OLYMPIAN rowing mum Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne booked her seat for Paris with a storming performance in the Final Qualifying Regatta in Switzerland yesterday.

Needing to finish in the top two in their six-boat last-chance final on Lucerne's Rotsee course, she and Welsh double sculls partner Becky Wilde pushed into second past the Swiss double of former world singles champion Jeannine Gmelin, and powered away from the chasing pack, just failing to row down the Czech front-runners on the line.

Second for the Tokyo Olympian and former world U23 doubles champion - from St Weonards near Monmouth, and who has trained at the town club in the past – means she will become only the second mum to row for GB at the Olympics after two-time gold medallist Helen Glover .

Mathilda, right, and Becky, left, are on their way to Paris
Mathilda, right, and Becky, left, are on their way to Paris (British Rowing/World Rowing)

And watching lakeside with her family and waiting to give her a hug after coming ashore her was son Freddie, who was born in 2022, a year after Mathilda and sister Charlotte helped the GB women's quadruple scull win the B final for seventh in Tokyo.

Speaking with her two-year-old son Freddie in her arms, Mathilda said: “We stayed in our boat the whole way through. In our heat I was too reactive to the crews around us. We said we wanted to do our best race and put that together, and that happened. I was aware that more and more crews were coming behind us.

The agony and the ecstasy for Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, left, and Becky Wilde
The agony and the ecstasy for Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, left, and Becky Wilde (Benedict Tufnell/World Rowing)

“I said to Becky we were just counting down strokes - it was such a relief to get through the finish line. I’m still in shock, I’m mainly relieved. Our biggest project was trying to qualify, so I’m excited to see what we can do now.” 

And on the challenge of combining motherhood with elite sport, she admitted: “When I became pregnant it changed my outlook on things.

“I don’t think having a baby should be the end of your career. My identity is a mum, but also an athlete and I’m definitely a better mum for rowing and I’m a much better athlete for him.

New mum Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne celebrates with her son at the Metropolitan Regatta
Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne celebrates a win last year with son Freddie (Metropolitan Regatta)

“So if anyone out there is considering whether it’s possible or not, it’s hard - your recovery is terrible at times but you never get stuck in a stress bubble and luckily I’ve got a really great doubles partner in Becky and a coach who makes it possible to go out there with childcare and things.

“They’re flexible. Things are changing - you can have a child and carry on. Helen (Glover) is showing that too - I hope that the two of us inspire some people going forwards.” 

Becky added: “I’m in shock. I don’t know what happened there. It’s been a lot of hard work and there have been some downs as well as some ups. It’s been tough, but Tom Pattichis, our coach, has been brilliant.

“I can’t believe we’ve qualified for Paris… It’ll take a while to settle in. I was listening to Mathilda’s words the whole way down, listening to what she was saying and trying not to think about anything or anyone else. In the last 200m I just wanted to get to the line.

The joy of qualifying for the Olympics
The joy of qualifying for the Olympics (Benedict Tufnell/World Rowing)

“We’re going to have a few days off then all eyes on Paris and see what we can do there.” 

Known as the 'regatta of death', the final qualifying chance for the Games is for boats which failed to finish in top slots at the 2023 world championships.

Mathilda in her comeback international year and newcomer Becky won through the GB trials to form a completely new partnership.

And after finishing seventh at the European Championships in Italy three weeks ago, they found the extra pace to surge through for a prized Paris place.

At 500m GB lay fourth 3/4L back on the Czechs, with the Swiss second and the Germans third.

But nothing could stop them powering through to hit the half-way mark 1/2L up on Switzerland and 3/4L clear of the Germans.

And they just surged away to hit 1500m with clear water over the chasing pack, before finishing just 1/4L off overall victory, with Germany squeezed out in third nearly 2L adrift.