West Londoner Zoe de Toledo believes her Great Britain women’s eight are capable of winning their first Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro, rising above the selection controversy that has hit the team.
Olympic champion Katherine Grainger and leading athlete Vicki Thornley failed in their bids to gain selection for the eight and now appear to have less of a medal chance in August.
“Obviously people have been thinking about it but the thing that has really impressed me is that it doesn’t seem to have stopped anything,” said cox De Toledo of the selection debate, which became public before the crew won a World Cup series silver medal in Lucerne a fortnight ago.
“We went to Lucerne with the selection stuff hanging over us and we still performed well.”
After the eight’s line-up was confirmed on Thursday, she said: “It’s capable of being really exceptional. We need to use these last two months and wring every last ounce out of them.
“I don’t think anyone would say ‘I’m going to win a medal at the Olympics, I’m certain of it’, but this crew is capable of doing that and that’s really exciting.”
GB women’s eights have won World Championship bronze medals on three occasions in the past but have never reached an Olympic podium.
However, this year’s crew won European gold earlier in the summer and were less than a second behind reigning Olympic champions the USA in Lucerne.
GB, who won nine medals in the 14 Olympic boat classes at London 2012, have set a target of six from 12 boats racing in Rio.
De Toledo, who grew up in Maida Vale, has admitted that she almost gave up on rowing after receiving criticism from some for her part in the 2012 Boat Race, which was stopped by a swimmer, saw a clash of crews that caused a broken blade and ended with one of her Oxford crew-mates collapsing.
Since then the 28-year-old has seen her marriage break down and suffered a house fire last summer but she feels she is stronger for all those experiences, saying: “Once you’ve faced adversity you learn more about what your limits are and what you’re capable of.
“The last few years have been some of the most challenging of my life but they’ve also been some of the most rewarding. It means I trust myself a lot more and trust what I can put myself through.
“I’ve been grateful for the people who have helped me through that and also this crew now – it’s the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s really exciting.”
De Toledo is one of five members of the women’s eight who have west London links, including University of London oarswoman Frances Houghton, who will row at her fifth successive Games.
Of the 43 rowers and coxes named by Team GB, 18 either crew up in west London or represent clubs based there.
That includes Molesey rowers Moe Sbihi and George Nash, plus former Maida Vale resident Constantine Louloudis, who join Alex Gregory in the defending champion men’s coxless four.
Jess Eddie from the women’s eight and Phelan Hill, cox of the men’s eight, both represent Putney-based London Rowing Club, while Olympic debutants John Collins from the men’s double scull and Charlotte Taylor of the lightweight women’s double both learned to row at Putney Town RC.
Meanwhile, Grainger and Thornley are expected to go to Rio in the double– in which they finished sixth in the world last year – although the decision was not made in time for Thursday’s announcement.
Performance director Sir David Tanner said: “It is my confident intention to announce very soon those two back in their double and racing for Team GB at the Olympic Games.”