With our competition season finally getting underway last week, I'm reminded of the fact that the training-to-racing ratio in rowing is incredibly skewed.
We train five to six hours a day, six days a week, year-round, and only race internationally twice each season. That's crazy! Unlike other sports, we don't have regatta after regatta to develop and hone our racing ability. We have one chance to get it right before the London Olympics.
Each year, the main pre-season World Cup is held in Lucerne, Switzerland, and it's easily my favourite place in the world to race. It's stunning - a nature reserve for most of the year, the natural two-kilometre-long lake is nestled into the Swiss countryside and is known for perfectly calm water and fast conditions. I've had some of my best performances on the Rotsee (that's the name of the lake) and feel a sense of comfort and excitement every time I walk down that hill and into the regatta site.
We train all year with the goal of getting faster and the presumption that we're taking steps in the right direction. We do workouts and race prep pieces and time trials where we are able to compare ourselves to other Canadian boats. But until you line up against the rest of the world, it's tough to actually know how fast you are.
The weekend in Lucerne does a lot to eliminate that "unknown" and establish expectations for the rest of the season. It can either be an affirmation of what you've been doing all year, or a reason to hit the panic button.Up against the best
The goal this year for my teammate Dave Calder and I was to do as well as possible without sacrificing our longer-term focus of peaking in London. In line with that, we did very little race preparation in the lead-up to Lucerne, wanting to save that final gear for the race that really matters: the Olympics. With the limited prep, we wanted to execute our race plan well and improve upon each race, and I think we did that.
We drew New Zealand - who have dominated the men's pair event for the past three years - in the heat, and had a reasonable race against them. The first race is always a bit cumbersome, but we led through the half-way mark and crossed the finish line comfortably in second place, qualifying straight to the semifinal. I loved being back in the race environment and having to deal with all of the pre-competition nerves and excitement. It can be overwhelming if you let it, but that intensity of emotion is why I love this sport.
There was a light tail wind for our heat, and as the afternoon wore on the wind increased significantly, resulting in some incredibly quick conditions. In total, six world records were set that day, including ones by the Canadian men's eight (well done, guys) and the British men's four, which smashed the previous record by nearly four seconds. Some of those records had stood since 1996!
Our race in the semifinal was composed and patient - not necessarily traits that come naturally to Dave and I. The pair from Great Britain shot out to a boat-length lead in the early stages of the race, but rather than letting that fluster us, we stayed in our own boat and moved through them in the middle stages of the race. We pushed away from the British and Italy in the second half and went on to win, securing a lane next to New Zealand in the final.
Time to get faster
The day of the final brought the racing conditions that Lucerne is famous for - calm water with a slight hint of a tailwind. It was almost taunting anyone who had resolved that this would be their last time racing there! Dave and I locked into the starting gates feeling relaxed and knowing that we had a great opportunity in front of us. We wanted to win, but beyond that we wanted to race well and prove that we are contenders going into London.
We had a good start and gradually eased out to a slight lead at the 500-metre mark (the race is 2000 metres). Our focus had been on getting into a sustainable race rhythm, so having the lead was a somewhat unexpected but welcome bonus. At the half-way point we had extended our lead slightly and we were feeling good. New Zealand raised their rate and pushed hard to edge out ahead of us, but we responded and drew level with them. In the final sprint they powered ahead and won by just over two seconds, giving us the silver medal
The entire rowing world expects New Zealand to win in London, so all the pressure is on them. And those expectations can weigh heavily in the Olympic year. We feel the weight of our own hopes and expectations, but beyond that it's more of a loose excitement to race. What we showed in the racing last weekend was that it is possible. We go into London as contenders, and that's a great position to be in.
Now we're back home in Victoria and getting settled into our last five-week block of training before flying back to Italy for our pre-Olympic camp.
We have two months to get faster and I know that we will. Two months to build on this momentum and charge into the Olympic regatta ready for the race of our lives.
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