Road to Tokyo 2020: Jess Leyden quick to put Rio hurt behind her in rowing race to Tokyo

Olympic ambition: Jess Leyden, centre, won a bronze medal at the recent European Championships with the British quad. (Picture: Naomi Baker)
Olympic ambition: Jess Leyden, centre, won a bronze medal at the recent European Championships with the British quad. (Picture: Naomi Baker)
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Having missed out on qualification for the Olympic Games 12 months ago, former world junior champion Jess Leyden has the bit between her teeth to ensure the same disappointment won’t befall her in the future.

The Todmorden rower was part of British Rowing’s quadruple sculls boat that failed to make the cut at the final European Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland in May last year.

Jess Leyden and the bronze-medal winning women's quad at the European Championships (Picture: Naomi Baker)

Jess Leyden and the bronze-medal winning women's quad at the European Championships (Picture: Naomi Baker)

It was one of only two events, of 16 in total that Team GB did not have a representation in when the Olympic regatta began in Brazil.

The disappointment capped a harsh transition into the senior ranks and was a first major setback to an otherwise blossoming career in the boat.

But having begun a new Olympiad, Leyden feels she has started to get to grips with life in the fast lane.

“It’s been difficult missing out,” she told The Yorkshire Post.

I set that quite clear at the start of the year. It was gutting missing out in the quad and not taking it to Rio. We have a load of good, strong girls and it would be so exciting to qualify a four-seat for the Olympics.

Jess Leyden

“But I’m getting more used to the programme now. When I first came onto it, I was just out of school, my body was not used to doing all that work but now I am handling it a lot better.”

The end of the Olympic cycle brought a number of changes to the British squad with Leyden featuring in an inexperienced line-up in the quad.

The 22-year-old had spoken of her desire to return to the single sculls – having become Britain’s first solo world champion when winning gold at the junior world championships in 2013.

However, Leyden has had a change of heart towards the quad and wants to rectify last year’s frustration with a young and ambitious new team.

Olympic ambition: Jess Leyden won a bronze medal at the recent European Championships with the British quad.

Olympic ambition: Jess Leyden won a bronze medal at the recent European Championships with the British quad.

“My preference has changed,” said Leyden, who showed her winter improvements with a second-place finish at the British squad trials in April.

“I do really want to be in the quad.

“I set that quite clear at the start of the year. It was gutting missing out in the quad and not taking it to Rio.

“We have a load of good, strong girls and it would be so exciting to qualify a four-seat for the Olympics.

“We want to get back up there where we haven’t been in a few years.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it.”

Mathilda Hodkins-Byrne and Bethany Bryan have replaced older heads Kristina Stiller and Rosamund Bradbury in the boat while Holly Nixon has moved up to the front seat. The new quartet have made an impressive start as a team and won bronze at the European Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, last weekend.

After a slow start, the British boat crossed the line in six minutes 26.54 seconds, behind Olympic gold and silver medallists Germany and Netherlands respectively.

“It was close,” said Leyden. “But I don’t look out of the boat. I’m in the middle and just focus on my rowing.

“The others look around and I have to react to what they tell me to do.”

The result marked a step in the right direction ahead of regattas in Poznan, Henley and Lucerne and the World Championships in Florida later this summer.

Leyden said: “We haven’t had a strong women’s quad in the last few years. In the past couple of years we have been trying to create a model to work off and I feel it’s starting to pay off.

“We started at a higher standard than we have done in the past few years and we want to just keep moving on. We have got a young crew this time. We are all hungry to see how fast we can go.”

Britain won three successive silver medals in the quadruple sculls at Olympic Games between 2000 and 2008. It was the event that double gold medallist Katherine Grainger burst through the ranks, while Rebecca Romero won silver in 2004 before adding cycling gold at the Beijing Games four years later.

Leyden, who is mixing her rowing career with an Open University degree in engineering, has the ambition to lead the British quad back to the glory days of the previous decade.

She added: “We want to get into the final at the worlds in Florida and if we can get a medal, we would grab it. We have to set out a marker and see how fast we can go. Ultimately it’s about qualifying for the Olympics in a couple of years time and making steps towards Tokyo.”