Twickenham Rowing Club’s World Class Start centre is aiming for more international success following an exceptional comeback summer.
A triple win on Saturday 9 October at the Reading Small Boats Head for Callum Dixon, Vwairé Obukohwo and Héloïse Wormleighton is the latest in a string of impressive achievements that their coach Helen Brown hopes will continue.
Dixon, 21, who won gold in September at the European Under-23 Rowing Championships in just his fourth competitive race, took first place in the open sculls band 1, while Obukohwo and Wormleighton were victorious in the women’s sculls band 1 and 2 respectively.
The wins will offer encouragement to Brown, who runs the talent identification squad, ahead of Team GB trials in early November.
For high-performance sailor-turned-rower Dixon, trials will be another opportunity to be selected for the Under-23 World Championship squad, an event which he unfortunately missed in June, after a roommate came into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.
This setback only added further motivation when he was part of a Twickenham quad that made it to the final of the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, and this was followed up by a commanding performance in Poland to clinch gold last month.
“This isn’t normal for someone who has just learnt to row,” said GB coach Brown. “Even after 18 normal months you would not expect someone to be selected internationally.
“Give credit to him, he is a rare individual.
“He managed to get himself to that point and he is fiercely determined to get to the very top of our sport.”
Next Thursday he will be competing against a GB Olympian from Tokyo and other experienced internationals in the historic Wingfield Sculls event over the Championship Course for the crown of British Amateur Sculling champion.
Another athlete looking to break into the Under-23 GB squad is Obukohwo, 20, who prior to recruitment in 2018 was not aware of any sporting potential and couldn’t even swim.
In July she made history at her first ever regatta, securing Twickenham’s first win at Henley for 137 years in the women’s aspirational single sculls event.
She said: “My mum was having the best time.
“She was screaming around at Henley Women’s ‘That’s my daughter!’”
But for Brown, her pride is matched by teaching Obukohwo in the swimming pool back in 2019.
She said: “That was probably one of my most meaningful achievements as a coach.
“You need that confidence, you need to be comfortable if you capsize that you know what to do and be safe.”
Obukohwo added: “It was really clear Helen cared.
“I feel like most coaches would be just: ‘Oh go learn to swim’.
“But I think she saw, and she still sees that it’s something that kind of holds me back in comparison with other athletes.”
Brown, who coached at her first international in July swiftly followed by her crew’s gold in Kruszwica, has had a tremendous impact on the squad’s continuing success, with marked boundaries set between hard work and fun, and a coaching style focused on clear communication.
Obukohwo said: “I quite like that energy because it’s not too faffy, not too wishy-washy and not anything that’s going to be confusing. She says it as it is.
“It’s also cool because when I have the most self-doubt, like the most self-doubt, she’ll still be there saying ‘No you can do it. Keep on pushing on.’
“She teaches me about who I want to be, not only as an athlete but as a human being: hard-working, determined, self-disciplined.”
Obukohwo, who is studying finance and economics at Royal Holloway alongside her rowing, has the next Olympic games in her sights, but knows it may come too soon for her stage of development.
She added: “If I went to Paris 2024 that would be incredible, but I know that wouldn’t be me as my best self so I’m not putting all my eggs in that basket.
“There’s plenty of time.”
Anyone interested in applying for World Class Start can find details here.