Proud kiwis and hospitable Brits

Olympics

1-4 August 2012 were great days to be Kiwis at Dorney Lake. We witnessed three gold medals (Men’s Pair, Double and Single) and two bronze medals (Women’s Pair and Men’s Lightweight Double).

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Each morning we were up around 5 – 5:30 am (except the first day which was 4:30 am) to drive from Banbury down the M40 to the park and ride at Bray Wick Park (close to Maidenhead) – a one hour trip. Hundreds of double decker buses were on hand to deliver spectators from the four different park and rides to the main entry to the Lake. We never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus and they were never full.

The bus took around 15 minutes and delivered us to the Royal Windsor Racecourse on the other side of Dorney Lake. We then walked across the Racecourse and the river to the grandstands, via the airport security scanners run by the army and the ticket check. The walk was probably 15 – 20 minutes. Hundreds of volunteers lined the walkways to greet everyone. One morning we counted over 20 “good mornings” from the volunteer ‘Games Makers’. If you had a question, five of them might descend, all eager to provide the answer. The logistical organisation was very impressive, but you did need to allow plenty of time to make the journey.

Dorney Lake is a man made lake, privately owned by Eton College, who spent £17m developing the site. It really is a world class facility – would’ve loved a tour of the boathouse!

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Once at the grandstand (by the finish line) we would walk down to the 1000m mark to find the least busy stalls selling coffee and sausage. The prices were ridiculous and so were some of the queues – the English seem to love a well formed queue, and there were plenty of volunteers to keep everyone in formation.

Getting there early meant plenty of time to sit in the stands sipping coffee and observing the crews doing their morning rows. This was the best opportunity to see the different techniques and rhythms of various crews and countries – a favourite pastime if you’re a rowing nut. Needless to say, I thought Hamish and Eric in our pair were the best to watch. I also liked the rhythm of the Australian four (they claimed a silver medal behind the Brits).

In terms of the crowd, a large portion were English (lots of kids and families) coming for one day of racing. The ‘friends and family’ of the athletes were mostly in the stand on the other side of the Lake, but there were still lots of people supporting particular athletes over our side. The NZ supporters were easily spotted, sporting t-shirts in support of either Mahe, the Men’s Pair or the Women’s Pair. We recognised a few old faces from the club rowing scene. There was a notable increase in Kiwis at the Lake on Friday for the Men’s Pair and Mahe. Most seemed to be Kiwis living in London – they picked a good day.

The racing began with semi finals and/or B to F finals, with the A finals at the end. Unsurprisingly, the crowd was loudest when there was a Team GB crew coming down. The crews described the noise from the grandstands as a “wall of noise”. With four golds, one silver and two bronzes (from memory), they had plenty to cheer about. The crowd tended to be more subdued when there was no GB crew in the hunt for medals, altogether they did clap politely. The small Kiwi contingent was particularly vocal and the cheers for “GB” sounded very similar to “Kiwi”. My voice was pretty much done when the Men’s Double came flying through for a win. It was totally gone by the last day.

The way tickets were allocated meant that there were pockets of Kiwi supporters dotted around the grandstands. One day we sat with Nathan Cohen’s Aunt. But even if the other Kiwis were total strangers, a medal meant high fives, hugs and handshakes. The best moment was when Mahe won, capping off two golds in 39 minutes. Not since Rome have we won two Olympic golds in such a short space of time. Hearing our national anthem, watching the flag go up, and seeing our medalist crews with their hardware made us remember all the best things about our little country and how we punch well above our weight.

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Proud Kiwis

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Juliette Haigh hugs Mahe’s mum as he crosses the line – taken by Em from the other side of the Lake

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Also taken by Em

We were very lucky to be able to stay with our cousins close to Banbury and Oxford. They have the most fantastic house, being a 17th century Grammar School House. It is rather large (especially for NZ standards) and although it has been altered and added to by its owners over the years, it still has its original walls and oozes history at every turn. We took a tour of the house (clutching champagne glasses in celebration of the day’s Olympics!), learning of its history, alterations over the years and previous owners. My favourite was probably the cellar…and the fireplace…

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We also did a garden and town tour. The garden is stunning, with a large lawn, clever planting and plenty of homegrown veges (beetroots were the highlight and the classic lawnmower was pretty good as well). There were other fine examples of old houses and architecture throughout the town.

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“The big house” down the road

Helen and Elizabeth took us on a tour of Oxford. The university and college system is fascinating and rather complicated. We saw Christ Church College, Oxford – notably its Quad, Cathedral and Hall. Christ Church is a very wealthy college founded by Henry VIII and was where Lewis Carroll studied and taught.

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The Hall has become a popular tourist attraction after the Harry Potter movies were filmed there

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The Tom Quad

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Elizabeth in the middle and Helen on the right

We were spoilt with the tours and tasty home cooked meals using fresh veges from the garden. After being on the road for a month, it was luxury to have some space, home cooking, a washing machine, good conversation and plenty of wine and cheese! We were extremely grateful.

London, Banbury and the Olympics was a little brief, but we have lots more of Europe that we are keen to see. Now in Berlin having a ball – will post on that soon.

The making of a champion

Olympics

On 9 August 2003, our NZ Under 19 Rowing Eight finished sixth at the Junior World Champs in Athens.

The crew was disappointed, but headed out to party once the rowing was over. There was reason to celebrate as Nathan Cohen had won a silver medal in the single scull.

However, one member of the Eight didn’t join the rest of the crew to party that night. Hamish Bond, our quiet two seat from Otago Boys, stayed in his room and contemplated the events of the day. Of course everyone in the crew was disappointed with our result, but it seemed to affect Hamish more than the rest of us. He knew he was capable of much better.

The following year, Hamish was again part of the U19 Eight and he suffered further disappointment. However, as he had left school by then, he was able to focus solely on his rowing. By the National Champs in 2005 he had taken 23 seconds off his 2km erg score since the Athens campaign and comfortably won the Under 21 single scull.

Over the next few years, Hamish was selected for an Under 23 Four and then quickly progressed to the Elite Four. With every season that passed, Hamish shaved seconds off his 2km erg time. He seemed to make big gains by doing a large amount of cycling during the winter and improving his aerobic base fitness. His 2km erg score became one of the best in the squad – it now sits around 5:45.

With the lower erg score, Hamish was able to develop a very effective rhythm. He tended to have a higher stroke rating than most, but developed a unique ability to pick the boat up at exactly the right time. With a lot of crews, even some very good ones, you can see the stern of the boat “stop” momentarily during the stroke. Crews stroked by Hamish don’t “stop” at all. His pace is very consistent from start to finish, and his crews often “negative split” – where the second half of the race is faster than the first. This means that opposition crews tend to drop away gradually in the third 500m.

At the 2007 World Champs, Hamish stroked the Elite Four to a gold medal with a blistering last 500m sprint. However, there was enormous disappointment for that crew when they were relegated to the B Final at the Beijing Olympics a year later.

This was the making of the incredible combination with Eric Murray. After the disappointment of 2008, Eric had thoughts of giving up. Hamish already knew that their pair combination was fast, as the Four used to regularly train against each other in pairs. So he convinced Eric into giving the pair a shot and the rest is history.

Hamish has that magical rhythm. Everyone who sits behind Hamish in a boat goes fast, whether it be a pair, four, or eight. Hamish has won the Premier Pair at the National Championships every year since 2008, with several different partners.

It’s a bit cliche, but you can’t help but look at how many disappointments Hamish had to suffer before getting to this point. Most of the squad would describe Hamish as disciplined and focused. That unwavering focus and determination has today produced an Olympic gold medal.

Unbeaten in international competition for four years. Incredible!

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Gold

Olympics

Well you may know that Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan won an Olympic gold medal today in emphatic fashion. It might have made the papers.

They backed up two victories at the World Champs.

My memory of Joseph Sullivan’s rowing career follows if you are interested:

– 2003 – third in the U19 Pair at Maadi Cup for Queen Charlotte College
– 2004 – GOLD in the U17 single, U18 single, U18 double and U18 Quad
– 2005 – can’t remember
– 2006 – silver in the U21 single behind Nathan Cohen and in front of me and I think some other GOLDS at that regatta
– 2007 – GOLD at the U23 World Champs in the single
– 2008 – GOLD at the U23 World Champs in the single
– 2009 – GOLD at the U23 World Champs in the double
– 2010 – GOLD at the World Champs in the double
– 2011 – GOLD at the World Champs in the double
– 2012 – OLYMPIC GOLD in the double.

This is the rowing highlights of a guy from Picton who is closer to lightweight category than most heavyweights, and well under six foot. But the one way to describe Joe is that he is as tough as they come. When I trialled for the double with him, I couldn’t get my head around his rhythm – it was so different to how we rowed. He gives every race absolute death and he is a fierce competitor, but a great guy off the water and very popular with other rowers.

Nathan is extremely deserving of the gold medal. A brilliant single sculler and also a tough nut like Joe, Nathan has had to play second fiddle to Mahe since 2005 (although he did beat Mahe at one Nationals). If Nathan was in the single at the Olympics he would probably medal. There were times a few years ago when no one thought he would be able to form a successful doubles combination, as he had been categorised as a single sculler.

Then he found Matt Trott and formed a successful doubles combination, which just didn’t quite have the horsepower to win world championships. Then he had Rob Waddell at the Beijing Olympics where everything was going well and they were favourites, but finished in fourth.

Joe first sculled in international competition with Nathan when Matt Trott was sick or injured (can’t remember which) and was flown over to race with Nathan. The rest is history.

In their final today they knew they had the big finish up their sleeve, but that was far bigger than anyone would have expected… except them.

Brian (coach) sometimes said that if anyone beats you, they ought to be world champions. So my bronze in the U21 single behind two Olympic champions probably isn’t too shabby (Em says I’m living in the past).

Big day tomorrow and not much voice left after today’s efforts. Will write more…

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