The Final Countdown
It’s almost here.
These last few months have flown by and we’re now less than 10 days away from the opening ceremony for the London Olympics. I can feel the excitement and apprehension building, and every once in a while I have to tell myself to calm down and take it all in stride. We’ve done this before. And done it well.
This is nothing new. If you strip away the hype and everything else that surrounds the Olympics, this is just another series of races over 2,000 meters. The lane width, starting gates, and finish line are all the same. Those that can best navigate themselves through all the potential peripheral distractions and focus on what’s most important will put themselves in the best position to succeed.
Focus on what we’re good at – rowing and racing. That’s what we’ve practiced over and over again for the past decade (or two), and it’s only when you let the other stuff get in the way that bad things can happen. Appreciate the experience and opportunity in front of us without allowing it to distract us from the basics.
In this final stage, we shift from doing high volumes of work and being tired every day to tapering and refining our race pace efficiency and strategy. Suddenly, we aren’t constantly tired and we have all of this spare time to rest and stare at the walls.
The trick is to not do too much. To trust the taper and not give into those cravings to do more work. We want that level of fatigue because that’s what we know, and what assures us that we’re doing everything we can to win. When that isn’t there, it feels like we need to do more.
Don’t get hurt, don’t get sick
But the work has been done to build our strength and aerobic base through the winter and, as our coach and physiologist continually remind us, “The rest is just icing on the cake.” We still have a good amount of shorter, more intense, race pace workouts to prep the body for the high levels of lactic acid, but it’s a different kind of fatigue. Our challenge is to take the millions of training strokes that we’ve rowed over the years and prepare ourselves to produce 250 of the most powerful, composed, and technically perfect strokes of our lives on race day.
The focus also shifts to avoiding injury and illness at all costs. We become paranoid about getting sick in these final days and adopt alcohol hand sanitizer as our best friend. We isolate ourselves in our hotel rooms and avoid any contact with anyone who so much as sneezes. It sounds extreme, but every year there are stories about athletes or whole teams that underperform because a bug ripped through their hotel and left them all sick or weakened.
With that being said, it’s also important to not over-think everything. With all this extra energy and the impending opportunity of a lifetime, we become very attuned to our bodies and can build something up to be much more than it actually is. A sneeze doesn’t mean you’re getting sick, and a twinge of pain doesn’t mean that you’ve injured yourself and won’t be able to race. Take a deep breath and calm down.
At this stage, so much of our preparation is mental. The physical base is there, but momentum and confidence can play such a huge role in getting that top performance out of ourselves. If you’re unsure or cautious or timid, the opposition will pounce and leave you in their wake. We need to get to that start line ready to attack the race, having the confidence and resolve to execute when it matters most. Dave and I have done that well in the past, but nothing can be taken for granted.
Chasing New Zealand
Our event, the men’s pair, will have 13 entries, most of which will feature the top two rowers from each respective country. The competition will be fierce. New Zealand has been on top of the event for the past three years, and they go into London with the pressure and expectation of being the favourites to win. There are positives and negatives to that.
It’s dangerous to try to predict how the rest of the pairs will measure up – anything can happen at the Olympics. Combinations can click and find a new gear, and if you’ve overlooked them at all they can catch you off guard.
That being said, pairs from Greece, Italy, France, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands have all won medals or shown solid speed at some point this year. There will also be new, or recently untested, combinations from the United States, Poland, Serbia, and Hungary that could be right up there in the mix as well.
We’re currently at our final training camp in Italy and will move to the Olympic rowing venue on July 24, with racing beginning on the July 28.
Sixteen years of rowing, countless training sessions, 12 other pairs vying for the same goal, and one final chance to cross that finish line first and bring home the Olympic gold.