Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ghosts of Henleys past

We have a cox. Stole one from the men. They're racing at Marlowe, and I even found them a substitute coxwain from Manchester (thank you Manchester for being so willing to lend a hand!), but they turned their collective noses up at her. One of the other men's coxes reckons she can double up and do two boats since their races aren't in time conflict. I think they're going to regret that decision, but their fucking problem. They didn't exactly bend over backwards last weekend to help us out, so if they've shot themselves in the foot I don't give a flaming rat's ass.

So we're going to Henley. I'm leaving in less than an hour. Our time trial is tomorrow at 11:15 am. My gastrointestinal winged invertebrates are already getting fluttery. I'm going to redeem myself.

Two years ago at Henley I was rowing 3 seat in a coxed 4 with Manchester. We got through our time trial, and in the first round against Stratford we lost. We lost big. And we lost because of me.

Maybe if I hadn't fucked up we would have lost anyway; who knows. But I made sure we didn't stand a steak's chance in an emaciated lions' den. It was a strong crew; we had a lot of potential. But thanks to the fact that I caught a crab on the third strok of the start, my crew never got a chance to test that potential.

(The Manchester Crew and cox. Pete, me, Alice (now on the GB squad), Che, and Hannah.)

There were a lot of mitigating factors. I could go on at lenght about how our coach didn't begin practicing regatta starts with us until 48 hours before the race. Or about how the effing genius thought it would be a good idea to lower my gate a full centimeter the morning of the race, making it that much more difficult for me to tap down and away and clear my knees. Or about how my stroke woman's legs were 8 inches shorter than mine and when she went flying off the start at 40 spm i was just doomed. I didn't get my hands down and away fast enough and my blade got stuck in the water. Ground us to a dead halt.

I could go on at lenght about these things, but the fact is I was the one who crabbed. I and I alone. Ultimately, it was my fault. I've been haunted by that mistake for two years. That may sound a tad melodramatic, but it's true. I've never forgiven myself for it (even though my team did), and I've never been truly able to respect myself or my performance.

This weekend is my chance to wipe clean that dark dark blotch on my rowing record. i want to be able to look myself in the eye again, to not have that guilt haning over me, to prove to myself... I don't know. that I don't suck I guess. I just know I have to get it right this time.


First Nations said...

...but don't put any pressure on yourself or anything.

(you can do it! you can do it!)

No Shit Sherlock said...

You'll do brilliantly and rock like a rocky thing. In a boat. Good luck!

ZB said...

Horseshit you lost because you crabbed the third stroke! Absolute rubbish. You have fifteen hundred metres after that where you didn't crab.

You lost because of a combination of factors. Lowering the gate on the day of the race is the first and biggest. Rowing is routine. The gearing you train with is the gearing you race with because...roll of drums, the gearing you're planning to race with should always be the gearing that you train with. You're ingraining hand heights and feel so that when you're on the ragged edge of what you can do, you don't have to waste oxygen thinking abou it. The difference of a clam on the oar, dropping the gate, raising the gate...all fuck with the automatic movements a rower makes without thinking to hand, body and oar positions that countless repetitions have made automatic. We changed the gearing on the four a while back. It took us ten days before the boat got the loping rhythm back that it had previous to that change because all of the reference points were different. Dropping the gate an inch might not sound like much but doing it on the day is unforgivable. From backstops - it destroys the automatic level to which you've been tapping down and in compromising spinning the hands smoothly past the legs and rocking the body over destroys the unthinking sequence you had in all three. If your tap, hands, body sequence is upset then your control of the slide is upset as well. Hands are in the wrong place, body is in the wrong place and the oar is now in the way of the legs instead of being clear. At front stops, that inch now means that the automatic judgement you make between the handle of the oar and the saks board/front rigger which all rowers make to tell them where the blade is in relation to the water is an inch out - meaning clunky and mistimed catches which means mistiming getting the legs on.

An inch, as in so many things in life, makes all the difference. Not your fault because it wasn't your call.

The second thing is your shortarse stroke going off at 40 plus strokes a minute. This happened because she couldn't control herself - probably because she was nervous. But being in control is the job of stroke. They have to set the rhythm and length for the rest of the crew and, thanks to her blasting off, the crew had nothing to follow. You've got two choices in a situation like that. The three others in the boat either go with or you dominate her rhythm and force her back to where it should be. In an outing, you'd stop and try again. In a race, you have to go with her. Your stroke let her nerves get to her. Regardless of the fact that it was Henley and big deal, she had to be cool and controlled. If they are, then the boat follows them. If they're not, the boat is fighting a losing battle from stroke one. Pinsent (and before him, Redgrave) was the best strokeman in the world not just because of his monstrous physical attributes but because when it mattered, he did the right thing at the right time, telling the crew what to do through his rowing. Pinsent did this despite times when he said he was so scared and nervous and the pressure so intense that he would pray for an accident so that he wouldn't have to compete. He admitted that he threw up in the lake at every Olympics he competed in - because he was so nervous. He wouldn't eat the week of an Olympic regatta because nothing would stay down. But he held it together when it mattered and executed the race plan...

Which brings us to the third reason why it's not your fault you didn't win. Not practising starts until they're automatic is a sin because it means the excitement of the moment getting to people (like your stroke) and the rating going through the roof for no discernible effect on boat speed. You train how you're going to race, you race how you've trained and then everyone knows what they're doing when they're doing it. Crews who do that win. Crews who don't won't.

So stop beating yourself up. Besides the crab, there are at least three other factors as to why you didn't go through. Another is that if you're at Henley, you're up against the best in the world. It's tough. Just getting there is good.