The last few months have gone in a frenzied flash of training, preparation and racing. Something I always say and something that always surprises me is how much relief I feel at the end of it all.
We started the season with a beating from Germany at the European Championships in Poland. It was a narrow defeat but a useful one because it gave us the kick up the backside we needed. We were reminded by Germany, Russia and all the other nations how the eight’s event is raced, and gave us the direction we needed to head. Only a few weeks later we found ourselves on the cool, deep waters of Lake Varese in Italy. It’s one of my favourite rowing locations holding many memories from training camps over the years. Under the Italian sun we changed as a crew, we discovered our stroke, we found the event and we turned that tight margin around. We beat Germany, coming from behind in the closing few strokes. It was a satisfying and crystallising victory for us. We were now the GB eight.
With new focus we turned our attention to Henley Royal Regatta, a firm favourite among most British athletes. With Germany claiming they were coming to our fine river Thames to take revenge on their recent defeat, we were buoyed up and ready to battle it out down the historic race track. As it turned out we were more up for it than even we knew and as the distance between us grew, the will of the Germans fell away. We ended up beating them by lengths in one of the greatest eight’s defeats Germany has seen in recent years. It felt good to do that on home water in front of our loyal home crowd, a great day for us all.
There was something niggling at the back of my mind after that win however. Henley is a fantastic place to race, it’s unique. There are always many external factors involved in Rowing but never more so than at Henley. It’s part of the challenge of racing there, everyone accepts it, but it’s there. So when we are aiming for World championship gold, a result at Henley is not always something to be relied on. As long as we all remember that, it’s all good.
Two days after the Henley final we flew off to Lucerne for the final world cup regatta. We really needed to prove that we could repeat the result and head off to the World Championships on top. My thinking was correct, Henley was a strange result and we certainly didn’t get the same margin on Germany as we had on the river a week before. We broke out to a lead in the race but were drawn back in by Germany in those closing few meters of the race. They have one hell of a deadly sprint when they need to use it! We were far enough ahead and were able to hold the first place across the line, but it was close, very close. 0.8 was the margin. It doesn’t really matter what margins are, as long as you get across first, but that was a little too close for comfort.
All that was left was the big one, the World Championships. There was about a month from finishing Lucerne before flying to France. In between a couple of weeks at altitude in the Austrian alps followed by a roasting in the Portuguese sun. Before we knew it, race day was upon us and everything we had done in the year was to be put to the test.
I don’t think we did anything wrong, I think we finished the year with our best race. Our start was good, everything was calm and under control. We were aggressive in the right way and when we found our rhythm we were strong. It was our strong efficient rhythm that really made the difference.
We were going for GB’s third consecutive world title in the men’s eight, no mean feat when only three years ago we won the World championships in the eight for the first time ever. As Germany tried their super fast sprint, bringing with them Holland and the young New Zealand crew we maintained our lead and pushed our bows over the line first. We had done the job and we had done it well under the great pressure and expectation that rowing in one of GB’s top boats brings. It was a very pleasing end to a very satisfying year of racing.
With three slightly different crews over the last three years we have managed to stay on top when it matters and now GB starts Olympic year as current World Champions in the men’s eight event. It’s a fantastic position to be in leading towards the Olympics, theres a confidence it brings and a sense of assurance that it is possible to win. Not a single member of our squad however is under the illusion that the job is done. Three years of this Olympic cycle has gone past and only now does the job really begin.
Jurgen has already indicated that this Autumn with be tough, ‘Hot’ as he puts it. But I already know this, it’s Olympic year and it always is. Competition within our squad is unrelenting, every day it’s a battle to get on top. If you’re on top it’s a battle to stay on top, to maintain your position, fitness, strength, and chances of being selected. There is no let - up, not a single day where you can back off that mindset because if you do, someone will sneak ahead and take your place. I’ve now trained in the GB Heavyweight team through three Olympiads, each one from a slightly different position. This one will be the hardest for sure. Maybe this will be my last so there’s no question I’ll be doing everything I can to be there, racing and winning in Rio.
Time for a break, a very short break. London 2012 seems like yesterday, now Rio seems like tomorrow!