A quarter of a million people were watching as Ollie Cook rowed Oxford to Boat Race victory at the start of April, but his phenomenal stamina, power and boyish good looks were not the reason he shot to national fame.
Indeed, the Christ Church student made back page headlines after managing to lose his winners’ medal. Jubilant after a narrow victory—by a margin of just 1¼ lengths—Cook swan-dived into the Thames with his medal proudly displayed around his neck, only to emerge with it missing.
“My first thought was ‘you absolute wally’,” Cook told Cherwell.
It was an especially disappointing moment for Cook, who ranked the triumph as his greatest sporting success despite his impressive career to date. “Winning the Boat Race was immeasurably special,” he said. “I won the World Rowing Championships last year, but winning with the team we had and with my brother was something that I will never forget.”
However, the very next day, Cook received a phone call he was over the moon about, to tell him that his medal had been rescued.
Family friend and photographer Hamish Roots was passing Mortlake the morning after the race, and decided to have a brief look around the area in the hope that Cook’s medal would be around.
“I was on the way to a job, and knowing that stretch like the back of my hand, thought there was a small chance the tide might be low enough,” said Roots.
“I wasn’t especially hopeful but the tide was going down and straight away there it was, a foot from the water, at my feet. First [I saw] a little black strip of ribbon wafting around and then the medal, glinting silver in the mud.”
After a quick clean to remove some “glorious Thames mud,” Roots returned the medal to Cook’s family home.
Ollie himself, however, was not there, having set off for a Great Britain training camp the very next morning.
“The day after the Boat Race I arrived at Heathrow, unshowered and thoroughly hagged having not slept from the night out,” he told Cherwell.
Cambridge’s boat club president, Lance Tredell, has been Cook’s team-mate for Great Britain for some time, and there was a stark contrast between the two’s appearances the next morning.
“[Lance] was washed, clean cut and well rested after getting an early night.”
Luckily, the Boat Race did not appear to distract the pair in their pursuits. “We hugged and put the race behind us as we set our sights on the GB final selection trials in ten days’ time,” Cook continued.
“What was perhaps the most strange was how it didn’t feel strange rowing together at all—well, apart from having to put up with seeing a lot of mint green rowing kit around.”
Cook described the media attention he attracted as “surreal”, but said that “it is really enjoyable to see your name in the papers.” However, he admitted that there was a fair chance that people thought he was “completely ridiculous,” and “deserved to lose my medal after swan-diving in.”