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The European Championships is our first test of the year. Although, to most, the Championships might seem like a high profile event, steeped in history, it wasn't until 2014 that Great Britain sent its senior team. For us it is very much a stepping stone for the rest of the season, to see where we stand after a hard winters training and see what areas we need to improve on going forward, and what better way to test ourselves than competing against a world-class field.
But don’t misjudge this ‘stepping stone’ mentality as a reason to underperform, we are athletes and when the red light goes out on the start you can be sure that we will give 100%. At this stage of the season your best might not be enough to win, but with more races to come you know that the boat will get faster, but the only way to learn is to give it all you have got.
This year was no exception, our first race of the season, Brandenburg, Germany, slightly earlier than usual due to it being Olympic year, but still a great test, and one that we wanted to overcome. In the Mens 8 field we had the Gold, Silver and Bronze medalists from the World Championships so we knew the standard would be high.
The top 2 of each heat would progress directly through to Sundays final, the rest going through a repechage to race for the final places. We executed our race perfectly and led from start to finish with the fastest time from both heats, with plenty in the bag for the final, so all was good in the camp. The problem with an outdoor sport like rowing is that there is always an element of Mother Nature spoiling the party, and looking at the forecast this seemed to be the case. We can deal with most she throws at us but a strong wind tends to spice things up a bit and it seems this is what we had in store. You start to realise why the surrounding area is covered in wind farms.
Sunday - Finals Day, Photo courtesy of team spare - Nick Middleton
The forecast wasn't wrong. Being the last race of the day, I often find watching the earlier races helps get you fired up. Today though, watching my teammates on the big screen in the boat park, I couldn't help but laugh a little at what was going on, it was survival conditions. World Class athletes struggling to row, hitting waves and struggling to hold on to their oars. Water spraying up off anything and everything. Not so much survival of the fittest, more survival of the smartest. Who can keep it clean and still maintain enough technique to get the most out of themselves. Part of me was in shock, the other part wanted to get out there and get stuck in. At the end of the day it is the same for everyone, so it’s all about who deals with it best, and I backed us to get the job done.
I knew it was going to be tough when we could barely keep the boat straight on the start line. We had a good start, relatively clean and up near the front - we pride ourselves on being the fastest through the middle of races, but today was not to be the usual GB performance. We struggled with conditions and battled our way down the course, taking on plenty of water along the way, and plenty of air shots, all culminating in a photo finish with the Belarusians, for Bronze, a crew whom we had beaten in the heat by 7 seconds. The Germans snuck through to pip the Russians to win on home water. Not a good day at the office.
I won a hard fought Bronze in 2014, salvaged Silver in 2015, after a disastrous start, and this year we had our sights set on Gold, but couldn't complete the European collection.
As I mentioned earlier the Europeans isn't the be all and end all of our season, but losing still hurts. We have a chance to hit back and prove ourselves at World Cup || Lucerne, Switzerland. 27th-29th May.
8 days time - but whose counting!