How York Rowing Club shaped the future of an Olympic champion - Tom Ransley

An Olympic gold medallist in the men’s eight, Tom Ransley first learnt to row while studying in York. In his own words, he pays tribute to the club as he heads into retirement.

Great Britain's Tom Ransley celebrates during the homecoming event in Leeds City Centre. (Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire)

Dressed like a long-lost Bee Gees brother and brandishing a lit torch in front of screaming children isn’t an acceptable activity – but carrying the Olympic flame through Pickering is one of many Olympic memories I’d happily share.

My path to the Olympics came by way of York City Rowing Club. YCRC is not a big feeder club for Team GB, indeed the last person affiliated to the club that rowed at an Olympics was Alan Whitwell who raced at Moscow in 1980. Nonetheless, if it was not for the knowledge and experience of the existing rowers at York, I would not have found my way to the Olympics.

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I had no clue about the international rowing scene or the national selection process.

Tom Ransley (Picture: British Rowing)

But eventually I carved out 11 years as a full-time elite athlete. My palmarès has four Championship gold medals; two at Worlds, one at the Europeans and the big one at the Rio Olympic Games. Plus, a bittersweet bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics, a fistful of minor medals and a good haul of World Cup series wins. To get a hold of that swag involved a mind-numbing amount of mileage and a lot of hard work. Getting on the right side of the fine margins and taking down some big-names seemed to be my speciality, perhaps it’s a bit of a fine art. An art I began to learn at York.

I left home for the first time to study at York University. My cooking was unorthodox, but I have a cast iron stomach, so I muddled through. By the end of the first term I had slipped into a largely nocturnal existence: I needed a bit more structure and physical exertion.

Initially I sought out individual contact sports, but the rowing club approached me first. The campus rowers proudly proclaimed themselves to belong to “a drinking club with a rowing problem” so I turned to the city club to get my endorphin kicks.

YCRC quickly became my extended family. It felt good to escape the University bubble and meet more people. Some claim I didn’t speak to anyone for the first six months, I just fell off rowing seats, capsized boats and pulled big and ugly on the rowing machines. But the atmosphere was great, and it felt good to belong. Seeing so many dedicated people squeezing in tough workouts before and after work was inspiring.

Tom Ransley, left, in the men's pair (Picture: Naomi Baker)

Every Thursday night would be ‘club night’ and home cooked food was served from behind the bar, usually spaghetti bolognese. The training was rugged. We would run around the ancient city walls and complete a bodyweights circuit that was notoriously tough. We prided ourselves on our grit and fitness believing it would make up for the fairly rudimental rowing technique.

The winter season meant long time-trial races down obscure stretches of rivers dotted about the country. Come summer we’d frequently be buzzing up and down the M1 to compete at the major races down south. Taking scalps from the bigger clubs was very satisfying especially as our equipment was vintage.

Henley Royal Regatta is the pinnacle of club rowing and YCRC had never won an event there before. It was something we’d built towards for three years and managed to achieve just before I left. It felt really special to cap off our time together with a historic win. Two days later I had national testing to compete for a place in the GB Development Squad and the U23s World Championships, so my own celebrations were curtailed. Nevertheless, it was great to see so many club members who had driven down from York enjoying the victory. It was a memorable moment and I was glad to be a part of it. Although I would go on to win the biggest prizes in later years, winning Henley with York City is still one of my career highlights and sweetest of victories.

The club has a long history and is a great addition to York’s fantastic community. The volunteer efforts by club members that enable YCRC to keep moving forward are huge and often go unnoticed. I am extremely thankful for their efforts. It was an honour to represent them at the Olympics and to carry the Olympic torch on its journey through Yorkshire. With YCRC rower Lucy Edmunds winning a silver medal at U23 World Championship’s last year and a strong group of juniors coming through, I happily now pass on the torch.

Great Britain's Scott Durant, Tom Ransley, Matt Gotrel, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, William Satch, cox Phelan Hill, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed celebrate out on the water with their Gold Medals for the Men's Eight final on the eighth day of the Rio Olympics Games, Brazil. (Picture:: Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

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