Imperial rower wins silver at World Championships

Imperial’s Lizzie Witt became the College’s first female medal-winner at the World Rowing U23 Championships when she stormed to silver last month.

Lizzie, a third year Physics undergraduate, qualified to compete for Great Britain in the U23 World Championships held in Varese, Italy, in July.

Competing in the Women’s Eights, the crew won a silver medal when they crossed the finish line with a time of 6:27:81. In the process, Lizzie made College history by becoming the first female rower from Imperial to medal at a World Championships.

“It was fairly surreal and probably the most nervous I’ve been” said Lizzie.

Qualification and preparation

A member of the Imperial Boat Club, Lizzie had to undertake four rounds of trials across seven months to earn her place in the British crew at the championships. Trials included submitting rowing ergometre scores, heat racing and, ultimately, a series of ‘seat races’ in July.

“I was told I’d made the crew and, almost immediately, you go into training with your new teammates because you then only have two weeks in the boat before you need to race.”

After intense preparations at British Rowing’s National Training Centre in Caversham, Lizzie made the trip to the U23 World Championships, held in the Northern Italian town of Varese. Preparations were complicated by storms and high winds in region, causing training sessions to be moved or cancelled.

Lizzie explained that, before the championships, crews generally have little knowledge as to how they match up against their rivals. It became apparent that the crew’s primary competition came from their counterparts in the USA.

“We had won our heat and the USA won theirs, with them coming a second faster.” said Lizzie.

Once on the water for the W8+ race, the crew battled against windy conditions to finish second, almost a length ahead of those behind them.

“It’s funny because you don’t go into a race wanting to come second, so there isn’t that eruption of celebration afterwards.” Lizzie reflected “It’s only afterwards that you can look and back and be really proud of this thing you’ve achieved.”

“We raced as absolutely fast as we could. And if I told myself months ago – the person that was incredibly stressed about making the boat in the first place – that I’d have won a silver medal, I’d probably have fainted!”

The Boat Club

Lizzie has rowed since secondary school and became part of the Imperial Boat Club when she joined the College in 2020. Under the coaching of Peter Hardcastle, Head of Rowing and three-time Australian Olympic rower himself, Lizzie has progressed significantly, particularly in the last 12 months.

“I knew I always wanted to trial but, even at the beginning of this year, I wasn’t sure I’d be good enough to get this far. And I want to say a huge thank you to Pete and the club – these things can’t happen just by yourself” said Lizzie.

Performance athletes at the Boat Club, based out of the College’s Putney Boathouse, will generally train around 10 times per week, balanced around their academic studies. Move Imperial and Imperial Athletes provide performance scholarship packages for eligible athletes who compete in their chosen discipline.

“The reason I wanted to start rowing was because I went to see the 2012 Olympics in London and saw Katherine Grainger win gold, and just wanted to jump in after that.”

“I learnt so much from competing which I’m really excited to bring back into my rowing at the College.”

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