New Zealand Magic in Bled
We have now had a few days for the dust to settle and results in Bled to sink in. Overall it was a very successful World Championships. In fact Our most successful ever from a team perspective. We brought home a total of four Gold, one Silver and four Bronze medals. Just as importantly the results meant we qualified 11 Boats for the Olympics, only missing out in the men’s eight. There is a total of 14 Olympic events (two which we didn’t enter).
Saturday was the biggest day of Finals for the Kiwis with The Men’s quad, Women’s Double, Men’s Pair and myself all racing.
First race of the day was the men’s quad racing in the B final, the theme of this regatta seems to be tight finishes and compressed fields, especially in the larger boat classes. The B finals are always very tight in the Olympic year as crews go all out to secure their spots. The formula sounds reasonable, finish in the top 5 of the 6 boats and you qualify, but when 2 seconds separates first from last the nerves are always a bit frayed. We watched at the hotel and there was nothing in it all the way down the race track. Going into the final quarter no one was safe and thankfully our boys finished in fourth in a race separated by about one length giving them a final ranking of 10th and an Olympic spot next year.
Semi finals then started. The men’s four raced well in another very close race but just missed out on the third spot meaning they would face the B final the following day. The Lightweight Women’s Double raced extremely well to finish second. And gain an A final spot and secure their Olympic spot, The men’s lightweight double showed their class to win and put another marker down to the Brits, Emma Twigg raced solidly to second to secure her Olympic Spot.
The A finals then got underway and it would prove to be a good one. The Women’s double raced first and their final turned into a three horse race, the Brits led out, Aussies in second and our girls in third, It was a pretty tight race and great to see the combination of Anne Reymer and Fi Patteson cement themselves as a world class combination taking their first ever medal at a world level regatta and showing they will be one to watch going forward to the Olympics next year.
The men’s pair have been unbeaten since coming together in 2009 and today they would add another gold to their impressive tally. Eric and Bondy have formed a formidable combination, they have never been beaten and once they hit the lead the race is almost as good as over. I think the Brits were confident this would finally be there day but our boys lifted to a new level getting in front in the middle of the race and repelling any moves. The Brits finished hard and closed some of the gap but the result was never in doubt and they did a pretty impressive time finishing 0.5seconds outside the World Best time. This gives them their third straight title in the pair and fourth World title overall as they won one in the four in 2007. They will be huge favorites going into next years Olympics.
I was up at the start by the time the medal ceremony for the men’s pair was taking place. As I sat in the blocks I heard the NZ national anthem playing. While some may find this distracting, it was something I have experienced before in 2005 and I have to say it is more inspiring than anything else and gives you that added motivation that you don’t want to miss out, you want to join the other kiwi crews at the top. This is one of the great points about being involved in such a successful team, everyone else’s results can drive you to even greater heights and seeing your team mates perform gives you added confidence in your training.
Sitting in the blocks I was feeling good, I knew I was in a good place, I had trained well since March, technically I had made some improvements, I had raced well during the week and I knew that I was capable of winning. I was not back to my very best, where I know I just need a solid race to win. This was different I still had to race as well as I was capable, but I knew if I did that the race could be mine and I was very hungry to make it that way. I felt focused and got straight into my work as soon as the buzzer went. The start is the biggest area of risk to my back, this was the final so there was no holding back and I came out well. As the race settled it was all as expected, Alan had a slight lead, I was right with Synek and the rest of the field were all close. This position pretty much stayed the same throughout the first 1000M. At the halfway mark I felt good, I was within striking distance and ready to make the race mine. I was around 1second down at the 1000M but I’ve always owned the third 500 and I put on the afterburners. Things were going well, I was going well and was soon in the lead. At the 1500M I was in front but a little concerned I hadn’t dropped Synek by as much as I would have liked. Amsterdam was still in the back of my mind and today it would come down to a sprint. Synek kept moving and I was feeling strong but still on edge, about 250M to go Synek put in a huge move and it took everything I had to hold the lead, I was rating high and holding a slight margin, about 100M to go I put in one final effort and got the feeling Synek had no more.
This was the moment I finally realised this was my race, World title number five. As I crossed the line it was a pretty emotional moment, I felt it was a new start, and the end of the toughest 18 months of my rowing career. I finally felt like I was back on track, my back is going to be an ongoing issue, but I have been on a learning curve and feel I now have a much better idea of how to manage it. It was a pretty amazing moment. My first win in 2005 was the greatest feeling, it was a feeling of finally making it and pure excitement. This one was pretty similar but more of relief and pure joy. While I have always been confident and positive over the past 18 months of injury, there is always that small doubt in the back of your mind saying “can you really get back on top?” As I crossed the line that totally evaporated and a feeling of total relief and euphoria hit me. Anyone that saw my celebration afterwards will realise what this win meant to me.
I rowed over to the pontoon, all the pain from the race was pretty much immediately gone, I was running on adrenaline and was bouncing around like a little kid. I just lapped up the atmosphere and enjoyed the moment. I had a huge smile that wouldn’t leave my face for a number of days. Not only because of what I had done but also how well the team were going, we were owning Bled and it was the culmination of a whole lot of work and reward for the program and work all the athletes had put in.
That was it for Saturday and time to catch up with the many family and friends that had travelled to Bled to support all the rowers. It was a great day and we still had one day to go with plenty more crews to perform.
Sunday started with B finals. The Men’s four were racing for an Olympic spot. They needed at least fifth out of the six crews. Looks easy on paper but once you put a carrot of the Olympics as the prize and you get six boats coming down the course in a line across the course. 250M to go and there was still a line across the course, who would hold their nerve? Our boys looked good then on the surge they would be behind as the boats approached the line finally one of the crews dropped off by a canvas and there was a photo finish separating the first 5 crews and our guys had qualified for the Olympics in a 10th place overall.
The A finals were about to start and we were hoping for some further medals. The Lightweight Women were first up, they are a young crew and had had a great semi to cement their Olympic spot. The pace in the final was a bit hot but they came through in the end to get back in the race but had to settle for a 5th place and looking very capable of medalling next year.
The Lightweight Men’s double was next and had been billed as a race between the Brits and our Boys all week. Storm and Pete had taken the honors when they raced earlier in the week but knew the Brits are the Olympic Champions and wouldn’t be easy beats. We certainly weren’t disappointed as it was a flat out drag race all the way down the track. It was tight our guys lead, the Brits would go through, our guys would push back. In the end the Brits had one more push and got a canvas in front in the last 250M, this would prove to be the difference and our guys came away with silver. It was a huge improvement from their race last year and I think Silver might prove to be the motivator needed to get them into gold next year.
The final race of the regatta was the Women’s single and Emma Twigg went out with one purpose, get in front and stay there. This was the gutsiest race I have ever seen Emma race, She completely destroyed the field in the first half of the race and rowed the favorite Karsten out of contention. I thought she had rowed the whole field out of contention such was her commanding lead at the half way point. In the final 500M she tied up badly as Knapkova did a devastating move to come from nowhere get up and pass Emma for the win. Karsten managed to come through Emma for second. Emma finished with bronze but showed what a talent she is and if she can keep working hard I am confident she is capable of turning her bronze into gold next year.
Overall it was a fantastic regatta for the Kiwis. We won 9 medals, 8 of them in Olympic class boats, 4 of those gold. We were the most successful country on the Olympic events medal table and it’s a great place to be one year out from the Olympics. There is still a lot of work to be done and the key will be trying to repeat that success next year on the biggest stage of all. The exciting thing is, all the crews that medalled have the ability to improve, many are now multiple world championship medalists and that experience will prove to be very important next year.
It is also pleasing to see six athletes that won medals for the first time (all women). We had our most successful world champs ever, we qualified the biggest team we ever had for the games next year, 11 boats and there is still further improvements possible from all crews. We are now going to relax for a couple of weeks before gearing back up and starting the very important Olympic preparation. There is a great feeling in the camp and I think this year will be a great boost going forward to all involved. Bring on London 2012 cant wait!
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