31 March 2016
In this year’s Cambridge Women’s crew, HTBS’s Hélène Rémond found a countrywoman, Myriam Goudet. Hélène got an interview with her.
Myriam Goudet started rowing in Dijon, France, at L’Aviron Dijonnais in 2003. What appealed to her was being outside, on the water, being able to enjoy the setting with a point of view that few people can experience. ‘Rowing offers a unique chance to enjoy wonderful bodies of water and see nature changes in the course of the day’, Myriam said.
When she decided to stop high-level rowing in 2014, Myriam slowed down on rowing and training to concentrate on her future. She thought it was time to move on. But last Sunday, she took part in one of the most important events in the rowing world, the Boat Race. For the second consecutive year, the Women’s Race took place on the same day and stretch of the River Thames as the men’s. ‘Finally’, the French rower said, ‘It took time to achieve this. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of it. The men thought we were not strong enough to row the same distance and now we have shown them that they were wrong’.
Myriam has taken part in many international races. Did she ever think she would take part in the Boat Race one day?
‘Honestly, until this year, no. I have always dreamt of the Boat Race as long as I can remember, but I would not have come to Cambridge just for that. I decided to come to Cambridge University to follow my fiancé, who got a post-doc position there and to prepare for my Ph.D.’, Myriam mentioned.
‘I got my Master’s Degree in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution, in Toulouse, France, in June 2014’. Myriam loves the link between evolution and history mixed with biology. She currently does research on the evolution of photosynthetic RubisCo enzyme in green algae. She continued: ‘I had been searching for a position everywhere in Europe. My project is on a one-year basis – M.Phil. – at Lucy Cavendish College, but I have just received an email from the university confirming I will continue my studies for three more years to get a proper doctorate, a Ph.D.
‘I met people who encouraged me to apply to Cambridge. To take part in the Boat Race, I had the support of my rowing club thanks to my rowing experience in the past. Even though I stopped rowing for a year, I hadn’t lost my technique and physical endurance’.
How did she manage to balance both studying and high-level rowing? ‘It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible’, Myriam said. ‘When I was a high-level athlete, I had an adjusted time schedule. I took my Bachelor’s Degree in four years and my Master’s in three years. You have to target the moment when training is the most important, and the reverse, when the courses are. I got injured in 2014 at a time when I hadn’t an adjusted time schedule. I wanted to do everything at the same time. I know it is not easy but I wanted to try’.
‘The Boat Race is clearly a landmark event in my rowing career because I have worked hard on the water and at university. My international sporting career has sometimes been complicated because of my studies but thanks to my studies, I am part of the Boat Race. On one hand, the Race is a means of proving to myself that I was right not to give up on either one. On the other hand, I have always wanted to take part in the Olympic Games and as I renounced the Games, the Boat Race is a little bit my own Olympic Games’, Myriam remarked.
Oddly enough, Myriam was first attracted to synchronised swimming. This is the sport that made her want to take part in the Olympic Games. She is a fan of Virginie Dedieu, the French synchronised swimmer, who took a bronze medal at the 2000 Games in duet together with Myriam Lignot. At the age of 13, Myriam was tall and did not feel comfortable with it. ‘The world of girls may be cruel’, she said. She was fed up with the atmosphere and did not make any progress. Her parents, who are rowers, suggested she should try their sport. She loved it. That was now 13 years ago.
According to the Boat Race Programme, Hannah Roberts, Cambridge president, calls Myriam ‘Mummy Myriam’ because ‘she has a huge heart and often acted as the mother hen of the group doing anything she can to make sure [they] are all OK’.
Nevertheless, as we all know, it did not go Cambridge women’s way this year. Myriam commented: ‘Of course, I am disappointed. I don’t like losing. Oxford was 24 lengths ahead. We knew it would be a difficult race since Oxford is better organized for women’s rowing but I’m convinced we were a good crew. We were confident and ready for it. We did not care about the fact that we were not the favorite boat. However, during the winter, we were the favourites. In October, we won the British championships in Nottingham where we beat Oxford. We beat Molesey and Brookes, too. Our underachievement occurred at the Head of the River in March, where these two crews won. The favorites thus changed. The Oxford girls feared us’.
The Cambridge women had different forces working against them at the Boat Race. Myriam stated: ‘Unfortunately, we faced a combination of bad luck, errors and risk-taking that was not profitable. We lost the toss and we got the bad side of the river, even if we were prepared for that. There were horrible weather conditions with hail and small waves. We stayed in the middle of the river which was an excellent strategy, but we were against the current. Oxford chose to go near the banks. It could have been a disaster. We started to get a lot of water in the boat and the boat was not stable. That’s when the problems began. That was our worst technical point. And we almost sank. A motor boat was ready to evacuate us if needed’.
Myriam continued: ‘Looking at the BBC coverage, it is dramatic, but I was not afraid as there are waterproof cases in the boat that would keep us afloat. We have never felt we were in danger. The pumps worked well. We never thought of stopping the race. Looking back at the race, I think we could have been more united. But I don’t regret anything. I feel proud. It was a great experience. There are hundreds of thousands of TV-viewers around the world thanks to BBC’s live coverage. Even if we lost, we made the cover of many newspapers, among them the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph’.
‘We have gained the public’s interest. People know it’s a hard race, it’s epic. One more time, we have shown anything can happen. It’s part of the folklore. There are always surprises. I prefer having lost because of the harsh conditions rather than for a lack of speed on the water. I hope to take part in the Women’s Boat Race again next year. My supervisors said “Try again next year, as a revenge”. Until then, we will row in international races abroad. Three more years at Cambridge means three more chances to take part in the Boat Race’, Myriam said.