SAs national rowing squad’s 2017 European baptism of fire

I was thrilled to travel to Europe to participate in two major events on the world rowing calendar. It was a small team travelling, with only five athletes making up two boats. First Kirsten McCann in the women’s lightweight single, along with Jake Green, John Smith, David “Noddy” Hunt and myself in the men’s four. Our coach, Roger Barrow, led the way, while our team doctor, Danielle Brittain, joined us for the second leg of the tour.

Our first stop was the Henley Royal Regatta. It isn’t an official World Rowing event, but it is one of the oldest sporting events and one of rowing’s most prestigious events. Roger has always been a big fan of Henley. The racing is very different. Here it is one-on-one. The winner goes through and the loser goes home. On top of this, the event is very chaotic, with tons of spectators, motorboats and general disruptions to one’s normal race routine. It really puts you out of your comfort zone and you have to be a calm, cool customer to get the week at Henley right and come home with a victory.

For the Four we started off the week with some great training and really getting excited for the racing. Unfortunately I fell sick on race day, which was a massive cost. A rowing race is a huge physical effort and you need everyone in the crew to be on their A-game, especially when you are up against the reigning Olympic champions GB on their home water. We still managed to put a decent race in and as it was our first race of the season we walked away with a lot of knowledge to take to the next week’s racing in Switzerland.

Kirst also had a tough week at Henley, racing in the heavyweight division as there are no lightweight events at Henley. She drew the Kiwi in the early rounds and after throwing some big punches in the first half of the race, the headwind started to suit the bigger Kiwi and she edged ahead to knock Kirst out.

It was not our year at Henley, but this disappointment would not keep us down. It was time to move upwards and onwards to the main event of the tour – the third race in the World Cup Series in Lucerne, Switzerland. There is a World Cup in Lucerne every year and it has become the sort of Mecca of rowing. The Rotsee houses the greatest rowing course in the world, and a podium here is on every rower’s bucket list.

Returning to the Rotsee bought back a sour taste of last year’s race here before the Olympics, where Shaun Keeling and I missed the podium by 0.2 of a second. Having never made a podium here before, we were hopeful that this would be our year.

I was still struggling with the “Black Plague” I had caught on Mud Island, so the first few days in Switzerland I was out of the boat. John Smith also fell victim to the dreaded disease and we were quarantined and shunned from the rest of the group. Racing started on Friday, and John and I started to come right just in time.

The heat, which was practically our first time in the boat since Henley, burned like crazy! We had to finish top-two to go through to the semi-final and I pretty much put myself in the grave to make sure that happened. The others said they felt good, so I knew it was game on.
Day two of racing and the semi-final, our best race of the regatta. Our boat sang down the track, just short on the British, but much closer than Henley. We hit a killer rhythm and held our second spot all the way down the course to book our lane in the A-final.

Semi-finals are always the most nerve wracking. There is no reward for a good race (only to get a chance at a medal), but complete devastation if you mess up.

We took strength from Kirst, who’d had a cracker of a regatta, destroying her competition and showing everyone the class of athlete she is. Kirst’s final was the day before, and watching her power down the track to take gold gave us a lot of confidence.

With each race we were learning more about our crew and our racing, making small adjustments to tweak our race plan and improve our speed down the track.

The times between the six crews in the earlier rounds were exceptionally close, so we knew it was on for the final.

We put in a good row in the final, but our rhythm wasn’t quite as killer as it was in our semi. We found ourselves on the back foot through the halfway mark, working hard to keep in contact with the rest of the field. The second half of the race is always our strength, and we powered back into the field. With a massive sprint we were right in the mix for the medals. In the last few strokes I looked across and saw we were moving much faster than the others, but the finish line was coming. We ran out of track and crossed the finish line 0.05 of a second behind the Dutch with GB 1.8 seconds up taking gold and Italy taking silver. It was 2016 all over again!

Luckily I am a positive person. So, as gut wrenching it is to be so close and miss out, it is also just as exciting to know that you are so close. With two months to go until World Champs in America, we returned home to chase those small margins and put ourselves back in the mix.

The next few months are going to be absolutely savage as we commit ourselves to the most gruelling training, but it is all made easier by our sponsors:
• RMB – making sure we have what we need to do what it takes
• CMH Ford Hatfield – helping me to get to the training camps with ease
• Dead Reckoning Clothing and Oakley SA – keeping me in style!