Bann men and brothers Peter and Richard Chambers.

Bann men and brothers Peter and Richard Chambers.

Coleraine, which hugs the banks of the River Bann in Northern Ireland, is an unlikely addition to that most English of roll-calls but the exploits of two sporting siblings could ensure it leaves an indelible mark on the nation’s sporting map this summer.

Peter and Richard Chambers, both born and raised in the city, are striving to become the first brothers to row together in a senior Team GB boat together since the Searles helped established the country’s pre-eminence on the water in the 1990s.

That dream could be made or dashed this weekend at the men’s team trials, the last public event before this season’s senior British rowing team is named on April 4.

The Chambers are among six oarsmen competing for a place in the lightweight men’s four, one of the strongest squads in the world and which has yielded medals for the team in four out of the last five years.

The competition for Olympics places is intense, and the selection process brutal.
Related Articles

Richard Chambers: profile
26 Aug 2011

Olympics rowing guide
14 Feb 2011

London 2012 Olympics venues: Eton Dorney
11 Feb 2011

Olympic coaches: how to row like Redgrave
06 Jan 2012

Rowers pulling together
09 Mar 2012

Whoever does not earn selection will probably watch the Games on television, as places in the only other lightweight boat, the double, are expected to go to defending champions Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter. Put simply, this is make or break.

At times such as this, when the pressure is at its most intense, the brothers can give quiet thanks that they are the most supportive kind of sporting siblings.

The age gap helps – there are five years between Richard, 26, and Peter, with a sister, Rebekah, splitting the difference. The boys will be ushers at her wedding later in the year.

But both are quick to acknowledge the debt they owe to their parents: Gillian, a special needs teacher and their emotional rock, and Eric, who took them hiking in the hills around Coleraine and built the boat in which both boys learned to kayak.

Oh brother: Peter Chambers and brother Richard relax during training

“Mum and dad come to whatever racing they can, and they’re always there to talk to,” Richard said. “We chat to mum at stressful times: they both have a really clear view of things, and sometimes we need to be told not to worry.

“But we’re two very different people anyway. Peter’s laid-back, he takes everything as it comes. I’m a bit of a hothead, if I don’t like something I make my feelings known. We don’t usually have disagreements, it’s normally me losing my rag, and Peter just listens.”

As the elder sibling, it was Richard who beat the path that could yet lead to London 2012. Having been schooled at Bann Rowing Club, Richard competed for Ireland at Home Countries level, but not higher.

Having left school after GCSEs he always planned to work up to studying construction management at university, which by chance took him to one of rowing’s high performance centres at Oxford Brookes.

“I didn’t know anything about rowing universities except Oxford and Cambridge,” he says. “Only two offered the course I wanted, and one of those also did rowing as well, which was Oxford Brookes. The very first week in the rowing club I realised it was going to be really tough, but I relished the challenge.”

Under the rigorous tutelage of former triple world champion Peter Haining, the assistant coach at Brookes at the time, Richard quickly earned a place at the national trials and duly reached the GB team, with his first world title arriving in 2007, aged 22.

But if Richard’s rise was rapid, his younger brother’s was meteoric. Peter began coxing at Bann before he was even a teenager, steering the club’s veteran eight aged 12. “I remember doing the Galway Head, we caught up the crew in front and I cut inside them round a bend,” he recalled. “I was quite chuffed. But soon I was getting too big and after a year or so I started rowing.”

Encouraged by club coach Seamus Reynolds, Peter was selected for the Irish team at the Coupe de la Jeunesse two years running, before following big brother to Oxford Brookes to read sports science.

What he found would have fazed more fragile characters. Brookes’s squad was physically imposing and richly experienced, but the newcomer could hardly have been happier.

“As soon as I got there I was ready to prove myself,” he said. “I always wanted to beat the big guys: it makes you work harder. It’s good to be beaten up on the erg machine occasionally. If we had had a separate lightweight group at Brookes I don’t think I would have improved so fast.”

By the age of 19 he was winning under-23 medals, and in 2011 won lightweight pairs gold at both the under-23 and senior world championships with rowing partner Kieran Emery.

Neither brother would look out of place in the British squad at this summer’s Games but both are braced for the grim possibility that one might have to sit out.

The consolation is that they are not in contention for the same position in the fours: Peter rows bow-side, while Richard is on stroke-side, meaning they are not in direct competition – a relief for both.

“If necessary, I would have switched,” admitted Peter. “I wouldn’t have wanted to compete against Richard.” Richard agrees, although he is quick to add a caveat: “Whoever it is, if I’m beaten on gym tests I get annoyed. The one person I’d like to beat is Peter.”

The brothers in action in for Great Britain in the lightweight men’s four

For Richard, the pressure of selection has been deferred by a rib injury earlier in the season and which has ruled him out for the last eight weeks.

He will miss this weekend’s trial and must prove himself in private testing instead. Fortunately he won the December sculling race, beating not only his brother but also Rob Williams and Mark Hunter. “I’m in quite a good place,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be back in a boat next week.”

With a hint of fraternal pride, he fully expects Peter to flourish this weekend and beyond. “He’s just a different athlete from the last two years: stronger, fitter, he’s phenomenal. When racing he’s the one you want in your boat. He just goes until the buzzer, he won’t stop.”

At trials Peter will try to beat those with more sculling expertise, but a place in the top four should bolster his position in Britain’s plans.

The notion of emulating the Searles and becoming Britain’s Olympic band of brothers is an enticing one, not least because their performance together at the World Cup in Lucerne last year helped the British boat romp to an impressive victory.

“To win at Lucerne is one of the best things you can do, but to win with your brother, the first time you ever race together, is special,” Richard said. “But we want the fastest people in the boat: if I’m in the crew I want to be with the quickest people whoever they are.”

Maybe so, but Lucerne has whetted the brothers’ appetite for glory. Both admit that they have one eye on a possible future pairing in the lightweight double scull, but for now, everything is pointing towards London.

“Peter’s the one person I’ve got complete trust in,” Richard said. “There’s something about being brothers, we won’t let each other down. I’ll fight for him, and him for me.”

March 13th, 2012

  • Recent Videos

    Could not parse XML from YouTube
  • Gallery

    10 img_1743-large SONY DSC SONY DSC
  • Supporters and Sponsors of Bann Rowing Club