Expect the unexpected.
Sport is never a foregone conclusion, the craziest of things happen and this was definitely the case during our time at the World Championships in Florida, USA a few weeks ago.
The dust has now settled and looking back, the 30 minutes between 12:00pm and 12:30pm at lunchtime on Saturday 30th September 2017 will remain with me forever.
We had a great run into the Championships and our acclimatisation to the heat and the water had gone well. Irma’s destruction luckily missed the rowing course, with very limited damage, a few palm trees on their side but that’s about it. All this years’ hard work was coming to an end and we wanted to finish the season off in style.
We raced our heat, winning by around one length, we were never really pushed that hard – moving away from the field in the second half. So far so good. It’s a real confidence booster that all the hard training we had put in the summer was paying off. Within our team we knew our times were good, but how that compares to the rest of the field and rest of the World you just don’t know. So getting the first race out the way and it all being relatively straight forward was a big bonus.
The semi-final was a few days later – the regatta steps on in each race and this was the race to get us into the final. We had to finish top 3 out of 6 to be able to contest for the medals. Again we had a great race, confidence to sit in the pack, follow our own race plan and then make our move and row away from the rest of the crews. We won our semi and posted the quickest time. Lithuania the one crew we haven’t beaten this year won the other semi and it really set the final up to be one humdinger. Leading into the final there was big confidence from the four of us in what we had done so far and it was time to show the World what we had in our final race of the season.
Race day. We get in the boat at 40 minutes before our race; this gives us sufficient time to warm up. Our warm up consists of some technical drills to get us all moving together and then some high intensity to get the body firing so we are best prepared when it comes to the vigour of the race. The warm up had gone very well so far – probably the best one of the season – the boat was flying, all that was left was a 10 stroke practice start and then we would turn, head to the start, gather our thoughts and line up on the start.
Three strokes into the ten stroke start, Pete Lambert our stroke man stopped. If i’m honest I didn’t really know what was happening – after a few moments of silence, I saw Pete try to stand up and give his back a stretch – I could see he was in some discomfort. John Collins who was sat in front of me then said his back had gone. Disaster. Pete then made probably one of the toughest decisions “Guys we need to get Graeme (Graeme Thomas who was in the M2x and also our substitute rower), I can’t race”. The three of us rowed Pete back to land as he could barely move, where we grabbed the Umpires attention and shouted that the race had to be delayed. I jumped out the boat and sprinted to try and find someone from our team that could help, 10 minutes of panic ensued.
I managed to find another GB coach, who tried to ring Paul Stannard our coach – no answer. I then ran over to our team tent and found our doctor and physio to send to Pete’s aid. But still we couldn’t find our sub. The sub hangs around the area where we warm up, but once we get out on the water they are relieved of their duty, it’s unheard of swapping someone once the boat is on the water. Turns out he was sat with his Mum in the stand waiting for our race to come down and all of a sudden his phone starts going mental. Graeme ran over to the boat, and a decision was made that we would swap him straight into the stroke seat like for like. The stroke man sets the rhythm, and has the greatest influence in the pace, tempo, stroke rate and in our boat he steers using his foot.
The start had been delayed three times and it was now or never. 12:27pm new start time (21 minutes after it was supposed to start). This gave us 11 minutes to get from the boating area to being attached ready to race, Graeme in, Pete crying and lying in pain, it was all happening, but we had to stay calm and focussed. The adrenaline was pumping for all of us, I make the calls in the boat and gave our new crew member a really quick run down of what we do where and when. It was so important to calm all our emotions down, and try to stick to our plan and what we know best. Trust the processes.
The race is all a bit of a blur, especially the latter parts, we had put ourselves in a good position during the first half and then it was a case of digging deep and hanging on. It’s amazing how one person can make the boat feel so different, the tempo and rhythm we had been fine tuning for months before was gone and it was a case of making the best of what felt like a bad situation. However, that is something we did. We had to adapt, we had to just get on with it. The efficiency of the Lithuanian’s got them over the line first, we took the silver and a very quick finishing Estonia took the bronze. A silver medal won rather than a gold medal lost.
It was a very odd feeling crossing the finish line and then receiving the medal. A total feeling of bitter sweet.
I have never won a major championship medal and to finally achieve this was something special, however not finishing the regatta as a crew and seeing Pete in such a bad way was hard. It was a case of what could have been in many ways but also a phenomenal achievement having only had Graeme in for 10 minutes before we raced. It does however set us up nicely for next year and ultimately the three years till the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, its better learning these things now than then.
2017 season signing off – World Championship Silver medallists, World Cup winners, Henley Royal Regatta winners in a new record time and top 2 British scullers. It’s been a good year to start the Olympiad. Time for a few weeks off to rest and recuperate before it all starts again!