OLYMPIC rower Matt Wells bowed out of the sport with a star-studded race on his home waters in Northumberland.
The Hexham-raised rower was joined by London 2012 gold medalist Kat Copeland and nine other international Olympians for a regatta at the town’s Tyne Green on Saturday to mark his retirement from the sport.
Matt, 33, clinched a bronze medal in the 2008 games in Beijing but missed out on the podium in London, finishing fifth in the men’s quadruple sculls.
He is retiring from rowing to start a new job as a PE teacher next month.
Hundreds of spectators lined the river bank for the regatta – the biggest gathering of Olympic elite rowers in the North East.
The event saw German, French and Estonian elite rowers take on a 200m sprint challenge.
It also saw the launch of the Matt Wells Foundation to fund training for future Tynedale rowers.
Tyne Green is where Matt took up the sport aged 13 with the Queen Elizabeth High School Rowing Club.
The 6ft 2in athlete said rowing in his home town had been the perfect way to end his long career. “I wanted to make sure my last strokes were exactly where I made my first strokes.
“It’s really important to come back home to give something back to the community, and I’ve been really excited about the whole event.
“It’s really exciting to have international rowers and the guys I’ve rowed against in my home town.”
Teesside-based Kat, 21, stopped to sign T-shirts and show off the medal she won with Sophie Hosking in the lightweight women’s double scull.
She said: “Matt is my friend and I wanted to come and see everyone.
“I’m one of the younger ones in the team but I’m really lucky to be able to come into the sport with all these great people around.
“It’s nice to see how excited people are. Rowing isn’t a mainstream sport and it’s just good it’s getting a bit more attention.”
The event’s hosts said the day had been a success. Helen Pattison, 29, of Hexham Rowing Club, added: “We’re one of the smallest rowing clubs in the country and we’ve got all these big names here so it’s been great.”
Meanwhile, a charity auction dinner was held at Slaley Hall on Saturday night to raise funds for Matt’s foundation, with around 300 people present.
The dinner, auction of sports memorabilia, a tombola and game raised upwards of £5,000, with signed football shirts from world stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo fetching huge sums.
Some of the Olympic rowers stayed for the event and proved a hit with diners, signing autographs and posing for pictures, and some making speeches.
Matt’s dad John, who helped organise the regatta, said the event had been a perfect launch for the foundation.
“I am hugely delighted for it to set off in such a way.”
Further events are planned to raise money for the cause.
I wanted to make sure my last strokes were exactly where I made my first strokes