I didn’t want to be 6th in the world, I wanted to be the best. Would I be the best this year?
I am sitting down to write this blog on the plane home from Orlando. I have just spent a fun-filled three days with my family at Disneyland after the World Championships. This year I had my parents, two sisters, brother-in-law, three nieces and nephew come and support me and they incorporated it with a holiday to Disney.
Before I get to the week of racing I have to talk about the week before. We arrived a week before racing started and I knew the heat and humidity would be a shock but I underestimated it completely! The humidity was the main challenge. It was so oppressive; the air was so thick it felt as though you could grab it. In the first few days I felt awful. I was lethargic and my legs felt like lead. This is often what I experience in hot temperatures until I acclimatise but the feeling lasted longer than normal. Three days out from the heats I wanted to be chopping at the bit like a racehorse fed on oats but I didn’t and this worried me.
Another factor that was playing a big part in raising my stress levels was the water. With the sheer number of crews training on the lake the wash was awful therefore I was finding it very difficult to feel in balance with the boat and I didn’t like how my sculling was looking on the video. There was only one session between arriving in Florida and racing the heat I was actually happy with. Not ideal!
The night before my first race came. I wasn’t ready to race the final yet but I was ready for the heat. I had sat in some ice baths, had my legs massaged and they were feel a lot looser. The British team had had a good opening day in the Sunday heats which provided me with some extra confidence. I knew I had trained really well since Lucerne and I was faster but how much faster? The first race would start to answer that question. I had come 5th in Lucerne behind 4th place Felice Muller, the American sculler and I found myself 5 seconds up on her in the heat and by crossing the finish line first I progressed straight to the semi-final. Good start.
I had to wait three days to race the semi-final. They are some of the most nerve wracking races you can have. A necessary evil as my boyfriend Rick accurately describes them. You have to come top three to make the final and of course if you aren’t in the final you aren’t racing for medals, so semis are fierce. Three days felt more like three weeks and my stomach spent a lot of that time churning with apprehension. I tried to take my mind off the racing with films and TV series but my concentration levels were poor and I would often find myself rowing the race in my head.
I won the semi-final. I didn’t get ahead until I was coming into the last 500m but in the last 250m I was able to defend my position and to take my first semi-final win of a World Championships and this was a great position to go into the final from.
Now to the fun part…racing the final! This was going to be my first A final in the single at a World Championships, in 2013 and 2014 I raced the B final, finishing 7th and 8th respectively. As my coach Reedy said, the worst position I could come now was 6th in the world no matter what happened. However, I didn’t want to be 6th in the world, I wanted to be the best. Would I be the best this year?
I knew I would have to bring my absolute A-game and the sculler to beat was Jeannie Gemelin from Switzerland, she had won the other semi-final and had had a flawless year so far. I knew there would be challenges from all the scullers and they were all strong in different areas of the race. I would have to deliver my best sculling, I would have to read the race precisely and I would have to spread my energy well over the full course. This last part is always really important in a single as there is no one else to help get the boat over the line if you go too hard too early and “blow up.” Be brave but don’t be a hero!
It was a cross wind for the final. In the warm up lake the water was really tricky but I knew the racing lake would be better and I had one of the best lanes. The first half of the race went to plan. I wasn’t leading but I had enough overlap with Gmelin next to me and Magdalena Lobnig was up on me but the second half was where I planned to move. When I made my move it got me past Lobnig but Gmelin had an answer every time and held a 2 second lead. The last 250m I got my stroke rate up to 38 strokes per minute, dizzy heights for me but it wasn’t enough to get ahead and I finished 2 seconds down on Gmelin and 2 seconds up on Lobnig. I was happy. I hadn’t won but I had won a silver medal in the single and that was pretty damn cool! Winning a medal and fighting it out at the top of the single sculling field has been something I have always dreamt about and now I had put myself there, a good start to the Olympiad.
Having my family there to see me pick up my medal made it even sweeter. Then to watch GB’s Tom Barras win bronze in the men’s single at his first senior world championships made it a very good day indeed!
I now have three weeks to relax and recharge my batteries. I have been away for 7 weeks so I am looking forward to getting back home. Once the three weeks are up it will be back to the grind stone and winter training. The winter is where the medals are won, they are collected in the summer.
Photos by Naomi Baker