Olympic coaching hero is reunited with crew of 1979

South Wales Argus: REUNION: The undefeated Monmouth Rowing Club four of 1979, from left, Jim Kelly, Robin Williams (Olympic gold medal-winning GB coach), John Hartland (the crew’s coach), Nick Hartland and Mike Partridge REUNION: The undefeated Monmouth Rowing Club four of 1979, from left, Jim Kelly, Robin Williams (Olympic gold medal-winning GB coach), John Hartland (the crew’s coach), Nick Hartland and Mike Partridge

OLYMPIC champion rowing coach Robin Williams took time out from his busy Great Britain schedule to reunite with his all-conquering Monmouth RC crew of 1979, writes Nick Hartland .

A lot of water may have flowed under Wye bridge since then, but 33 years after their last row together, Robin, Mike Partridge, Jim Kelly and Nick Hartland launched out for a paddle and found that the old magic was still there.

The quartet went undefeated in 1979, winning nine events, including the prestigious West of England Challenge Vase.

And 11-time chief Cam-bridge Boat Race coach Robin, who guided women’s pair Helen Glover and Heather Stanning to GB’s first gold medal of the Olympics, said it was great fun to meet the guys and get out on the water again.

Watched by their coach, Nick’s dad John Hartland, the crew did a few racing starts and managed to get the rating up to 48 strokes a minute.

“It was a bit of a shock that we were able to move it like that still,” said Robin. “But I’m not quite so sure we’d have been quite so good over the next 100 strokes.”

Crewmate Mike, who was over from Australia where he rows and coaches, said: “It was fantastic to meet the guys and congratulate Robin on his girls’ London 2012 success.

“One thing’s for sure – we’d better make sure we don’t leave it another 33 years before the next reunion! I’m over again in a couple of years, so it would be good to get out then. Jim’s up for a race or two, but I’m not quite so sure about that!”

Missing from the crew was Mike’s brother Mark, who coxed the boat and went on to win a world silver medal as a rower.

“He’s back in Australia, but he’ll be delighted to hear we got back together,” said Mike. Jim, a tutor at a Cambridge college, who still manages the odd rowing outing, added: “I’ve passed the club a few times recently and I’ve never managed to catch anyone down here. But to get out with the old guys and relive those great days has been incredible.”

Bowman Nick, who still rows at Monmouth RC and is a British veteran champion, added: “I was blown away by how quick we still were off the blocks – I was hanging on a bit. There’s definitely some potential there for masters racing.”

After the heady days of Dorney, Robin is now looking towards Rio, with the GB team due ‘back at work’ on October 1. “I’d love to go there with the girls, they are two of the most fantastic, focused, but genuine people to work with.

“It couldn’t have hapened to two nicer people,” said the 52-year-old, who is planning to return to Monmouth to talk to the town’s young rowers about his Olympic experience.

“I’ve coached seven Cambridge winning crews, but Olympic gold tops the lot.

“Riding my bike alongside the race, the roar of the crowd in the last 500m was incredible.

“We’ll probably never have the chance to race in front of a crowd like that again,” added the world silver medal rower.

“But Monmouth is where it all began.

“We owe a lot to coach John who guided us all in those early days and inspired us to go on in the sport, and it’s been great to come back and meet up again.”

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