Sorry it’s been a while since I last wrote anything down, I’ve been a bit busy.
We got to our altitude work camp in Silvretta (Austria) expecting misery. No air, changeable weather and a brutal programme can make Silvretta a bit of a hell hole. It is redeemed to an extent by its incredible views and the promise of success that it represents. After embracing all of our squad traditions setting the course out (new guys get all the rubbish jobs), we were ready to go. We got stuck into our work with a lot of enthusiasm and after a couple of shaky days early on, things started to really take off. It was really nice to be a part of something where everyone was willing to dive headfirst into the changes they needed make and get some good solid work done. We finished the camp with some intense pieces, and we compared well to our other flagship boats. Satisfied, we drew a line under the camp. After a steak and a bonfire it was back home to get our kit washed quickly, because we were off to Portugal for our finishing camp.
In Avis (Portugal) our job was different. It was now time to turn all those technical changes and all that hard work into boat speed. The weather was decent and this place always caters so well for us. As the intensity slowly built, so did our confidence. Parts of our races that we weren’t happy with, we practised and perfected time and time again. Jonny was being a real taskmaster and made sure that we left no stone unturned. Even though Avis was not as physically tough as Silvretta, the mental intensity was very heavy going. It was now time to go back home for our last proper test before we flew to Florida.
At Caversham we had our final speed order and our job was very simple. Piece together everything we had worked on for the last month. We were set off to catch our trusty training partners, the mens coxless four. The conditions were far from ideal, but we ticked every box we had said we would and we finished very high up the rankings. This was yet another great confidence booster and rather than being nervous about what lay in front of us, we were all itching to get out to Florida and do the job.
After a long flight to Tampa, and feeling like we were inside a kettle at full boil we arrived at our team hotel. I was put in a room with Jonny for the first time since Rio which was actually very settling for me as I knew what I was getting. New room mates for him had taught him some room etiquette, and at long last I avoided having his used contact lenses chucked at me at bed time.
When we arrived the course was still being built due to Hurricane Irma. It was quite obvious from the amount of work being done that this was going to be an incredible venue and it was just that. The fans were catered for really well and there was so much space for the athletes which was a real bonus. The lake itself was also really nice and we managed to avoid any altercations with the resident Alligator.
The momentum we had built on our camps was carried really well out onto the lake and we were paddling round the lake like heroes. It was really hard not to get too excited and carried away any time we paddled near another quad.
The heat came and was very straightforward. After a short while we were in front and we stayed there all the way home. In our debrief we all agreed on a few adjustments for the semi.
Semi’s are a very nervous race as the result means all or nothing. We set off a much hotter pace than the heat and found ourselves in the mix, with the Dutch in classic style out in front early. We slowly chewed them up and spat them out for the win in a very quick time.
After the race the realisation hit that we could actually do this and take the top spot. All the stars were aligning, and the boxes being ticked, and if we handled ourselves the way we had been for the last 5 weeks we were going to do the business.
On the day of our final we had an incredible pre paddle. Tearing round the lake at a rate of knots, all our burst and practise starts were absolutely on point. We got in absolutely buzzing and went to rest. An hour before the race we had our pre race chat. This was the moment. We were all so switched on to what needed to be done. All emotion was left aside and we were ready to go and do a job that had been done again and again.
In our warm up everything was going sweetly. We just had to do our last practise start then we could go to the start line. Jonny called it “Attention, GO!” In my head I’m thinking ‘Knees down arms soft’ I notice Petes leg pop out to the side a bit on the first stroke. 2 Strokes later he stops. This annoyed me. If he needed to be sick from pre race nerves he could have waited another few seconds. He pushed himself up off the seat with the rigger and tried to get himself comfy. He then turned to me and as calm as anything said “we need to go back, you need to get Graeme, my backs gone.” No one was panicking we just rowed him back down the course and Jonny ran off to find Graeme. We got the race delayed and waited to see what was going to happen.
Pete was laying on the landing stage getting some medical attention and was flipping back and forth between trying to stay calm and getting emotional that he had cost us everything. At that moment in time I was still in the zone. As far as I was concerned this was no different to a bolt being loose or something. It wasn’t ideal but it was what it was and it was no time to be getting emotional as we had a job to do. Afterwards I even joked that I could have ‘rolled him into the lake and put him out of his misery.’ I was also really annoyed as I had a bet going with the team spare Frazier Christie that if we won a gold I would get to cut his hair however I liked. This would no doubt mean the end of that dream.
Graeme came running over, up pulling his lycra up like superman coming out of a phone box. We quickly briefed him and hopped in. We had about 10 mins to get to the top before our race left without us. We quickly warmed up and oh boy was it a different boat. In Pete we had an efficient, rhythmical albeit not the strongest sculler. In Graeme we had an incredibly powerful athlete who to put it nicely was a bit rough around the edges.
We got on the start and had a few moments to chill before we set off. It was a very strange feeling. We had gone from having quite a lot of pressure on us to having absolutely none at all in the space of half an hour. In a way it was a relief but at the same time already a disappointment that we knew we weren’t going to finish the project as we had started.
Of we went and Graeme set a piping hot tempo that we all struggled to keep up with. He was steering for the first time ever and I had to remind him a few times to stay away from the buoys at the same time begging him to calm down before a mushroom cloud appeared in the middle of the boat. I had very little concept of where we were in the race until about 500 to go. I had a little look around and realised that we were making our way into the Silver position and Graeme was going mad in front of me. I thought to myself “we can f**king do this, we can still get a medal!” and did my best to go with him. Estonia started their charge but I knew we had just enough left in the tank to hold that off and we crossed the line in Silver.
My first emotion was disappointment about everything that had gone on. The emotion of it all was let loose and it was upsetting to not finish it the way we wanted to regardless of the medal colour. Battling that was the feeling that I’d finally got on a championship podium which was incredible. I was also immediately really happy for Graeme and it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment what a hard couple of years he’d had after the disaster of Rio and the quad being plagued by injury and illness before that. He had done well just to be back in a boat in time for the championships so to hop in and do a job like that was just a testament to what a sculler he is. As we rowed the boat to the podium I also felt really bad for Pete. I knew he’d be relieved that his injury hadn’t cost us a medal, but he’d put in the work to get us to that level and he’d missed out on the grand finale. He took it so well though and after a beer or five to numb the pain in his back, he was on great form.
Sitting here now in my first week back training, I can look back and appreciate what happened a bit more. Its a really exciting place to be, in a team where anyone can hop into any boat and still get on the podium. Onwards and upwards.