Robin Williams is a professional rowing coach. Born in Wales, he represented Great Britain as a lightweight rower at 6 world championships, winning silver and bronze medals.
He began coaching in 1992 at University of London Boat Club before moving to Cambridge University Boat Club where he spent 11 years. During this time, Cambridge won the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race 7 times.
Between 1994 and 2001, Harry worked with me at Cambridge University Boat Club as a visiting support coach and mentor.
In that time, we won several consecutive Oxford v Cambridge Boat Races and Goldie Isis Boat Races.
We also contributed several athletes to the GB Olympic team and Under 23s.
He then coached for 12 years with the British rowing team. For 6 years, he coached the British women’s coxless pair, achieving a string of 12 gold medal victories at world level with combinations of Helen Glover, Heather Stanning and Polly Swann.
Glover and Stanning, unbeaten in 39 races over 5 years, became world-record holders, world champions and back-to-back Olympic Champions (2012 and 2016).
How I Met
My first meeting with Harry was as a result of my appointment to coach at Cambridge, which was at the end of 1994. And before I’d actually started there, I was… I met Harry in Canada, where he was over at the Commonwealth regatta with John Wilson, who was the outgoing coach from Cambridge.
And I have to say, actually, that there was, I wouldn’t say a frostiness, but I felt it’s gonna take a little bit of time to get to know this guy. There wasn’t an instant warmth, probably because I was very young and he probably thought, who’s this young whippersnapper they’ve appointed. They’d had a really good thing going at Cambridge for the ’93, ’94 races. And I think appointing me there to carry on from ’95 was a bold appointment because I’d been a rower but I hadn’t got a huge amount of coaching experience. That was my first meeting with him.
And then in ’95, when the end of 94-95, when the Boat Race program got going, of course, he came over for visits and did a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there. And we began to get to know each other.
And pretty quickly, everything I’d heard about him, proved to be true, which is that he was a wizard coach, with a particular knack for getting the best out of individuals. And well, gosh, you know, there’s a whole story to be told there, as we know, with Harry, because he’s full of enigmas and curiosities and puzzles.
And… but there was a, there was definitely a sense that I wanted to… I wanted his respect, I wanted him to think of me as a good coach, I wanted to win his trust and his respect, and was absolutely grateful and thankful for his support of the program. But at the same time, I wanted to be my own boss as well. I didn’t want to be subservient to Harry or John Wilson or anybody else. I wanted to feel I could make my mark there as well. And he allowed that to happen. He understood that.