12 March 2021

Canberra rowers on the verge of making their Olympic rowing debut

| Tim Gavel
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Luke Letcher rowing for Radford College

Luke Letcher rowing for Radford College in the quad scull. Photo: Supplied.

Luke Letcher started rowing at Radford College as a 13-year-old after being encouraged by a neighbour.

That neighbour was Radford’s Master of Rowing, Philip Winkworth, who believed Luke, with his height, had the ideal physique for the sport.

Thirteen years later, Luke is on the cusp of making his Olympic debut in the postponed Games in Tokyo.

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He’s been named in the men’s quad sculls in the Australian team preparing for the Olympics, alongside fellow ACT rower, former Canberra Grammar student Caleb Antill.

“We’ve tracked each other’s careers for a long time,” says Luke. “As members of the ACT Rowing community, it’s exciting to have another ACT rower in the boat.”

And they have experience winning together. They teamed up in 2016 to win gold at the under-23 World Championships in the quad.

Under-23 World Championships

Luke (second from left) and Caleb (third from left), with Robert Black and Thomas Schramko after winning gold in the under 23 quad scull in the under 23 World Championship in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Photo: Rowing Australia.

Yet despite being named in the Australian squad, the crews for the Olympics haven’t been finalised, so as Luke says, “it’s an exciting moment but there is still a long way to go”.

Luke explains there are rowers who missed the trials with medical exemptions who could come back into the team, so “there’s still a little bit of uncertainty, but at the moment I am training on the premise that I’m in the boat”.

Luke has been in this position in the past.

In 2018 he rowed in the quad in the lead up to the World titles only to be replaced in the crew and effectively relegated to the single sculls for that regatta.

Two years prior as he prepared for the 2016 Olympics, he was the ninth-ranked sculler, with the top seven making the squad for Rio.

Luke rowing in the single scull

Luke rowing in the single scull for Australia. Photo: Rowing Australia.

Following his selection in the Australian team, Luke, who’s completing his degree in Systems Engineering at ANU and working as an electrical sub-contractor, will be training up to 18 times a week with Australian Rowing’s High Performance program.

Such is his passion for the sport, Luke, whose senior club is Black Mountain, is also on the board of Rowing ACT.

“I love the Canberra Rowing community. I can see myself continuing in the sport well beyond my competitive days,” he says.

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At 26 years of age and so close to making his Olympic debut, it has given him a chance to reflect on how the journey started and those who helped him reach this point.

“I was lucky to have David Bagnall as a coach through high school; I wouldn’t have had anywhere near the success I’ve had without him.”

And he had plenty of success as a junior as part of the Radford quad crew, winning the national schools title in 2011. The following year, he won the under 19 single sculls.

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The so-called Olympic dream didn’t take hold of Luke until he emerged from school, rowing into high-performance programs.

Now, buoyed by the support of the ACT rowing community, he is close to achieving that Olympic goal, as is Caleb.

Luke, though, is quick to reinforce that there is still a long way to go and plenty of hard work before it becomes a reality.

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