Hong Kong-raised rower Melanie Wilson gunning for gold for Great Britain at Rio Olympic Games

The former Island School student will compete in the women’s eight at the Olympics where her team will challenge the powerful Americans

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2016, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2016, 10:42am

Hong Kong-raised rower Melanie Wilson is hoping to end her career by winning gold for Great Britain at the Rio Olympics before she embarks on a new life in the field of medicine.

I’ll be 32 when we compete in Rio and I want a career in medicine. I’ve got a job and start in December so it will be a new career for me
Melanie Wilson

Wilson, who celebrates her 32nd birthday on Saturday, will be part of the British eights team who will try to unseat the powerful Americans in her second and probably final Olympic Games.

When asked if she would retire after the Rio Games, Wilson said: “Yes. I know they say never to say that, just in case, and I love rowing and I’ll be so sad to stop.

“But I’ll be 32 when we compete in Rio and I want a career in medicine. I’ve got a job and start in December so it will be a new career for me.”

I was a Hong Kong kid: Melanie Wilson’s journey from Island School to Great Britain’s Olympic rowing team

Wilson was born in Southampton, England but the family moved to Japan when she was a small child before settling in Hong Kong, where she studied at Peak School and Island School.

She took part in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the British women’s quadruple sculls team as they finished sixth at Eton Dorney Lake.

Wilson qualified as a doctor last year at Imperial College London, sandwiching her five years in medical school with a break to train for the 2012 Olympics.

Watch the women’s eight final from the World Cup III in Poznan, Poland

She had left Hong Kong at the age of 18 after secondary school to study biochemistry at Nottingham University and went on to gain a Masters degree at University College London.

We’ve got something that is a little bit different. We are from a smaller pool of rowers and our group of eight work really well together
Melanie Wilson

Academically, she is more than capable of taking on the world but for now, her focus is purely on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas rowing course in the heart of Rio where she and her team mates will attempt to go for gold.

The nine-woman crew (the eights team comprises eight rowers and one cox) are hoping to conquer one of the most powerful dynasties in Olympic sport when they take on the Americans in Rio.

The US, employing an unforgiving selection policy and brutal training regime, have won 10 straight world and Olympic titles in the event under legendary coach Tom Terhaar.

The British rowers, however, came close to beating them at the Lucerne World Cup event in Switzerland in May. They finished in six minutes, 01.950 seconds to take silver behind the Americans, who won it in 6:01.120.

Wilson, whose position in the squad is seat two, said the culture of the British team is opposite to that of their regimented US rivals.

“Are we among the favourites? I think so,” said Wilson. “With our eight this year, it is really different to how it has been before. And it is also very different to the American system.

“They’ve got this incredible college set-up where they have scores of women who are very big and very strong and are used to rowing in eights.

“They have a ruthless selection process with 30 women going for eight spots and they always end up with the strongest girls.”

Still, Wilson believes the Great Britain team spirit can go a long way to challenging the Americans.

“We’ve got something that is a little bit different,” said Wilson. “We are from a smaller pool of rowers and our group of eight work really well together.

“We feel we are greater than the sum of our parts. Perhaps individually we are not as physical as the American women and the reason we got so close to them and almost beat them is because we are more of a unit.

“We are a strong a skilful group and that’s really exciting. To get so close to them in such a big race we never thought it was possible before but now we know it’s possible and we know what we can do.”

Wilson, however, knows it’s not only the Americans they have to worry about. New Zealand also have a strong women’s eights team and beat the British squad in the most recent World Cup event in Poznan, Poland on June 19.

The New Zealand team clocked 06:06.270 with Great Britain taking silver in 06:08.250 and the Netherlands third. The United States were absent from the competition.

Whatever happens in Rio, one of the first places Wilson will visit after the Games is Hong Kong.

“I’ve still got a lot of friends in Hong Kong and I’ll be there after the Olympics,” she said.