stannard, were in illustrious company: the crew also featured triple Olympic silver medallist Katherine Grainger, three-time Olympian and Grainger’s partner in the 2004 Olympic women’s pair Cath Bishop, double world champion and 2004 Olympic bronze medallist Sarah Winckless and 2008 Olympian in the GB women’s eight Beth Rodford.


The crew, racing as a composite Marlow/Minerva Bath/Reading University/Thames boat, completed the course in 18 minutes, 53.33 seconds to finish third, behind another composite and a Leander crew.

“It was absolutely unbelievable,” said Akers, of the experience. “It was such a fantastic opportunity for us to be chosen to row with such legends.”

Thornley commented: “It was pretty surreal and an amazing opportunity. We’ve learned so much from it and from being around people who have done so much in the sport. 

Admitting she seized the chance to question such inspirational rowers, Thornley added: “They were really down to earth and answered all of the questions we put to them.” 

Caroline O’Connor, who coxed the GB women’s eight to fifth place at the Beijing Olympics and to bronze at the 2007 World Championships, steered the boat.

O’Connor said she has been impressed with the calibre of the three World Class Start rowers. “Helen (Glover) has only been rowing for a year, Gemma (Akers) and Vicky (Thornley) have only been rowing for 15 months or so now, but you wouldn’t have thought it – they’ve done a great job,” she said.

Meanwhile former World Class Start rower Annabel Vernon was in the London/Hollandia/Thames/Marlow/UL composite that won the Tideway-based event.

Vernon, who won an Olympic silver medal in the GB women’s quadruple scull in Beijing, had joined up with several members of the Dutch national team, including 2008 Olympic silver medallist Helen Tanger. The crew also featured New Zealand rower Juliette Haigh.