Yunxia Chen (b), Ling Zhang, Yang Lyu, Xiaotong Cui (s), Women's Quadruple Sculls, People's Republic of China, gold, 2020 Olympic Games Regatta, Tokyo, Japan / World Rowing/Detlev Seyb

The current Olympic and World Champions in the women’s quadruple sculls were crowned World Rowing Women’s Crew of the year at the recent World Rowing awards.

Reflecting on what the award meant to them, Xiaotong Cui, one of the members of China’s victorious crew said, “This award means that us, the Chinese female athletes, have made a historical breakthrough in rowing.”

The crew came together in 2019 and made their intentions clear immediately. In the final of the World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, China was dead level with the reigning World Champions from Poland at the 500m marker. The crew remained neck-and-neck for the remainder of the race, but China crossed the line less than a second ahead to take gold. Their results at this regatta had also qualified their boat for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Yunxia Chen (b), Ling Zhang, Yang Lyu, Xiaotong Cui (s), Women’s Quadruple Sculls, People’s Republic of China, 2019 World Rowing Championships, Linz Ottensheim, Austria

Speaking after that race, Yang Lyu, who had missed out on a medal by 0.06 seconds in the same boat class at the previous World Championships, hinted at the extreme focus within this crew, saying; We’ve stayed on our rhythm and been focused on our race, never being influenced by the other lanes. We got this results by great efforts, and we deserve it.”

As a relatively newly formed crew, the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although we felt sorry about the delay of Tokyo Olympic Games, it allowed us to have more time to prepare, which laid the foundations for our winning” said Ling Zhang.

When the Tokyo Olympic Games finally came around, the crew were on top form, and knew their competition well too. They stamped their authority in the heat when they beat Poland by over four seconds. Yang Lyu said “Since we have competed with – and always won against the same crews, we understood our opponents and accumulated experience through those races.”

Like so much of the racing in Tokyo, the final of the women’s quadruple sculls was epic. China crossed the line first, over six seconds ahead of Poland, setting a World and Olympic Best time in the process with their time of 6:05.13.

Yang Lyu continued her reflections on the race, saying; “In the Olympic final, we focused all the attention on our boat and made every effort to display what our coach Zhang Xiuyun taught us. No matter what the competitors did, we kept our own rhythm consistently. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to my three crew members. There was always trust and support amongst each other, which was an important factor to make us earn the gold medal.”

Yunxia Chen (b), Ling Zhang, Yang Lyu, Xiaotong Cui (s), Women’s Quadruple Sculls, People’s Republic of China, 2020 Olympic Games Regatta, Tokyo, Japan / World Rowing/Igor Meijer

The gold for this crew was particularly significant as it was the first Olympic gold medal for China in rowing since 2008, when they won the same boat class in Beijing. The crew’s coach, Zhang Xiuyun, had competed at three Olympic Games, including Beijing. Her best result was at Atlanta in 1996 when she won a silver in the double sculls and also finished sixth in the quadruple sculls. Speaking after her crew’s final in Tokyo, Zhang Xiuyun said “the rowers I coached realised their gold medal dream and helped me do it too.”

Finally, asked what is next on the agenda, Yunxia Chen responded “My next plan is to prepare for the Asian Games and then the Olympic Qualification and defend our Olympic title ultimately. Thanks for this award and hope it still goes to us next year.”

Read about the other winners of the 2021 World Rowing Awards here.