‘Even though we train so much’

first_imgBinyamin Even talks to OUBC President Robin Bourne-Taylor in about life as a Blues rower in Oxford Robin Bourne-Taylor represents you. As President of Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC), far more people see him as an image of an Oxford student than any current member of the student body. Literally millions watched him lead Oxford to victory in the Boat Race; millions more saw him in national newspapers, on the radio, on billboards or in ITV adverts, and he therefore inadvertently symbolises the life of an Oxford student.This appears fairly bizarre. Bourne-Taylor is a quadruple Blue and an Olympian. There is not an area of his life that isn’t affected by the sport and yet the majority of students have little to do with rowing. I decided to travel back to Oxford during the Easter vac to find out: does Robin Bourne- Taylor have anything in common with the students he so publicly represents?[quoteimg]“We don’t train that much; maximum actual training is four hours a day. But if we have to travel there’s plenty of days of nine hours.”[/quoteimg] I start by asking Bourne-Taylor just how much of his life rowing really takes up. “Training starts on 1 September, but a lot of the guys will be training permanently. I came straight back from the Olympics, and a lot of people were rowing internationally in the summer. It’s a long commitment to the Boat Race, but it means we hit the ground running.” In terms of dayto- day workload, “We don’t train that much: maximum is four hours actual training a day, but we can waste a lot of time if we have to travel to London or something like that. There’s plenty of days where we spend seven, eight, nine hours.” So far, then, no luck – discovering ITV’s claim that rowers train six months for the Boat Race was actually an underestimate only made Bourne-Taylor seem even more irreconcilable with the “normal” students I’ve met.As we move to the topic of motivation, however, he becomes more human. For Bourne-Taylor is the ultimate team player, playing for the jersey: “Obviously the Boat Race is an amazing event, with so much history – there’s nothing else like it in the rowing world. But for someone like me, who’s been here a long time, it becomes more than that. You want to do it for your club, and for the passion you have for your club.” It’s not as catchy as “Up the Nose!” or “For the Pelican!” but the message is the same. He speaks with passion about his team mates, saying, “This year at Oxford there was a really great bunch of guys. The personalities were fantastic, and that’s one of the most important things I’d take out of it.” And he leaves no doubt about the importance of those closest to him. “A big part of my success, and of the success of guys on the team, is that support from your friends. It’s those little things that help out – if it’s people getting lecture notes, or helping you catch up if you missed something, or girlfriends cooking you dinner.”Picking up on Bourne-Taylor’s mention of lecture notes, I find it is no token academic reference. “People come to Oxford because it’s one of the finest academic institutions in the world. You can’t get in because of rowing – there’s no one here who’s in this university because of their talent at rowing. They’re here because they’re of a sufficiently high academic standard. If they set their ambitions on something like the Boat Race, I think that’s great. It’s good for the University, and it’s good for them.” He applauds his team mates for completing Blue Boat training on top of their academic workload, “It’s a real credit to the guys who do it, because it’s so much of a commitment of effort and time.” He mentions Jason Flickinger, 7 man in the Blue Boat. “He’s doing the MBA programme, one of the most intensive courses in Oxford, and he’s going on barely any sleep.” Despite this, the giant American “won the [BUSA] ergo champs, on about three hours sleep”.So, Blues rowers do study. But doesn’t the combination of an Oxford academic workload and a Blue Boat training regime leave him socially detached from anyone outside the tiny rowing bubble? Bourne-Taylor recognises this as a downside. “It’s difficult, because you do get isolated from college life. You don’t know as many people, because you don’t have the time.” Nevertheless, “Even though we have to spend so much time training, we still feel part of the student body of the university.”Rowing also presents its own social opportunities: “What you do gain is a really tight group of about twenty friends who are likeminded, all on the same goals, and you go through the same things together. You build some really strong friendships.”When he can, Bourne-Taylor gets involved in college and university life. He’s a member of his College’s drinking society, The Cardinals, and as a student who will join Sandhurst after graduation, he has a long commitment to the Oxford University Officer Training Corps: “I go down there whenever I can,” he says. He speaks particularly warmly of the OTC Colonel who helped set up a team building day for the Blues at the local barracks.Bourne-Taylor has also rowed for his College in Summer Eights on a number of occasions. He dismissed any doubts that such a successful oarsman would not commit himself to the less glamorous world of college rowing when he stroked Christ Church to First Division Blades in his first year. In fact, he has warm praise for college rowing. “College rowing is really good in Oxford. It’s a haven for really keen rowers, and there are not many places you get that enthusiasm so focused on one thing. College rowing’s brilliant for the sport, and events like Summer Eights and Torpids are really good spectacles and a good thing for people to get involved in.” This year, Summer Eights clashes with a Rowing World Cup event, but he’s sure “any members of the team who can will do it, because it’s a great way to take part in your college and show support for them”. He particularly encourages talented college rowers to think about joining the Blue Squad. “College rowers out there with aspirations should really put themselves forward and not be afraid to have a go. If you get in early, you may not be very experienced, but if you do a year’s worth of training you’ll improve phenomenally, and next year you might make the spot in Isis and if you keep going you might get a spot in the Blue Boat. It’s about how much you’re willing to give and how much you’re willing to learn.”As my meeting with Bourne-Taylor drew to a close, it remained clear that he was a very unusual student. The sacrifices he makes for rowing, particularly with respect to his social life, demonstrate he prioritises his sport in a way very few others do. But I felt much more comfortable with the fact that, for millions of people, he portrayed a group of which I was part. Fundamentally, Bourne-Taylor is no different to many Oxford students who devote time and energy to an activity outside of their degree. In this respect he represents Oxford students who strive for excellence in all that they do and perhaps he is not as far removed from the reality of student life as some would believe.ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2005last_img read more