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ROWING: How British eight got on top of the world
5:00pm Saturday 7th September 2013 in Sport
Oxford's rowing champion Andy Triggs-Hodge's blow-by-blow account of Britain's historic success at the World Championships AND it all boils down to this…
The call-over of the nations that were lined up with us for the final of the World Championships goes quickly. Phelan, our cox, calls us to the start position. Blades in the water, square and ready to take the strain of one huge first stroke.
The air is still, with a slight cooling head breeze on our backs. The shadows are long, unusually so, as we rarely race so late in the day. And the sun is kinder, allowing us ideal racing conditions.
The umpire calls attention, the red light goes on. The next signal will release us from the starting pontoon, all crews utterly focused on one thing… that finish line.
A meagre horn is all that is needed to set us free. The serenity of the long shadows explodes as water is torn by blade, coxes release their voice, and eight beasts in each boat search for harmony while pushing the fabric of their crafts to their limit.
The first stroke is short, for maximum leverage, maximum torque. With this the one ton system of man and boat accelerate away from the anonymous Korean holding our stern. Racing in eights is a very different strategy fromsmaller boats, being at least twice the weight, momentum plays a bigger part.
The focus is to get the boat up to top speed as fast as possible, and keep it there for as long as possible.
With the power needed to accelerate the boat we have to be apply it in a way that is sympathetic to the boat, going from zero, to maximum force and back to zero without ‘rocking the boat’!
And then the recovery, the part where the blade travels out of the water, not the catching of our breath!
The last dynamic is that you need all eight guys to do this absolutely together! If we lose crew harmony, we’ve lost.
The first half of our race went to plan. We got our bow ball in front, and then came the move that would define the race.
We had to get a significant lead in the second quarter. We had to push, against our sense to pace the race better, to keep the boat’s momentum and extend our lead. Pushing out to halfway was the gamble we had to play, but when we got there, we saw why.
Knowing you’re out in front at this part of the race our tails were up, we could smell success. Our main opposition, the Germans had never been behind at this point.While we relaxed, they were panicking.
The second halfis seen as a separate race. So in line with this, we went again. So did the Germans, but their ten-stroke push ended, and we moved further ahead.
The biggest lead we had was over three seconds, with a quarter of the race to go. We knew the Germans had a lethal sprint.
But they were the ones under pressure, they had to do something, we just had to stay in front.
Their sprint was impressive, and it certainly raised the heart-rates of the fans, but we held them to the line by half a second, a glorious half second!
I’m proud to being part of a crew that performed at this level.
There was a lot riding on this race. Not just a year of training, all the times I had to put family and friends second, but also our reputations.
On paper there was no excuse to lose, but this could have been the undoing. Only dedication, belief and solid teamwork would see us reach our potential.
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