Successful swansong to a glittering career
Published at 09:11, Monday, 27 August 2012
MATT Wells bowed out of international competition by finishing first in a talented field of Olympic rowers.
In the hugely successful Matt Wells Jubilee Sprint Regatta, organised to mark his retirement after appearing at four Olympic Games, the 33-year-old claimed victory from the 10 Olympic rowers competing at Tyne Green, in Hexham.
He said, rather sheepishly: “It was always going to be tight but I think the Olympians were always going to let me win! They all said they didn’t. But, because it was my event, I think they all wanted me to win.”
Lining up for the celebratory event were 10 rowers who had competed in the Olympics, including London 2012 bronze medalists Alan Campbell, James Foad and Matthew Langridge.
Foreign competition was provided by French double Cederic Berrest and Julien Bahain, Estonian Kaspar Taimsoo and German Christian Schreiber.
The aim of the regatta was to bring a taste of the Olympics to Matt’s home town of Hexham, and it was a massive success with over 3,500 people descending on Tyne Green to take in the day’s action.
In total, there were 16 Olympians in attendance as Along with the 10 competing, the London 2012 gold medal winning double of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking were among others mingling with the crowd, happy to sign autographs and have their photographs taken.
Following the remarkable success of the British rowing team at London, Matt and his friends are hoping a new generation of local people will be inspired after meeting the Olympians in the flesh.
He said: “My original plan was to have eight scullers come up here, but it just snowballed. In the end, there were 16 Olympians there and that is pretty impressive for any venue to have that quality there.
“It was a phenomenal turn-out and it was surprising because we weren’t sure if people would be as excited as the rowers about the event.
“But everybody looked like they were enjoying themselves and we hope we can inspire some people to become Olympians, even if not in rowing.
“Having a massive community like Tynedale, which has been so supportive, behind me throughout my career has been great, and I am pleased I could give something back.
“It has always been about taking my last stroke at the place where I took my first, and it was such an emotionally charged day for me.”
On the back of the success of the regatta, the former Queen Elizabeth High School Rowing Club member has launched a foundation to help young local rowers develop their career.
Each year, a sum of money will be go to a person of school age showing great promise in the sport to help them on their path to a budding rowing career, perhaps even following in Matt’s Olympic footsteps.
From taking an oar to Tyne Green in 1993, he has enjoyed a remarkable career and reflects fondly on being at the top of the game for so long.
He has an Olympic bronze medal, gained at Beijing 2008, to his name, as well as the honour of being a World U23 and a World Junior champion.
“I am disappointed that I never won the big one, the Olympic gold. However I have achieved many firsts in British rowing,” said Matt.
“I have always set myself goals along the way, wanting to be the best in my age group when at school, then best in the school and county. The next step was to get into the GB team and win medals then championships, and I had targeted an Olympic gold.
“If we hadn’t changed it around and put me in the quadruple sculls from the doubles, then that may have been a real possibility.”
Now that he has called it a day on his competitive rowing career, he is relishing the opportunity of taking a coaching role and transforming the fortunes of Monkton Coombe School, in Bath.
Appointed director of rowing there, his aim is to get the school of just 600 pupils holding their own against the much larger school rowing clubs, such as Eton. While there, he will also train as a PE teacher.
Matt said: “We have to be realistic and know that, although we may do something nationally, it will be in smaller boats and we are not going to be able to compete with the bigger clubs.
“I am really looking forward to it and it will be a big challenge as there will be a lot of expectation on me because of what I have achieved in my own career.
“But it is strange to think it will be the other way around and it will be me sitting on the riverbank and not in the boat!”
Also using the Hexham regatta as his swansong was one of Matt’s closest friends in rowing, Steve Rowbotham.
Together, Matt and Steve won the Beijing bronze and they went on to compete in the same boat, the quad, in London.
Prior to their appearance in Beijing, they lived together for three years and Steve was honoured to be invited along to his mate’s retirement bash.
He said: “Matt is a very talented athlete and to stay at the top of the game for so long is exceptional. It has been brilliant rowing with him over the years and just to be part of this event, supporting him, is great.”
For such a fantastic send-off, Matt wanted to thank all on the regatta organising committee, particularly his father John, QEHS coach Pauline Higgins and long time supporter Alex Waters, owner of Tyne Valley Insurance Commercial.
Alex has followed Matt’s progress closely since the rower won the Stan Calvert Scholarship, which TVI sponsored, for showing great promise in sport from Tynedale Sports Council back in 1996.
He said: “I find it really difficult to put into words how great of a guy Matt is and he deserves all this recognition.
“Having all these people here to support him and having all these athletes give up their time is great, and I am thrilled beyond words that it has worked out for Matt.”
Published by http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk
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