Islington’s Boat Race winner and GB international harbours Olympic ambition

Islington rower Maddy Badcott

Islington rower Maddy Badcott - Credit: Archant

Five years ago, Islington’s Maddy Badcott had little interest in rowing – and certainly no expectations of representing her country at the sport.

Now, at the age of 20, Badcott is a junior international, a Boat Race winner and is even daring to imagine the possibility of a place in Great Britain’s 2020 Olympic squad.

Currently in her final year as a student at Wadham College, Oxford, Badcott was a member of the eight who created history by winning the first women’s Boat Race to take equal billing with the men’s event earlier this year.

She is now president of the Oxford University Women’s Boat Club and hoping to secure a place at the World Under-23 Championships, which take place next summer in the Netherlands.

“Going to university was a new experience, but unfortunately in my first year I was injured with a back problem,” Badcott told the Gazette.

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“In a way it was nice to be a normal fresher and focus on settling into university life. But having that time out also made me realise that what I really wanted was to come back to rowing.

“I was lucky enough to turn up at the right time in terms of where the Boat Race was happening, because this was the first year it had been the same venue as the men’s race.

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“It’s quite unique at Oxford and Cambridge in that you spend your whole year working towards it and the coaches are constantly monitoring you to see how fast you’re improving. No-one had a guarantee of a seat in the boat.

“To row in the Boat Race was incredibly exciting – those are the biggest crowds you get for any rowing event apart from the Olympics and all the hard work did seem worth it.”

Badcott, who grew up in Southgate Road, Holloway, was 14 before she first took up an oar, learning the basics of the sport at a summer course organised by Lea Rowing Club.

But it wasn’t until a couple of years later that she began to take rowing seriously – and flourished rapidly, winning the British junior championship and a bronze medal at the national schools’ event in 2012.

One of the key stepping stones in the young rower’s rapid rise was supplied by Sport Islington, who chose her that year – and the next – as the recipient of an annual grant from the Joanna Brown Trust.

The trust was set up in memory of Joanna Brown, a young sports enthusiast from Highbury who died in a trekking accident in Siberia in 2008, with the aim of providing financial support to up and coming athletes in the Islington area.

“It all kind of happened by accident,” Badcott admitted. “I learned to row because my mum just wanted me to get out of the house over the summer and found a course!

“To go from that to doing nine or 10 training sessions a week was quite intense but rowing is very self-driven. It’s the kind of sport where the harder you train the more clearly you see results and the more you improve.

“The reason the sport has the image it does is because the equipment is quite expensive and people who go to a school where rowing is offered have all that provided for them.

“The main thing the Sport Islington award did was to enable me to support myself, pay for the equipment and so on. I didn’t have to worry about where money was coming from, which helped me to just focus on rowing.

“Also, the award was a big boost to my motivation – it felt like someone else had invested in me. It was an exciting time because it was the year of the London Olympics and there was so much rowing on TV.”

Badcott occupied seat five in the Boat Race, helping Oxford to finish six and a half lengths clear of their Cambridge rivals, but she is open to the possibility of switching to a different role as her career develops.

And, while her efforts to nail down a spot in the GB Under-23 squad are the immediate priority, Badcott also has one eye on trying to make her dream of a starring role at the 2020 Olympics into a reality.

“I don’t think there are many athletes who wouldn’t say the Olympics is their ultimate goal,” she added. “If everything goes successfully I’d really like to be part of the GB team and compete in Tokyo.

“It seems a distant goal but you have to consider it. Everything happened so quickly for me – and I never had any idea I was going to be able to be in the Boat Race and compete for Great Britain.

“I’m really grateful to Sport Islington, and kids who enjoy their sport and are really keen to progress should definitely apply for a grant – it allows you to focus on training hard and setting your goals higher.”

For information about the Joanna Brown Trust and the grants available from Sport Islington, visit and

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