Diary Extracts

Plus articles written for the press

Desire to win pulled us past pain barrier

Great chance to make Steve eat his words

True spirit of Henley provides the ultimate stage

Leander Club captain's report

Bladerunner : Regatta Magazine 2001

Being in the same boat as your hero

September 1998 to June 1999

The first World Cup race - Hazelwinkel 1999

Single bed is big incentive

The fours head and beyond

BOA Acclimatisation camp

Rowing: Desire to win pulled us past pain barrier, By James Cracknell

I WON two World Championship gold medals on Saturday by a total of 0.42sec. Twenty-four hours after our coxless pairs final I still couldn't believe we won. For 1,999 metres of the 2,000 we were behind. We eventually won by 0.02sec, which is equivalent to one inch. It was a horrible race to be in, not due to the pain, but because the prospect of defeat was staring us in the face for over six minutes - and there was nothing we could do.

Two races in two hours was always going to be an enormous task. For the final of the coxed pairs we planned to take an early lead, settle into a strong pace and maintain it to the finish. We were hoping to build a lead by 1,500m so that we would not have to dig too deep at the end. The Italians were never going to let us take control of the race and hounded us. Their sprint finish nearly bought them level at the line (they finished 0.40sec behind). If Matt hadn't been playing games, trying to make eye contact with his opposite man, we could have made sure of not having two photo-finishes in one day.

In Saturday's Daily Telegraph, I wrote that the Italian stroke man would not like to lose to us again. The fact that he did by the same margin as in Sydney must make it worse. I understand we rowed the third-fastest coxed pairs time in history. Luckily we didn't hear that until after the second final. But I knew how much that had taken out of us. Our plan was to turn round and paddle away, as though we had just completed a training run. I found it hard just to hold my body upright and look like I wasn't tired. For the next hour, Matt and I kept telling each other how fresh we felt and how easy the first race had been. I don't think I'll ever believe anything he says again.

The support from the physiologist and the physiotherapists meant we went out for the second race in the best shape. Forcing us to drink, have massages, use iced towels and tell bad jokes helped us to forget what we had done and had to do. Our race plan for the coxless pairs was to dominate the field from the start and display that the first final had taken nothing out of us. After a minute, it was clear that Plan A was not going to happen. Yugoslavia and Romania had stormed out of the blocks and moved away. At 600m, I told Matt we were going to have to go to catch them. At 900m, I said we were really going to have to go. By 1,250m the race plan was out of the window and we had to start sprinting.

Winning the first final would have meant nothing if we had lost the coxless pairs. That is our premier event, the title we are aiming for in Athens, 2004. The fear of failure was eating away at me during the race. Matt said at halfway, when we were fourth, that he was racing for a medal. For the last two minutes of the race we were flat out, relying on all the miles we had slogged out at altitude camp. Technique had gone. It was a case of going for it and seeing what happened.

We were lucky the photo-finish went our way. At the line, we happened to be at the point of the stroke where the boat is moving the quickest and just edged ahead. I had no idea whether we had won or lost. The Yugoslavs were celebrating to our right; my legs were screaming, Matt collapsed over his blade. When the result came up on the screen, the Yugoslavs slumped as fatigue suddenly hit them. Matt and I went mad, and then fatigue hit us. Yesterday was the biggest achievement of my rowing career. In Sydney, we beat the same opposition as at previous World Championships. Here, in Lucerne, we beat our field having already raced. It will be psychologically hard for those crews to beat us now.

Without Jurgen Grobler, our coach, yesterday would have been impossible. His professionalism and competitive instinct make him stand out from any other coach. When we picked up the medals, I hugged him and he said three things. "Store the rates [a small machine tells us our stroke ratings and records them to help him analyse the race], stay strong, and don't look tired. You have to race these people again, but only in one event next year. Lucerne is known as the Lake of the Gods, and the rowing gods shined on us yesterday. To test them again may be asking too much.

Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

Back to the top

 


Great chance to make Steve eat his words, By James Cracknell

ELEVEN months ago I was going through exactly the same feelings as today. Lying in the athlete's rest area preparing myself for what the body has to go through during racing. Battling against the thoughts that let you take the easy way out. If given the option of slipping through a door with nobody knowing you have gone, it would be hard to resist. Matt Pinsent and I have qualified for the coxed and coxless pairs World Championship finals. A number of pairs have done that in the past. No pair has won both races. This year, instead of different days, the events are only two hours apart. Time lying around thinking about the race will be precious.

We are physically as well prepared as possible. Our recovery between races has been finalised. The amount of Lucozade, length of massage, number of iced towels (to lower core body temperature) and, for Matt, the weight of Jelly Babies to be consumed have all been tested in training. Jurgen Grobler is convinced, or at least has convinced us, that there is no problem in racing twice in two hours. Physically maybe, but it is the psychological effect that Matt and I have to get on top of.

On the opening day, we raced two heats three hours apart. I would be lying if I said we were not affected by the first race. The body complains about warming up again and the boat doesn't feel as dynamic. When the light went green, racing felt the same. We anticipated feeling the fatigue down the track. It never came but our anticipation of it affected our row. We have learned that lesson. Thursday's semi-final in the coxless pair was crucial. Just racing once (having already qualified for the coxed pairs final last Sunday) it was vital to send a message to the rest of the field of our potential.

The strength of the coxed pairs field does not match the coxless. Italy have shown themselves to be the other stand-out crew. The Italian pair contains one of the coxless four that won silver behind us in Sydney. He won't want to be on the podium having lost to us again. Similarly, this time I don't want to be on the podium having only beaten him by 0.38sec. There is extra incentive for the Italian coxed pair to push us all the way. Their team-mates have qualified second fastest for the coxless pairs final. The harder we are made to work in the first race, the less our chances of success in the second.

The psychological games will start as we cross the finish line in the coxed pair. Our body language will not reveal the fatigue we are feeling. No matter how hard the race, we are going to make it look like a walk in the park. As much for us as for the opposition. The interest among the athletes in our doubling up has surprised us, providing extra motivation. Respect from your peers is the ultimate prize. Press interest has grown through the week and been challenging.

In rowing, the press are generally positive. The only tough interviews came after our defeat in the four just prior to the Olympics. This week, the questions have been more hostile. "Is this arrogance going to cost you gold in the coxless pairs?" "Do you not respect your opposition?" "Are you doing this because Steve Redgrave never achieved it?" The answer to these questions is `no'. Sydney changed our lives forever. Sitting on the start at the Olympics, if we lost I'd wasted four years of my life. We responded to that pressure.

Steve phoned me before the heats. His words of advice are invaluable. One of the men's eight is reading his autobiography and read me a quote from it. "Winning two events on different days is incredibly difficult. Two on one day is impossible." Steve hates being wrong. Come this afternoon, hopefully he'll be eating his words.

Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

Back to the top


True spirit of Henley provides the ultimate stage, by James Cracknell

WRITING this article as the Danube flows past my Viennese hotel window on its journey to Budapest sounds idyllic. The reality is that we have been based on the industrial outskirts of Vienna. Yesterday we took part in the final of the coxless pairs when Matthew Pinsent and I managed to clinch the 2001 World Cup series before the final round in Munich in two weeks' time. It was a difficult race, slogging away into a strong headwind but our strength carried us through.

We had no choice but to win because we had already decided not to enter Munich. Instead we are focusing our attention on Henley Royal Regatta which starts on Wednesday via Steve's, sorry Sir Steve Redgrave's supersprints; GB versus the Rest of the World, held at Hampton Court Palace, Kingston today.

This adds up to nine races in as many days. Racing in Munich four days later would be too much. We have learnt from last year where fatigue from Henley was a contributing factor to us losing our final race in the coxless four before the Olympics. There is as much chance of us choosing to race in Munich over Henley as Gustavo Kuerten dropping Roland Garros in favour of Wimbledon!

Why is Henley so special to us? It is one-on-one racing upstream on a river, often on terrible water. Far removed from six-abreast racing on Europe's best rowing courses. But it is magic.

I cannot speak for all of the national team. The men's eight, also Olympic champions, have chosen not to race Henley. Even though Croatia and Australia, the Olympic silver and bronze medallists respectively in the men's eight are racing the Royal Regatta. To me Henley is bigger than the stereotypes that surround it - the Pimms-drinking upper-class who don't watch the racing. If this was true it would not be such a unique venue to race at. Winning at Henley, for club and international oarsmen alike, is special and if you know people who have come to watch you race are enjoying themselves, this makes it even better.

Racing at Henley is as close to being in a stadium that rowing can get. The crowd numbers and noise far exceed that of any other race - even the Olympics. In the last 300m you cannot hear the calls being given in your boat. As world champions in the coxless fours we raced the Australian 1992 and 1996 Olympic champions, "The Awesome Foursome" at Henley. This remains the most amazing atmosphere in which I have raced. Memories of the roar down the enclosures still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Henley isn't just about internationals, it is the place where every club oarsman wants to win. These are the rowers who get the most out of Henley. We are fortunate enough to race abroad with big crowds, coverage on TV good sponsorship so we can train all the time. Club oarsmen train before and after work, every weekday and weekends as well. They deserve this racing atmosphere, their love and commitment to the sport puts professional sports to shame.

Our decision to choose Henley over the final international regatta is more than just the atmosphere we get to race in. It is our only chance to appear in front of a home crowd this season. People who have changed the life of the coxless four since the Olympics and given us praise and recognition that far outweigh our achievement (well may be not Steve's). They deserve the chance to see us race and we want them to see us race. Surprisingly this can be achieved without the need for a ridiculous blazer, Pimms or money, as 1,800 metres of the 2,200m course is open to the public.

Matt and I both live and train in Henley. The local support for us is tremendous as is the support from our old club, Leander, who have funded us in the past when there was no Lottery or sponsorship money. To be able to meet world-class opposition (the second, third and fourth rated nations from the World Cup are all coming to race us) at a place so special to Matt and I in front of people who have been right behind us for years is rare in sport.

With the profile rowing has now, even Henley may notice some changes. Hopefully people will come who wouldn't have previously. Rowing's association with boxing, track-and-field, and cycling in Sydney has given it recognition as the truly athletic sport it is. In fact, the way that it is regarded in the rest of Europe.

This year I am hoping more people will realise how lucky they are to be having a great day out at an aesthetically gorgeous venue as some of the world's best oarsmen race past. Rest assured the oarsmen appreciate the atmosphere we get to race in. The fuss about the length of women's skirts sometimes overshadows what is a great sporting event. I, for one can't wait for our first race past the enclosures.

Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

Back to the top

 


Rowing Report - by the Captain

The start of a new Olympiad . . .

Following the euphoria of Sydney there have been three key changes at the Club. Well, two key changes and maybe one mistake. A new role, Director of Rowing, has been established and taken on by Ivor Lloyd with his typical enthusiasm. Responsibilities are the overall rowing strategy and the unenviable task of budgeting the rowing programme. In our new Chief Coach, Mark Banks, the former Chief Coach of Juniors, we have managed to recruit an International Standard Coach who will control the running of the Club. Mark's brief is to produce a new crop of internationals by 2004. The respect in which he is held by previous junior internationals should mean a greater influx of young talent into the Club. The third change, and perhaps the mistake, is my appointment as Captain.

The role of Captain has now reverted to the more traditional one of a lead athlete who is the link between the rowers, the coaching and administration side of the Club - as well as being to the fore of promoting the Club.

In my time as Captain the target I have set myself is to develop a real Club atmosphere. Due to the redevelopment, we now have facilities second to none. But the feeling around the Club has been one more in keeping of a high performance centre rather than a Club, where people are interested in either their own or their crew's training. What we need to develop (large strides have already been made in this direction) is a situation where people are interested in what others are doing. This has to come from the top downwards. This is the best way to improve results and to close the gap between the top performers and the development group, who will themselves be the top performers in a few years' time.

The personnel at the Club have changed enormously since Sydney. We have lost five gold medallists. Some of the 'old guard', Steve Redgrave and Ben Hunt-Davis retired. Fred Scarlett is taking a year out of the sport. Tim Foster and Luka Grubor decided not to race for us because of the reasons previously mentioned. This season we have set about racing with people who are truly committed to the Club. This may mean that results this season are not our best. But it is the best way to achieve long-term success.

The Club had a strong field entered in the Fours Head and was expected to retain the Headship, but constant rain meant that it was cancelled due to unsafe racing conditions. Flooding has meant a lot of lost water time. The news is not all bad though; the Club has had two training camps during the winter, both in Spain, Seville and Banyoles. Planning permission has now been granted from the Caversham Rowing Lake. It is important that Leander get the most out of this facility. The availability of Caversham and its proximity to Leander will naturally attract more oarsmen into our 'catchment zone'. With the facilities we offer I'm sure this can only have a positive effect on the number of people wanting to race for the Club.

Flooding did not pose any problems for an event that not only raised a great deal of money for Comic Relief but also showed the type of atmosphere we can develop. I am of course talking about the Red Nose Row. This consisted of a team of 10 people with 3 reserves racing against bodybuilders, wrestlers and rugby league players over 100,000 metres. Our support ranged from committee members to members of the development group. Your support and that of our sponsor, Armchair Passenger Services, made a big difference, especially as some members of our team had not been training up to their normal high standard - although 'his' TV appearances and public speaking has improved beyond all recognition!

The biggest club event apart from Henley Royal Regatta is the Eights Head. As previously mentioned, we had lost five gold medallists since last year. This meant the 1st eight was a truly club boat comprising of lightweights, heavyweights and scullers. More importantly it is made up of people who truly wanted to race for the Club. The 2nd eight was due to be a lightweight eight but with National Trials only two days after the race this meant the guys were torn between Club and Country. Hopefully the powers that be at British International Rowing will realise athletes want to race for their Clubs and will not hold trials so close again. Our 3rd and 4th eights were made up from the new development group. Our results were mixed. The first eight easily held onto 2nd place. With more belief we maybe could have placed Queens Tower (containing 6 Olympians) under real pressure. The second eight came 22nd and the 3rd eight a fine 24th.Leander members have again excelled at National Trials. Not just in heavy and lightweight men but both women's categories as well. In the winter long distance trials, we had wins in heavy, lightweight singles and heavy and lightweight women's singles. In the junior men's category Matt Langridge and Colin Smith have been first and second in every trial this season.

From the long distance trials we moved to the final selection trials in Belgium. Leander again had the best club results. Tracy Langlands was lightweight women's singles and has chosen to pursue this event. Jo Nisch came second in lightweight women's doubles. Debbie Flood and Francis Houghton were the women's doubles, having come first and second in every trial all winter. At present it is unclear which boat they will race in this summer. In lightweight men's pairs we had members in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 9th placed boats. Our Athletes are part of all three sweep boats for the summers racing. Special mention should go to Ali Brown and Mark Hunter for making the senior team for the first time. In U23 lightweight men's singles we had a one-two; Matt Baker and James Walker respectively. In the heavy men's singles we came 2nd 3rd and 5th. Messrs Gardner, Lawson and Cottle are now training in a quad. Leander also had a one-two in the heavy men's pairs. Matt and I won and are now pursuing this venture. Toby Garbett and Steve Williams, world champions from the 2000 coxed four, came second and are now trying both the coxless four and the eight.

As a Club we are looking forward to the regatta since when our members will be racing in places as far apart as Princeton, USA to the London Docklands. We will all meet up at Henley where representing Leander is one of the highlights of our season. With the new role changes it should be an exciting regatta. The development group can now enter the lower events. So this year expect representatives in a large variety of events.

Hopefully I'll see you here cheering us on!!

Courtesy of Leander club


Back to the top

Bladerunner : Regatta Magazine 2001

It is great to be back rowing again, and the novelty of a new event will make this season exciting. The last Bladerunner that I wrote was after our Olympic final. The memories haven't faded yet, but so much time has passed. Whilst still enjoying people - at last - thinking it was cool to be a rower, Jurgen wanted us to start training again.

After deciding that I wanted to commit to four more years aiming for another gold in Athens, the question arose 'in what?' Jurgen provided the answers, saying that the 2000 Olympic four was history. It would not be a case of finding a replacement for Steve (who would want that kind of pressure?) He also wanted me to switch sides. I realised this wasn't going to be easy, but changing sides after 13 years on stroke side was appealing. A fresh challenge provided motivation to get back into training. There was also the possibility of rowing in a pair with Matthew Pinsent. Let's face it, as a pairs partner, I could do worse!After Christmas I set about the switch. I found it hard going. The floods meant a lot of lost water time. When we did get out, we were unable to have much feeling for what the boat was doing (some would say that's no change from my stroke side rowing). A consolation was that Matt had to put up with the water, uncomfortable balance, and my swearing.

Our pair progressed well on training camps in Spain and Italy, and we arrived at the national trials in Belgium in good shape. The tense aggressive atmosphere brought out our best rowing. The prize was a trip to the first World Cup regatta in the coxless pair - a prize as this year the opening round was in Princeton, USA, The land where everything is bigger and more convenient. We packed our shopping bags in anticipation. FISA's idea was to extend the cup beyond Europe. We were accompanied by Matthew Wells in the single and a lightweight four. Needless to say the latter didn't quite make the same use of the pancake machine as Matt and I did.

Matt Wells had a great regatta, coming away with a bronze medal. He also won the gold medal for the most boats used over the weekend, because few of the available boats met his high standards. The lightweight four would probably want to forget this weekend where the Danish world champions gained revenge on the French Olympic champions.

Our race certainly won't go down as a classic. The strong crosswind made life uncomfortable. Especially as it blew the boat onto bow side, not the best initiation for my novice bow side rowing. Throwing the boat nack over to Matt seemed the best plan. It made me more comfortable but was probably not conductive to our boat speed. We won knowing that there is plenty of room for improvement.

The Americans put great effort into getting the course right and having enough cameras so that the racing came across well on TV. It was a shame that there were not more crews at Princeton, but having said that, every event contained at least one Olympic medallist. I hope we will be back in the States again next year, along with a few more crews and countries.

Courtesy of Regatta Magazine

Back to the top


If you win it is awesome, if you lose you are left with nothing'

Being in the same boat as your hero, by James Cracknell

When I told my PE teacher in 1985 that I was going to take up rowing he said, 'You're going to be the next Steve Redgrave, are you?' I remember saying I had never heard of Steve Redgrave.

The previous year, when Steve had won his first gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics, my attention was taken by Daley Thompson and Jurgen Hinckson battling it out in the decathlon.

I first met Steve in 1986 at the national championships. He was watching from te stands. My mate pointed him out: I went up and got his autograph. I wonder what his response would have been if he had been told he would win his fifth olympic gold medal with this kid.

A few months later I watched Steve win three golds at the Commonwealth Games. There he became the 'daddy' of world rowing to me. In the following fourteen years that opinion hasn't changed.

By the time Steve raced at the 1988 Seoul Olympics I was well on the way to becoming a 'riggerhead'. I remember waking up totally excited in the middle of the night to watch him beat the Romanians to win gold in the coxless pairs.

The Second time I've met Steve was in 1990. I was training in a coxless pair with Nick Clary for the Junior final trials. Nick rowed at Marlow Rowing Club, Steve's home club, and he had been coaching Nick during the season. I was nervous arriving at the river as Steve would be coaching us. I didn't want to make a bad impression in case it jeapardised our plans for rowing together in the 2000 games.

Unfortunately it didn't go to plan. I neglected to do up my gate properly and as we paddled away from the dock my blade popped out and we flipped.

The capsizing episode must have slipped his memory. Following the junior world championships Steve said I should come and row out of Leander. He asked Nick and I to train alongside his pair for a weekend at Henley. This was Steve's new pair with a young Matt Pinsent undergoing final preparations prior to flying to Tasmania for the world championships. I'd like to say we helped pace them in training. There wsa no way Steve would let a couple of juniors finish anywhere near him. Their wash did feel very good, though.

Since 1990 I have trained with Steve either at Leander, in the national squad or as part of the four. You do not get the whole man until you have trained for a long term goal with him, or more specifically, raced with him. In training he is amazingly consistant when you consider the enormous demands on his time. His moods vary, but you know that all he is interested in is making the boat go faster. He is a great crewmaker: his presence in a boat changes it. I have learnt so much from him in these areas. The most enjoyable aspect of training with him is his competitiveness in every situation where it is possible, and even some where it isn't. This means our training has an edge that is so necessary if you train day in, day out. for me beating Steve in anything is great. After all, he is Steve Redgrave.

To race with he is awesome, totally cool under pressure. He reads races excellently, never underestimates the opposition, and lives the races in his mind, trying to predict the unexpected.

One criticism I had was the way we let crews close the gap on us in the last 250m during the early rounds of a regatta, our aim being to get to the final in the best shape possible. But it did give us other crews a sniff of us, and sometimes placed us under needless pressure. Looking back on Sydney, where we were being pressured all the way to the line, it was not a new experience for us and it meant that we didn't tighten up. Did all those close finishes through the four years make the difference between gold and silver in Sydney?

When our coach, Jurgen Grobler, announced the four in 1997, the best feeling was that Steve trusted me enough to place his Olympic record in my hands. This meant I had his respect. To me, that meant more than anything.

Over the last four years he has taught me more about racing and how to win than I thought possible. The most important lesson: it is easier to be an underdog than a champion. As a champion everyone is always trying to knock you off your perch. I had had to cope with that for four years. Steve has done it for nearly 20.

I remember standing on the podium in Sydney thinking 'how is it possible for everything to go right at this level on a specific day every four years, five times, spanning 16 years?' It is truly amazing. More so because of the medical problems that Steve has had to overcome.

Although the illness have got him down during the last four years, he has never complained about them. It has only frustrated him that his performance wasn't always at the level he expected.

It was only during the last six months prior to the Games that I realised how large an Olympic star he is. You forget when you see him every day, masked by his modesty. All the awards and honours he has received since Sydney are long overdue, and could not be going to a better man.

I feel so honoured not only to have rowed and raced with my sporting hero but to have won an Olympic gold medal in the same crew when he set such a remerkable record and became an Olympic legend. I owe you one, big fella!

Courtesy of Regatta Magazine

Back to the top


September: The World Championships

The World Championships were held in Cologne during the second week of September. With the weather we experienced, it felt more like February and having come from a warm weather camp in Italy my shades were replaced by a woolly hat. The racing, I'm pleased to say, was better than the weather. We progressed very comfortably through the heat, qualifying directly for the semi-final. In the semi we had an excellent row winning relatively easily. Although we won the final, we did not show the same dominance that we had exhibited during the week, so by our standards we had a poor race. Our aim during preparation is that our worst row should still be good enough to win. This wasn't our worst row, but it certainly won't be going down as a classic.

October: Back to training with Mickey Mouse

Following a massive three week break from training, it all started again for what is a relatively short season as the world Championships are in August this year rather than September. After four days training, 12 of the men's heavyweight team flew out on a training camp to the Disney Life World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida. For this camp bikes rather than boats were used. Jurgen, our coach, decided that we could cycle for longer than we could row, so it must be better training. After the first cycle ride, however, when the novelty had worn off, two thoughts occurred to me: I didn't fancy following Matthew Pinsent's arse for four hours, and I was going to get through a lot of Vaseline. This two week training camp was a great way to kick off the new season with the excellent facilities available at the Disney complex and the gorgeous weather that we had. The only downside was that I didn't get to see Mickey Mouse.

November: Tim's back injury

During training for a domestic race (the fours' Head of the River), Tim had to stop rowing as his back was stiff. After failing to clear up with a few days rest, Tim went to have a scan. This showed the problem to be a bulging disc which meant he would have to take time out of the boat.

December: Tim's back operation

A week before Christmas Tim's back was thought not to be healing on its own and he underwent surgery to remove his bulging disc. This was a painful operation that would take at least six weeks to recover from and then another three months before full fitness could be regained. We knew Tim had the sort of character to recover from a severe operation like this, but it meant he had only a slim chance of being fit for our first race at the end of May.

December: My first trip to Australia

Arriving at Heathrow bound for Sydney, I was looking forward to visiting a country that I had never been to, but also dreading the 24 hours I was going to have to spend in cramped economy seats. Seven movies later we landed in Sydney (I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had saved myself 35 in cinema tickets by watching all the films on offer.) The camp was split into two parts. Part one was a few days in Sydney looking around the Olympic sites, culminating in a trip out to the rowing course. Part two was a three-week traiining camp on the Gold Coast near Surfers Paradise where the BOA (British Olympic Association) have set training venues for various Olympic sports. Looking at the course was a strange experience. I could now see the place where the most important day of my life would be spent. I have thought about the races we will have there often enough, but to be able to actually picture the venue adds an extra touch of realism. The only negative about the experience was that Tim had to stay at home as he was unable to travel because of this back. The facilities on the Gold Coast were mixed. The locals had constructed a great course on a reservoir that was exclusively ours to use, and we were using the local rugby club's gym. Things were fine until the club got shut down while we were over there. Training went well for the three of us out there but the news from home about Tim's back was not good.

January: Looking for a replacement

The replacement did not take much choosing as there was only one viable option: Ed Coode. Ed, who rowed for Oxford in the 1998 Boat Race, had performed way above anybody else (apart from the three fit members of the coxless four) and he therefore moved into our training group at the beginning of January.

January/February: Training at the Sierra Nevada ski resort

Great! At last a training camp where we can have some fun - train in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon! No such luck. We got to see people skiing while we were training on the rowing machines and doing weights. We were given the option of going skiing every fourth day when we had a half day, but the training was so tough on those days it was an achievement to be able to crawl back to your be and manage to wake up in time for dinner. Hard as this camp was, the three weeks of hard land training gave us excellent base fitness as we moved back into boats for pre-season boat work.

After flying into Malaga on our way to a winter work-out, we travelled up to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the closest town being Granada. Our destination was Spain's Centre of altitude training. It was built before the Barcelona Olympics to prepare the home athletes, with a plan to open it athletes around the world as a commercial venture. Jan Zelezny, the Czech Olympic javelin champion and Alex Popov, the Russian 50 and 100 metres Olympic swimming champion are both regular visitors.

At 2,352m, it is above the 2000m mark, which brings an increase in the content of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying molecule in the blood. Going to altitude earlier in a season provides greater benefit the second time, which for us will be six weeks before the World Championships.

As we drove above the tree line and up past the ski resort, I saw the centre, looking like a James Bond villain's hideout, a massive aluminium leisure centre on top of the mountain. Environmentally friendly it isn't. the facilities are excellent with an indoor track, a pole vault pit (we quickly discovered there are no budding Sergei Bubka's among us), a 50-metre swimming pool, a gym, basketball, football and volleyball courts and, unfortunately, rowing machines.

Doing an 'ergo' at altitude with less oxygen, and watching people ski below makes you think that you might be in the wrong sport. Apart from ergos our training has included weights circuits and football. The tactic of mindless enthusiasm does not seem to work at altitude. After five minutes of the first game there were a lot of volunteers for goal.

We have only been here for four days but we already know how Jack Nicholson felt in The Shining, trapped in a building up a mountain. To make it worse we have no television and are having to make our own entertainment. In fact, we already have some runaway leaders in the beard growing contest and have had some unusual entries in the snow-sculpting competition.

It is clear that the two weeks we are going to spend here will involve high-quality training with so many good facilities under one roof. Something that will hopefully happen soon in Britain.

Being without Tim here and throughout the winter due to his back injury has been difficult both for our training and for me personally. I share with Tim when we go away and it has been strange not having him around, his approach to training and to life on a camp certainly helps me through them. During the time Tim has missed it has been frustrating being unable to help him. I wish I could do his training for him (so does he probably). But only he can do that.

The four as a boat has to move on, our opposition are not going to wait until Tim gets better so we can't either. At present Ed Coode is in the four. Ed's impressive performances through the winter identified him as the one to move forward with. Competition to be in four has always been fierce and hopefully the situation we are now in will ultimately raise us onto a higher level.

February/March: Seville, the first rowing training camp

Having just got round to washing my kit from Sierra Nevada, it was time to go away again, this time to Seville where the temperature was expected to be hot enough to justify taking shades and shorts. This was more like it! When we arrived, the Spanish told us the weather had been really nice the week before and could not understand why it was raining all the time. Luckily my shorts and t-shirts were keeping me nice and warm! During this camp we raced in the FISA Team Cup, a 500 and 1000m sprint.This was the four's first race of the year. We had only a few days in the boat with Ed before racing and we were facing strong competition from the Danish four who are the Olympic lightweight champions and gave us a good race at Henley last summer. Everything clicked into place and we had a couple of good races, dominating both. This was the first time we had won without Tim and it gave us a lot of confidence in preparation for the first World Cup regatta in Belgium at the end of May. Our next race is in Vienna on 18 - 21 June. We found out today that we will be racing with Ed as Tim is still not 100% fit. The decision as to who will be in the boat for Henley will be decided after Vienna. It's great to have two such good athletes fighting over one seat. Roll on Vienna

March / April:

We arrived at Heathrow on March 10th following a 2-week camp in Seville back in England for 3 months. This is the longest we will be at home from now until the Olympics in September 2000. Luckily British 'summer' time is now upon us. We have been fortunate to miss the worst of the winter with camps in Australia and Spain. The weather now is not a problem but we are busy preparing for our annual battles with both fishermen and cruiser drivers. Imagine the England Football Team training at Bisham Abbey with people walking their dogs over the pitch as Beckham is lining up a practice free kick. A 2000m course around the Thames Valley can't come soon enough! Domestically March and April are busy months for us. Having just done the Eight's Head where my congratulations go to QT who rowed a fine race. As their eight contained the majority of the National Eight hopefully this will be the start of a successful season for them. It was hard though having to row a pair with Ed (Coode) the day after. I spent the whole outing trying to pull him up the bank to show that we (Leander) were really the better crew. Needless to say that outing won't be going down as a classic. A week after the Head is everybody's favourite, a 2000m ergo test. Jurgen tries to convince us that as it lasts less than 6 minutes it is an easy day. I had a cold and had to miss the test. Standing outside in only my boxers the day before obviously paid off. Unfortunately I have to do it after the pairs trials instead. The April pairs assessment means that we get to spend 5 days in Nottingham. Only 4 days if the weather is good, so we are expecting to be there at least 5. In the past it has been held at Hazelwinkle in Belgium. The management decided that we could get as much rain in Nottingham without so much travel so it's held there now. Pairs trials is run as a regatta which is great fun as since the World Championships the only races in which we have competed are the Four's and Eight's Head and the European Team Cup. It is also the only chance you get to race side by side against the rest of the squad. This makes for a pressurised atmosphere and ideal race rehearsal. Especially as your result effects which crew you end up in for the season. Splitting down into pairs provides some excellent training for the four. Side by side steady state becomes a competition of who can go the fastest without looking tired whilst giving calls about how easily your pair is moving. As Steve and Matt race together the trials become an opportunity to race the fastest and most successful pair of all time. Last year they did not race as Matt had a fractured rib which took a lot of the shine off Tim and my victory. This year I will race with Ed as Tim is still recovering. As only 2 pairs have beaten a fully fit Steve and Matt over the last 9 years to beat them would be a big achievement as big if not bigger than winning the World Championships. Ed and I would then be in more exclusive company than winning a World Championship places you. To do this will require a tremendous performance as their competitive streak and ability to raise their game is enormous. There is a bigger prize than victory alone. It is an unwritten rule that the winner of the pairs trials gets the best room at the summer altitude camp in Austria. This is a valued prize as it contains single beds. As nice as Tim is 3 weeks in a double bed does your relationship few favours.

April/May: Preparation for Hazewinkel, Belgium

Having lost the first World Cup Regatta last year when Tim was unable to race, we were determined that this was not going to happen again. We trained well and focused on what we wanted to achieve. Although the boat was not always going that well, we were all looking forward to the first 2000m race of the season.

May: The first World Cup Regatta, Hazewinkel

Belgium is probably not top of the list of places you dream of visiting, but I was looking forward to seeing mates from other countries that I had not seen since the World Championships. Unfortunately, the entry for this regatta was not that big with many of the larger countries staying away. While this left our event without some of the faster crews, we felt this might not be such a bad thing as a more low key start to the season could have its advantages. Our races through the regatta got more fluid as the crew got more used to racing with each other. This culminated in a nice row in the final where we were able to control the race from the beginning and never had to move into top gear. After eight and a half months of not having raced a competitive 2000m the first world cup regatta in Hazelwinkel could not come quick enough. Following the final in Cologne where we had a poor row and personally I did not row the way I had visualised provided me with a picture of what I wanted the four to achieve in it's first race of the 1998/9 season. Through the winter this picture had Tim in the boat, when it was clear he would be unable to race and Ed would row instead the focus changed. Last year at the first world cup race in Munich we raced without Tim due to an aggressive pane of glass. We performed badly and came fourth. This taught me two things; firstly the press reaction emphasised the expectations that exist of any crew containing Steve and Matt. Secondly being a full-time athlete is no fun if you lose, as there is nothing to take your mind off rowing, unbelievably even MTV and the playstation lose their appeal. In the build up to Hazelwinkel we learnt from last years experience and preparation was more focused, both physically and mentally. Having had national trials in Belgium last year I knew what the Belgium weather had in store for us so woolly hats and waterproofs were packed. If I didn't use them I thought I could always lend them to a lightweight to sweat down in. Surprisingly the weather was hot and sunny although a bit windy until after racing on Sunday when all the weekends rain came in the 10 minutes when I had to walk to the coach. The quality of entry in our event was not ideal, as we were the only medallists from last year's world championships present. Norway and Romania (5th and 6th in Cologne) were expected to provide the best competition. Friday's heat was changed to a pointless time trial so FISA could practice timing in case the Olympic final becomes a time trial due to unfair conditions. We were unsure of our boat speed going into Hazelwinkel and the time trial gave us little more information as crews played around because with less than 12 entries we all went to the semi-finals on Saturday anyway. The semi gave us a better idea of our speed and the level of competition. We were in control from the start and it was a great feeling to be side by side racing again. True to my predictions Norway and Romania failed to make the final. The final went a similar way to the semi where we controlled the race and did not have to use top gear in the second half. It was a nice opener and gave us plenty to work on before we meet the big boys of Australia, France, Italy and Germany in Vienna. I can't wait. For other British crews there were mixed fortunes often depending on the level of competition in their event. I guess the women's heavy and light doubles will be disappointed as will the men's lightweight four. The heavyweight pairs did well with Dot and Cath dominating their event. 'Little and Large' (Williams and Dennis) raced well coming second and defeating the Olympic silver medallists in the process. The men's eight finished the regatta with a silver half a length behind Romania. So it's off to the bank to change our Belgium francs into Austrian shillings. Roll on Vienna. Our next race is in Vienna on 18 - 21 June. We found out today that we will be racing with Ed as Tim is still not 100% fit. The decision as to who will be in the boat for Henley will be decided after Vienna. It's great to have two such good athletes fighting over one seat. Roll on Vienna

June: The second World Cup Regatta, Vienna

We have just returned from Vienna following the second of the three regatta World Cup series. The regatta course is situated alongside the River Danube on a canal. This course has special meaning for the three of us who raced in the four this weekend. The World Championships were held here in 1991, it was here that Steve and Matt started their domination of the pair event. It was also here that I started my senior international career, strangely enough in the coxless fours although the result in 1991 was nothing too much to shout about. This weekend the competition was better than Belgium three weeks ago, this time we raced the French, silver medallists from the Olympics and the last two World Championships. Unfortunately the weather was not better than three weeks ago. Our heat on Friday was the second from last race and they suspended racing due to the wind. Sitting on the start with the waves breaking on the bows and coming into the boat I was wondering if we could make it to the finish without sinking. We did make it and won the heat although by the end I was so wet I might as well have swam it. Winning our heat meant we did not have to race again until Sunday so we gained some sadistic pleasure from watching all the people who had to race on Saturday struggle into the wind. Our pleasure was further increased when the wind dropped on Sunday and the sun came out. This almost, but not quite, made up for having to get up at 6am as our race had been brought forward to the morning. The final did not go as well as we thought it would. The French were not as fast as we expected; instead it was Norway who pushed us all the way down the track. We have only got two crews from last year's final who we have not raced this season, Italy (bronze) and Australia (fourth). We will meet these crews in Switzerland at the final of the World Cup Regatta. Now it is off to Henley Regatta where we will be racing the Danish Lightweight Olympic Champions. They have to race at under 72.5kg in their event but are extremely fast and it should be a great race. Hopefully it will go our way and it will be us enjoying the Pimms on Sunday night.


The first World Cup race - Hazelwinkel 1999, by James Cracknell

It is eight and a half months since the World Championship final, the last 2000m race we did. The next one is this weekend. My feelings going into this the first of the world cup series are mixed.

The final in Cologne we had a poor row as a crew and personally I did not row the way I had visualised. The next race we did I was determined we should demonstrate our best not giving others a sniff of us. This image has remained throughout the winter, motivating me through all the problems that we have had. I always visualised the first race of the season with Tim in the four and racing without him makes the focus different.

The boat feels different with Ed than Tim so it is hard to tell exactly how fast it is going. When Tim is on board and it is feeling comfortable we know we are going fast, our previous races have shown us that. With Ed we have no history to gauge anything on. Training times do not predict what will happen when you race.

This time last year we raced without Tim after a window jumped out at him and his hand went through it. We performed badly and came fourth. In the build up to that race things seemed to be going ok but when we raced the top speed was not there. Following that defeat I was surprised at the amount of press it received making me realise how much any crew with Steve and Matthew in was expected to win. Something you do not realise unless you lose, which up until that point we hadn't.

In the build up to races we aim to perform to our best knowing that will place us in a good position to win. We do not expect to win. The difference between first and sixth is only one percent off your best.

Losing last year showed me the downside to being a full-time athlete. Having gone full-time the season I joined the four this was the first time I had lost when there was no other focus in my life and it is an empty feeling. In the past university or work forced gave me the opportunity to think about something else. From then until the next time we raced it was on my mind all the time, this is something I am determined not to feel again.

The preparation for this race has been influenced by the race last year, commitment both physical and mental has been strong even though the boat has not always been going the way we would have liked in the build up.

When we got together in 1997 this season was earmarked as the important one aiming to dominate from the first race to the World Championships, making other crews doubt their ability to beat us coming into the Olympic year. Our objectives are the same with Ed as they would have been with Tim, to start with a win in Belgium. Who is in the boat for the next race is as yet unknown.

Visualising this race has been easy, the course in Belgium is familiar to us (many would say too familiar as it always seems to rain there) as British trials have been held there over the last few years. We have seen the entry lists and having raced these nations before I know the faces that will be at the regatta.

With the race only days away I am looking forward to sitting on the start. You have to be attached three minutes before start time. The start area is deadly quiet all the crowds are in the last 250m. The bows are aligned from the bank. I make sure the boat is straight in the lane. Steve will say a few words to refocus us, I will probably pat him on the back. The adrenalin is already flowing. The starter calls the crews one by one and you move to the set position. As he calls the first crew there is a surge of adrenalin. I will be focusing on powering away from the start all four of us, all 400kg moving together it is a great feeling. The adrenalin is going just writing this. I can't wait for the weekend eight and a half months is a long time to train without racing.

Back to the top


Rowing: Single bed is big incentive, by James Cracknell

FOR ME, April is a landmark in the rowing year. It means we have completed the winter's training. Since the World Championships in September we have had only three races in seven months, making the training seem relentless. The focus within training now changes to preparation for the international racing season.

We have been fortunate to miss the worst of the British winter with camps in America, Australia and Spain. Our training camp in Seville ended on March 10. From that point until May 29, the date of the first World Cup regatta, is the longest we will be in England until after the Olympics in September 2000.

As British summertime is upon us, the weather (normally) no longer affects the quality of our health and training. We are, however, busy preparing for our annual battles with fishermen (they fire maggots at you) and river boat drivers (who drive like Maureen from Driving School). Imagine the England football team training at Bisham Abbey with people jogging and walking their dogs on the pitch as David Beckham is lining up a practice free-kick. A 2000-metre course in the Thames Valley can't come soon enough.

With the racing season five weeks away, final selection for the British team has been taking place at Holme Pierrepont, one of the 10 regional centres of excellence within the Sporting Academy.

All athletes being considered for the team take part in coxless pairs. It is run as a regatta and is the only chance you get to race the rest of the squad in a side-by-side race. The results determine which crew you will be in for the international season. This makes for a pressurised atmosphere and ideal race rehearsal.

When the four splits down into pairs, Steve Redgrave and Matt Pinsent row together and Tim Foster and I row together. As Tim is on a recovery programme I am pairing with Ed Coode, who at present is in the four. Rowing in pairs provides excellent training and competition for the four of us.

Having Steve and Matt at the pairs trials is good for British rowing. Firstly, it provides a benchmark for the other pairs, vital when selecting crews. Secondly, it gives the rest of the squad a chance to race the most successful pair in history. Only two pairs have beaten a fully fit Steve and Matt over the last nine years. Last year, Tim and I won the trials but Steve and Matt did not enter as Matt had a fractured rib.

When we travelled to Nottingham this time, Ed and I had a chance to enter a more exclusive group than being world champions, a possibility to be among the few people who have beaten Redgrave and Pinsent. There is, though, a bigger prize than victory alone. It is an unwritten rule that the winner of the pairs trials gets the best room at the summer altitude camp in Austria. This is a valued prize as it contains single beds. As nice as Tim and Ed are, three weeks in a double bed does your relationship few favours.

Unfortunately, the day before racing Matt pulled out due to a stiff back. This was extremely frustrating for Ed and I as all the times in training had indicated that it was going to be a cracking race. Ed and I still had to prove our speed against the 12 other pairs.

Nottingham's unique micro-climate kicked in on the day of the heat giving us wind, hail, snow and sunshine. As the wind made the course unfair for multi-lane racing, there was a time trial. Ed and I won that and the semi-final the next morning. We, too, then withdrew as I was still suffering from the effects of a cold that forced me to miss training the week before - a disappointing end to what I had hoped was going to be a great few days of racing.

Now the season starts, we are in the four all the time in the build up to the first World Cup regatta in Hazelwinkel, Belgium. Ed is in as Tim is not ready. Ed has risen to the task and is enjoying the challenge of what is a difficult seat to fill. He seems relaxed and unfazed by the pressure so far. Not a lot seems to stress him, although I don't think he fully wakes up until lunchtime. The struggle for Cornish independence is the only thing that winds him up. These five weeks are crucial if we are to dominate the season from the beginning, something we failed to do last year as we lost the opening race. We aim to make amends this season.

What will happen to the crew later in the season remains to be seen. If I was Tim, I wouldn't want Ed in my seat and if I was Ed I wouldn't want Tim after it. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. I'm just glad the racing season is not that far away.

Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17 April 1999

Back to the top


THE FOURS HEAD AND BEYOND, by James Cracknell

Three weeks prior to the Fours Head I was wondering who would be in the four for this race out of the five of us. The situation was resolved by splitting us up into a quad and a coxless four. Tim, Ed and myself joined by Bobby Thatcher teamed up for the quad. Steve and Matt rowed with Fred Scarlett and Ben Hunt-Davis in the coxless four.

During our first outing Ed informed us this was his first outing of crew sculling. Just like last season he rose to the challenge. Having said that the rest us having not been in a quad for a while could not help that much. It wasn't like riding a bike it took us some time to get used to having two oars each, let alone keeping in time with the others.

Arctic winds of 25-30 mph were forecast for November 20th. Unfortunately the weathermen got it right and Fours Head day was no 'Indian Summer.' Sitting on the start was no picnic. Luckily we were going off at the front and did not have to be in position for an hour and a half before racing with a marshal telling you to strip down into race kit.

Having convinced ourselves during the week that by doing 3 minutes at thirty-four we could keep this pace up for the entire race. We set off with this in mind, only to be rudely awakened through Barnes Bridge by a slap from the headwind. Two blades each was suddenly a lot to contend with when water was smashing into the riggers and over our heads. The coxless four behind were coping well in the rough and looked to be making up ground having already steamed past the Tideway Scullers quad containing two of last years World Championship quad.

If the first half of our race was a nightmare the second half was the equivalent of looking at your alarm clock and realising you still have half an hour in bed, it feels great but seems to last no time at all. We rowed well in the second half but were unsure whether we had made up for our misadventures in the rough. It is not often you wish that you hadn't already reached the Black Buoy.

As provisional times had us 9 seconds ahead of Notts County with the coxless four third. Leaving us satisfied that we had managed to turn it around in the second half.

Our prize for a weekends racing in arctic weather on the Tideway is two weeks land training at altitude above Granada in Spain. The whole heavyweight men's sweep team from St Catherine's is heading up the mountain to the fantastically well-equipped facility above the local ski resort. There we will do weight training, ergos, swimming, ergos, circuit training, ergos and hopefully football but probably more ergos. It is a training camp similar to middle age medicine; 'if it is horrible then it must be good for you.'

Jurgen says it is vitally important to keep our base fitness levels topped up. I still think that my base level tan is in a worse state and requires working on.

Following our Spanish workout we jump back into our singles for Jurgen's early Christmas present, a 5000m time trial. Our traditional office Christmas party.

Courtesy of Coxless4.com


We're now in the BOA acclimatisation camp on Australia's Gold Coast, about an hour from Brisbane. I'm just about getting over my jetlag now. Since I last wrote, from the mountains of Austria, I've flown back to the UK and now out here again. It's like a mini-village out here - and there's more and more of the British team arriving. So far people are keeping themselves to themselves. People are sticking to their own sports in the meal-hall.

Difficult

I'm sure that's because everyone is trying to stay fairly focused. It can be difficult when you're surrounded by so many different athletes. We're winding down our training, doing two to three hours a day now rather than the five or six we have been knocking out. We've done the stamina work, and we're now concentrating on sharpening up. It's a little like sprinters doing speed-work - it's all about intensity. We'll do very hard bursts of 1,000m and 500m.

Pace

For the last six weeks we've been paddling around at 18 and 23 strokes a minute. We'd usually race at 37 a minute and it's that sort of pace we're working at now. Quality not quantity, that's our bye-word. There's also been time for a spot of golf - in a buggy rather than walking, of course. Sad to report, myself and Tim have been lagging well behind Steve and Matthew. They're loads better than we are.

Pressure

The difference between the atmosphere at home and in Australia is huge. The pressure isn't too bad at the moment. We'll be moving on to the Olympic village about September 11 and I'm sure we'll feel it more then. Right now I'm trying not to think about the races too much. The difference between the atmosphere at home and in Australia is huge. It's not just the presense of other athletes. You can just sense that the country is ready for the Games. We've had a great response to 'Gold Fever', which is the BBC TV programme following our preparations for the Olympics. It's strange - when we were filming it, you didn't associate it with actual television. We'd just use the cameras and then send them off as film. To see it on the box as a finished programme is quite a shock. It's changed our public profile too. I'm used to my privacy, but that's all beginning to change now. Imagine what it will be like if we win gold...

Courtesy of BBC Sport online

Back to the top


Vote for my site! (top 100.rowing.org.uk)

 

more....

Main Page