Row360 the global rowing magazine sends you rowing photos and stories. Row360 is born at just the right moment. It's written by rowers, for rowers. Their plan is to present the sport in a new light to excite, invigorate and enlighten
Of all the challenges facing double Olympic champion James Cracknell OBE when he decided to trial for the 165th Cambridge Blue Boat, the last one you might have expected was that a familiar figure could pop up in the umpire’s launch to spoil his day. Former crew-mate and partner in Olympic crime Sir Matthew Pinsent has for some time been a fixture on the panel of officials adjudicating the Boat Races, and since it was Cambridge’s turn to choose from the set of Dark Blue referees, it was a possibility.
“The thing I still miss most is waking up in that week and that day and being in the adrenaline again”
“Matt texted me and said ‘am I umpiring you?’ and I said ‘I hope not!’ — because he’s umpiring Isis-Goldie”, revealed Cracknell, chatting with a round table of journalists in the Goldie boathouse earlier this week. He was sitting under the 159 Blue Boat honour boards — CUBC are somewhat behind in getting the signwriting up to date — which adorn the room’s pitched ceilings and to which he hopes to add his name, preferably with a ‘WON’ line at the top, rather than ‘LOST’.
So Cracknell will only be seeing his erstwhile pairs and fours partner if he’s binned from the Light Blues’ top crew, although he’s understandably nervous that anything can happen, given that they have yet to race their first proper fixture, rescheduled against Brookes for this coming Sunday after the high winds last week. “I think Matt is so straight down the middle that he’ll be annoyingly neutral”, explained Cracknell. “And he would disqualify someone, too.” Then a wry smirk comes across Cracknell’s face as he considers the man with whom he shared so many races, meals, training hours and in-jokes over a long and illustrious international career. “And I would not be inclined to listen to him. Which means I’m quite disappointed he’s not there. But then, I also know he’d disqualify me, so….” — and there’s an amused shrug. “It’s probably best that I’m down the other end.”
The other end of the boat, that is. Cracknell has bagged — barring late changes — the two-seat of the Light Blues’ top crew, after a busy year which has seen the 46-year-old return simultaneously to full-time education 25 years after writing his last student essay and to full-time rowing training 14 years after retiring. From the outside, it does look like a mildly vainglorious bid to recapture youthful success, and rowers up and down the country hold a range of views on the wisdom of the attempt. But he’s quick to explain that there was a lot more to the decision, based partly on his recent work for the independent right-wing think tank the Centre for Social Justice, and interest in a politically active career.
“Looking back now I realise how little I knew about the race while commentating on it.”
“I was doing quite a lot of work with public health and non-communicable disease, and policy change”, he explains. “A lot of it’s about behavioural science and how we have learned behaviours, and to make sure policies are written for people to have interventions to make the right decisions. It’s no good writing policies for food we should eat when in reality 20% of the country only have a toaster, a kettle and a microwave to cook with.” Realising that an academic background would lend him more weight, he decided to go back to college to support this work, which led to his application to study for a ten-month MPhil in human evolutionary studies at Peterhouse College.
There’s no doubt that rowing will have been an undercurrent — he admits with a grin that he could easily have done the same course at a couple of places closer to home in London — but he’s rationalised the choice of Cambridge with perfect self-aware logic. “I wouldn’t trust myself to study that well in my normal environment with family and mates around”, he says. “And then there was the chance to come here and combine it with doing the Boat Race and seeing if I can still cut it. The thing I still miss most is waking up in that week and that day and being in the adrenaline again — it’s that race situation you can’t recreate in any other environment.”
And the academic side is real: Cracknell was also offered a place at Oxford, says his coach Rob Baker, albeit on a different course, but is clearly thoroughly enjoying his chosen area. “My first degree was selected as what was the least hours in a university close to rowing, whereas here it’s something I really want to study.” He’s now planning a dissertation on fluctuating asymmetry, ie the phenomenon of how the physical symmetry of the mates we choose relates to their genetic health and life events, and talks enthusiastically about “being dragged down wormholes of academic stuff, that I never thought would happen” — an experience he likens to becoming sucked into ‘inappropriate internet sites’ while chasing links on the web. However, when asked whether he’d choose a win in the Boat Race or a distinction in his dissertation, he ruefully admits he isn’t at the top of the class. “I’d say if we’re three lengths down at Barnes Bridge I’ve got more chance of winning, right now.”
While we talk, another motivation for this ambitious year does emerge. In 2010 Cracknell suffered a well-publicised accident while cycling Ride America. He was hit from behind by a homicidally careless truck, and suffered brain damage to his frontal lobe. His doctors made quite a few predictions about his future health which Cracknell has gleefully defied over the last nine years: perhaps they didn’t realise the best way to spur him on was to give him a reason to prove them wrong. “People’s perceptions are still ‘are you ok?’ For me part of coming here was, if I could achieve academically and sporting-wise, people will stop asking that.”
He did find his ability to plan and organise was impaired in the early period after the accident, and wonders if he would have been able to manage this Cambridge year back then. But he also wonders if being told that his organisational abilities would be affected by the brain damage became a self-fulfilling prophecy. “They do say it, so maybe it makes you think that way.” As a result he’s passionate about not setting limits. “It doesn’t have to be an accident, it could be anything, but especially this stage in life, don’t let anyone else set things you can’t do. I think a lot of us are told that by people, and if you believe it then you’re never going to be able to do what you can.”
In practical terms this year has thrown up a series of unexpected challenges, from discovering that none of his team-mates were alive when he went to watch a Kurt Cobain gig as a 1990s student, or learning about Tinder, to turning up at his first lecture with especially-sharpened pencils and paper, only to find the rest of the cohort taking notes on their laptops. As he points out, “the internet wasn’t around when I first went to university”. Unused to a full academic schedule, he was left behind a few times in the early weeks, when his squad mates left the Ely boathouse to rush back for morning lectures, before he had finished changing. As a full-time student he’s living in Cambridge, away from his West London home with wife Bev and their three kids, but has managed a few nights with the family when CUBC have visited the Tideway on their many training outings to accustom newcomers to the bumpy water.
“When the Tideway wind goes against tide, it’s proper choppy. Some of the lads here have come from abroad, they go ‘why are you rowing on this rubbish’, but that’s where we’re racing. You have to get used to water flying around, and you’ve got pumps built in.” The man who rowed the Atlantic with Ben Fogle is pretty relaxed about unpredictable water. “There’s no guarantee you’re going to have a clean row at all. You’ve got to be prepared that at one point you’re going to catch a boatstopper and suddenly go from half a length up or level to half a length down, and not let that do your head in. But the conditions are the same for both crews.”
“I’ll be really disappointed if we choose a side where I don’t get to clash”
It’s fair to say that taking part for real has changed some of Cracknell’s views of the odd and historic event which is the Boat Race. He commentated on and wrote about it many times, but now he’s heard the tales of former Blues. “Looking back now I realise how little I knew about the race while commentating on it. It’s the subtleties, the old boys come back and talk about it, at key points what they were thinking. The amount you have to practice: getting onto the stake boat and having a 5mph current running underneath you. You can muck it up by the first stroke of the race: it’s like getting dropped onto a treadmill when it’s running already.” He also appreciates now the complexity of preparing a crew with wildly differing levels of experience. “In the Olympics everyone’s pretty much the same sort of area of racing, whereas here you’ve got people who started rowing at university, through to Natan [Wegrzycki-Szymczyk] who’s raced for Poland at the Olympics. He’s very racing-aware but clashing is not his natural forte, But I’ll be really disappointed if we choose a side where I don’t get to clash.” Fortunately they’re rowing on opposite sides, so Cambridge will clearly be hoping to get the Mortlake station, to keep both their Olympians happy.
Cracknell has also changed his mind about coxes — for this event, at least. “When I raced the Olympics one of us would steer with our foot. Normally a cox is a 50-kg bag of sand, if you can do their job with your foot they’re not that useful. But on the Tideway they earn their keep probably more than anyone. You’ve got to have real faith in them, and communication between stern pair and the cox is crucial. But the people up the bows have got to be switched on as well. Especially where I’m rowing, I’m one of the last two guys to see if Oxford are going to break clear so if there’s going to be a make or break move it will come from one of either me or Dave [Bell] shouting ‘it’s going to be now or never'”.
It’s fascinating to hear both Cracknell and Baker on the changes the Olympian has needed to make to adjust to elite racing in 2019. Having famously pursued endurance challenges in cycling, running, swimming, canoeing and ski-ing in addition to that trans-Atlantic row, in Baker’s view the athlete who ran a 2hr 43minute marathon in 2017 could row at a high intensity all day long. But Cracknell no longer has the power he had fifteen years ago after a long non-stop international rowing career, so he’s done a lot of strength training to rebuild it, and worked on technique. “I don’t think the boats I was in previously were ever held up as technical beacons of rowing,” says Cracknell, “and it has moved on. I’ve had to adapt the way I row, just the way the rhythm flows. To be honest we’re not as strong as the average strength of the fours I rowed, and the range [of ability] is much bigger, so you have to have that bullet-proof rhythm that everyone can hook onto, not rely [on power] to get yourself out of trouble. We do a lot of ergos where they link them all together and — um — I’m not always in time… A lot of what used to work for me, it’s not much use here. Also rowing an eight is such a quick-moving boat, so much is done before the ninety-degrees, that I’ve learned a huge amount and it’s only now that I’m picking it up in the right way.”
To Baker, it’s pointless comparing his two-seat, nicknamed ‘Uncle James’ to the crew, to other 46-year olds. “Andrew Cotter the race commentator was saying we all feel ourselves slowing up when we get into our forties, but we weren’t all James Cracknell in our twenties and thirties. He isn’t producing the scores he did when he was 25-30 but he was one of the top gold medallists then, not just getting gold medals, but one of a handful of people in the world, so it’s a very high bar he starts from.” What the returner does have is the same fearlessness he showed when younger. “I don’t think James is afraid of hurting himself, or ever has been.” That’s lucky, since this year Baker started training with a suggestion that anyone who stopped on the erg test which formed the first session, should not bother coming back.
“I thought oh great, I’ve spent 15 years avoiding erg tests”, said Cracknell. “But straight away he’s got to find out who’s prepared to hold their hand in the fire, and if you’re not, it’s better to find that out early on.” Crackers duly pulled himself to pieces — he can’t remember finishing one of the early tests — “but I didn’t stop at least, though I didn’t set the world on fire.” For the man who was used to a four-year campaign, seven months has gone very fast. “You do the first couple of months, then you realise who you’re fighting against for your seat, and then you support each other, so it’s been really interesting. I’ve learned a lot about how to work in this environment.” He has worked out how to measure his older body’s recovery carefully, and has tackled the pain barriers with his usual equanimity. “I spent a long time avoiding lactic acid, so I’ve had to become friends with it again, and I don’t like it as much.”
However he has worked hard to his raw strength and technique, and seems to have timed his peaking with the canny accuracy of experience.
It’s a far cry from the many years when he’d rock up with a stacked international-standard Leander first eight to race one or more of the men’s Blue Boats a week or two before the Eights Head. “Generally we’d do a long piece, and our crew would be able to get a length ahead then fall apart because we had no rhythm, and get rowed down. Then the second piece was a lot shorter at which point we’d hoof it off the start and crash into them. You realise how far advanced the Boat Race crews are for this stage in the season, it’s a different level.”
The impact of Cracknell’s presence on Cambridge is appreciated by President Dara Alizadeh. “James has been great, a lot of what made him good early on in his career, he brings similar things now”, says Alizadeh. “He’s very intense, he brings the fire in everything he does, and he also brings a good amount of insight. He has good feel of what’s going on, so when he says he feels something, guys really buy into that and we can make an adjustment.”
He also brings experience, as someone who has not only won, but won as heavily fancied favourite, something which has never scared either Cracknell or his illustrious former team-mates. You can hear the Olympic experience ringing through as he contemplates April 7th. “Our base level should be the best we’ve done in training, rather than expecting something we’ve never done before. I think that’s what I’m trying to get across to the lads, that it’s about what we’ve done, and using the adrenaline of the occasion to lift you up rather than go out thinking we’ve got to do something we’ve never done before. That the most relaxed you’ll feel in the preceding week is when you put your hands on the boat and you’re off and doing it — you’re going to feel shit beforehand.”
Two years ago he told a running magazine “I can hold on when it gets horrible”, and that may be Cracknell’s best gift to the Light Blues. If the guy who is old enough to be dad to most of them isn’t giving up but is shouting for more, who would dare fold? “He gets everyone geed up, he can get guys motivated,” says Alizadeh. And Cracknell gets how this peculiar endurance sprint combination works. “This race probably more than any other you’ve got to have each other’s back. Because there’s going to be a time when you’re doing something that is mentally wrong with three miles left. Because if you don’t do it then, you’re going to lose.”
In customary Boat Race style, the men’s and women’s crews of Oxford and Cambridge University were unveiled to the public today in London with a weigh-in taking place in front of press and spectators in City Hall, overlooking Tower Bridge.
The Cambridge University Boat Club and Oxford University Boat Club pose for a photo during The Boat Race Crew Announcement 2019 on March 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Seven months of speculation were laid to rest as two-time Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell was announced for the 2-seat in the Cambridge Blue Boat, making him the oldest rower to be selected in the race’s nearly 200 year history.
At 46, Cracknell is 11 years older than the next oldest competitior – US Olympian Mike Wherley who competed for Oxford in 2008 at the age of 35 and 8 months.
“Making the Blue Boat after a tough year is arguably my proudest achievement in rowing” – James Cracknell
Speaking about his selection for the Cambridge eight Cracknell said: “It’s impossible to appreciate what getting selected for The Boat Race is actually like.”
“Training so intensively and competing with a group of guys for the same seats in a boat whilst studying hard at a top university, you could easily fall apart. The national team I was part of for so long could learn a thing or two from The Boat Race squads.”
“Making the Blue Boat after a tough year is arguably my proudest achievement in rowing. But making the boat is only the start, I and the other lads aren’t there for the kit and being selected, it’s about delivering on April 7th.”
Cracknell weighed in at 89.8kg, nearly four kilos heavier than his opposite man, Ben Landis from Oxford University (86.0kg) although Oxford were the marginally heavier crew overall with a total weight of 719.6kg to Cambridge’s 718.3kg. Understandably Cambridge are on average the much older crew with an average age of 26.3 years to Oxford’s 21.8.
In the women’s crews the age gap is far smaller with Oxford coming out slightly younger at 23.9 years to Cambridge’s 24.3 years. Oxford were the lighter of the two women’s crews, coming in about 10kg under their Light Blue counterparts with 568.8kg to Cambridge’s 578.3kg overall crew weight.
In commemoration of the centenary of the 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta, Military VIIIs will once again compete against each other at Henley Royal Regatta after a one hundred year hiatus.
For the first time, male and female military athletes will row in the same boat at an elite international event. The King’s Cup will see crews from the original six nations of Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, joined by Germany and the Netherlands, competing in a knock-out format over the final three days of the 2019 Henley Royal Regatta.
“The 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta was a key milestone in our sport … “
Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Regatta’s Committee of Management, said: “The Regatta is delighted to host such an important commemoration. The 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta was a key milestone in our sport and was staged by the rowing community to help heal wounds and hasten the return to normality of the Allied nations and their troops recovering from the First World War”.
Chris Hartley, who has been coordinating the international participation, said: “The 2019 King’s Cup campaign has been several years in the making and has strong support from all eight nations. It once again demonstrates the power of sport to build positive change,” he said. “As military forces around the world embrace gender inclusiveness, the prospect of mixed crews racing at the Regatta is tremendously exciting. As in 1919, the Regatta is breaking new ground and we anticipate highly competitive racing”.
At the 1919 Peace Regatta, the Australian Army crew won the King’s Cup, presented by King George V. That original trophy is now awarded annually to the fastest State crew in Australia. Crews at Henley in 2019 will be competing for a newly commissioned King’s Cup.
Henley Royal Regatta takes place from 3rd – 7th July.
American Rowing’s largest prize series announces a new three series format spanning Sarasota to Philadelphia, where men’s and women’s champions will be crowned in October 2019
The Philadelphia Gold Challenge Cup Foundation announced today the new format for the third of edition of the U.S. Lotman Challenge® races. Covering three different race distances over the course of 2019, the challenge will identify America’s premier scullers and award champions in the culminating race in Philadelphia on October 26th.
The U.S. Lotman Challenge carries the distinction of being the only race offering a substantial cash prize to the top scoring male and female rowers continuing to both attract and support America’s top rowers. With a revised selection format for the first leg of the series, the Gold Cup Foundation hopes to provide exciting competition and support US scullers as they gear up for Tokyo 2020.
2019 Race Series Format
Leg #1: Will be comprised of 3 separate USRowing events to select the top 7 male and female open weight single scullers
Event 1: US Singles Trials
Sarasota, FL April 18-21, 2019
Top 4 male and female open weight single scullers proceed to leg #2
Event 2: US Doubles Trials
Womens Trials- Mercer, NJ May 16-19, 2019
Mens Trials- Mercer, NJ July 7-10, 2019
Winner of the male and female open weight double scull proceed to Leg #2
Event 3: National Championships
Cincinnati, OH July 9-14, 2019
Winner of the male and female open single sculls proceed to Leg #2
Leg #2 Head Of The Charles Regatta Championship Single (Boston, October 19-20, 2019)
Top 4 male and female cumulative points from Legs #1 and #2 proceed to Leg #3
Leg #3 U.S. Lotman Challenge final during Head of the Schuylkill Regatta (Philadelphia, October 26- 27, 2019)
There will be an A final only for the male and female athletes
This will take place on the 700 meter Gold Cup course
“We continue to try and find innovative and creative ways to support our athletes and believe the 2019 U.S. Lotman Challenge race series succeeds in doing so,” said Bill McNabb, chairman of the Philadelphia Gold Challenge Cup Foundation. “The 2019 U.S. Lotman Challenge races will provide a dynamic and appealing series, continuing our efforts of supporting US scullers to achieve success at the highest levels of our sport.”
The first qualifying leg will be raced over 2000 meters and athletes may qualify at one of three USRowing events—the US Singles Trials, US Doubles Trials, or the National Championships. “USRowing is excited to continue to work with the Gold Cup Foundation and the U.S. Lotman Challenge to offer competitive opportunities for US athletes,” said USRowing High Performance Director, Matt Imes. “We continue to look at innovative ways of incorporating qualifications at selection events and future National Championships.” Additionally, in support of the U.S. Lotman Challenge races and participating athletes, USRowing will provide a travel stipend amount to the top 7 male and female athletes that are participating in the series.
The second leg will play out during the Championship Singles race at the Head Of The Charles Regatta in Boston on October 20th where the top 7 male and female athletes from leg 1 will race for 4 qualifying spots to the final leg in Philadelphia. “HOCR is proud to continue to support the U.S. Lotman Challenge for a third year,” shared Priscilla Livingston, Director of Operations at Head Of The Charles Regatta. “The Lotman series is so important for US scullers, and we’re excited to be a stop along the way for these athletes. We’re looking forward to seeing some great racing this year.”
The third and final leg will play out over 700 meters in Philadelphia moments before the Gold Challenge Cup held during the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta on October 26th. “By working together, we can engage a wider audience, driving exposure and support, and place the rowers and the story of their journeys in the spotlight,” said Executive Director of the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, Jen Wesson. “The HOSR is proud to partner in this effort to make a difference in the careers of US scullers.”
Upon the conclusion of racing, the top 4 scoring athletes will receive prizes of $8,000 for first place, $6,000 for second place, $4,000 for third place, and $2,000 for fourth place. In the instance that an athlete wins all three legs outright, he/she will be rewarded $10,000.
After receiving athlete and partner feedback from 2018, the Foundation will be eliminating the lightweight component of theU.S. Lotman Challenge series, and will instead donate $5,000.00 each to the men’s and women’s lightweight double sculls representing the United States at Worlds in 2019. Craig Hoffman, Board Member at the Gold Cup Foundation shared, “The U.S. Lotman Challenge race series recognizes the work ethic and talent of American lightweight scullers. We are excited to support their dreams of winning Olympic medals.”
More information about the 2019 U.S. Lotman Challenge® race series, including rules and regulations, can be found on the Gold Cup’s website.
Technogym explains all at the 2018 World Rowing conference in Berlin
Technogym, one of the top brands in technologies and digital services for fitness, sport and health, has recently brought a new edge to the competition in rowing machines with its new indoor ‘Skillrow’. With innovative features such as ‘Aquafeel’, ‘Multidrive’ and a fully connected monitor and mobile app, the Skillrow has steadily built up interest among competitive rowers around the world, even featuring in the athlete warm-up area at both Henley Royal Regatta and the World Rowing Championships this summer.
Technogym is renowned for its heavy investment in research and innovation, with more than 150 engineers working within their R&D department. ‘Aquafeel’ – which comes closer than traditional ergometers to mimicking the natural curve of the stroke in the water – is just one resulting innovation brought to the rapidly growing indoor rowing market.
This November Technogym was invited to speak at the World Rowing Sports Medicine and Science Conference about their latest product. Nearly 300 delegates from many of the world’s rowing federations attended the conference, where they were able to hear more about exactly how the research has been conducted at Technogym’s Health and Performance Research Laboratory in Italy.
Speaking to national team coaches, the Technogym delegates explained that when the Skillrow concept began over two years ago, their initial task was to gather as much information as possible from some of the world’s best rowers.
Their team spent time visiting rowing clubs and invited Italian national team rowers including world champion Bruno Rosetti to take part in tests at the Technogym lab. In line with its positioning as the reference brand for the Olympic movement – Technogym has been Official Supplier to the last seven Olympic Games – the company continues to work closely with Olympic medallists including Rio men’s eights gold medallist Scott Durant from Great Britain and Italian Olympic rowers Marcello Miani and Rossano Galtarossa. Together they conducted a major analysis both of what elite rowers required from a world-class rowing machine and key areas where they could improve on what was already available.
Technogym’s Wellness Campus in Italy houses a large research team.
“For more than a century,” a Technogym representative explained, “rowing machines have been used as a means of exercise and have come to be the most popular training tool for competitive rowers. However, as demonstrated, for example in a scientific paper published by world renowned rowing bio-mechanist Valery Kleshnev, there was actually little comparison between the kinetics of existing indoor rowing machines available at the time and actual rowing on water.”
Kleshnev’s research showed the resistance curve provided by popular rowing machines was very different to that experienced during an actual ‘on-water’ rowing stroke. Resistance was irregular through the stroke, whereas rowing on the water provided a more consistent resistance from start to finish of the stroke.
Another study titled, ‘The kinetic comparison of ergometer and on-water rowing’ published in 1989 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, drew similar conclusions. It cited ‘delayed handle forces developed at the catch’, – often referred to as catch-slip – and a ‘lack of resistance at the end of the drive phase’ – also known as finish-slip – as one of the key problems in modern rowing machines.
It was these shortcomings in existing products that spurred Technogym on to develop the patented ‘Aquafeel’ technology in the Skillrow.
Technogym explained that there had been two phases to this process. “The first was to engineer an innovative resistance mechanism that could better mimic the on-water feel. The second phase was to test and validate it until we were happy that we had achieved what we wanted. We performed extensive tests, comparing bio-mechanical parameters and oxygen uptake.”
Valent Sinkovic seen using the SKILLROW at the 2018 World Championships before going on to win gold in the M2-.
After a lengthy process of prototyping, testing and refining their work in conjunction with professional athletes and researchers at the leading sports science institute at Loughborough University in the UK, Technogym finally felt they had a machine that provided exactly the same metabolic load as the leading competitor’s products. Beyond this it offered an improved resistance curve through its meticulous recreation of the dynamic of the oar when rowing on water.
They also deployed accelerometers and EMG sensors to measure muscle contraction, testing the load on the lower back of rowers while using the machine. The sensors confirmed that, thanks to the smoother resistance curve, rowers experienced less lower back strain while using the Skillrow and therefore have a lower injury risk.
Their final and most vital stage of testing was to ensure the accuracy between machines. This was a particularly important point for coaches, who require extremely accurate machines to test their athletes’ comparative strength when selecting their strongest crews for competition.
To validate the accuracy of the Skillrow, Technogym’s engineers built robots to row the machines. With the robots repeating a series of identical, timed pieces, early tests found the machines demonstrated superior accuracy, with a standard deviation of less than 1.5% of total power output.
As well as having improved accuracy and feel, the Skillrow offers impressive UI features. It’s fully connected via WiFi, Bluetooth and Ant+ connectivity to both the Skillrow mobile app and Skillrow professional app. These should prove particularly useful for coaches wanting to chart and keep track of their athletes’ performances over time.
Technogym leads the way with its advanced UI technology.
Perhaps of most interest to the coaches at the conference, however, was the connected racing technology developed for the Skillrow. Here Technogym has developed a clever scientific formula that uses real rowing dynamics to translate performances on the machine into equivalent on-water times for different boat categories. To date this technology is unmatched elsewhere in the indoor rowing sector, but it goes further by calculating the level of synchronisation between rowers racing on connected Skillrow machines and adjusts their scores accordingly.
Excitingly this means that, just like in real rowing, the more synchronised the crew are in their application of power through the rowing stroke, the faster they will go. Synchronisation is measured in the Skillrow by measuring both catch timing and peak force of each rower and then calculating an average for the crew. The Skillrow monitor then tells each individual how well they are synchronised with the rest of their crew. As in a real rowing boat, an out of sync crew will be slower than a synchronised crew when racing on the Skillrow machines.
By the end of the presentation, the coaches were clearly impressed. The Skillrow represents a significant jump in technology that many would say is long overdue. While rowing is notoriously slow to adopt new products, the Italian national team – currently one of the best in the world according to the overall medal tally at the last two world championships – are already training on the Skillrow. With the myriad features and extensive research behind it, it may be just a matter of time before many more national teams follow suit.
In the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, team the Dutch Atlantic Four became the first ever Dutch team to win this exhilarating race deemed to be the ‘world’s toughest row’. Showing true grit and determination, the foursome persevered through challenging weather conditions to cross the Atlantic Ocean as the first and fastest ever Dutch team of four, reaching the finish line in 34 days, 12 hours and 9 minutes.
“The row challenged us more than we could have imagined, but we faced the elements and came out the other side … “
Marcel Ates (58), Erik Koning (51), Bart Adema (34) and David de Brujin (33) arrived in Antigua in the early evening to be greeted by a huge crowd of family, friends and people of the small Caribbean island, who have eagerly awaited the winning team’s arrival. With still seas and calm winds throughout their 3,000-mile row, Dutch Atlantic Four have had to fight for their position using incredible mental strength and resilience. Alongside this, the team faced a constant battle throughout the race for first place from two UK teams, Oar Inspiring and the Nauti Buoys. Nonetheless, their rowing prowess kept them just out of reach of the determined Brits, with Oar Inspiring now expected to reach Antigua less than 24 hours after the Dutch, proving an exciting and extremely close race.
Skipper, Marcel, comments: “The row challenged us more than we could have imagined, but we faced the elements and came out the other side of this journey together as a team with a new found respect for the ocean, which was like a dancefloor where our little boat was dancing on the waves. We had a relentless chase by two of the British teams, Oar Inspiring and the Nauti Buoys, and it meant that it pushed all of us to our limits; passing the first way point we realised we were in front and we agreed to defend it like lions. It really has been the adventure of a lifetime, an opportunity to step away from our daily routines and achieve something incredible.”
Each of the team members have spent a great amount of time on water doing river rowing adventures, but the race was their first experience of ocean rowing, unlike anything that they’ve done before. Dutch Atlantic Four rowed the Atlantic to raise funds and awareness for Precious Plastic and Kika. Precious Plastic are a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution, to help keep our oceans and environment protected for generations to come.
The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is a unique, life-changing experience. Each participant burns around 8,000 calories a day and loses approximately 20% of their body weight over the duration of the race. Alongside the physical challenge, they have to work together to stay mentally strong as they spend Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve away from their families during this transformational adventure, which usually lasts anywhere between 30-90 days. Through the hardships, they will also be privy to breathtaking moments, being close to nature, amazing sea life, and beautiful sunsets.
Lisa Everingham, Global Talisker Marketing Manager, comments: “We are delighted for the Dutch Atlantic Four and their determination in making the most out of every moment to become the 2019 race winners. To be able to support them in this life changing adventure and to be part of their journey has been a real privilege. The race is a truly unique experience and one that encourages the teams to switch off from their busy everyday lives, embrace the elements and rediscover what matters most.”
As athletes, it can be easy to forget about our gut flora and the important role it plays in our health. We all have our very own special mix of microbial inhabitants. Gut health may influence not only our digestion, but also our immunity to withstand stress associated particularly with over training, nutrition absorption and recovery. There is some evidence to suggest it might even improve brain function.
Around 100 trillion microbes including bacteria, virus algae, fungi live in our gut which is collectively called the gut microbiome. Our gut bacteria weighs over 1 kg.
Currently the gut microbiome is a hot topic attracting a lot of scientific research but there are also many myths circulating about gut health and with few studies on humans, care must be applied to the athlete.
Gut health has been a big focus in athletic research as heavy exercise can result in gut symptoms such as diarrhoea, cramps, pain and bloating which can adversely affect athletic performance.
Gut microbiota ferment complex dietary starches, releasing energy and thereby increasing endurance performance by maintaining glycaemia over time delaying fatigue symptoms.
A lot of what we eat is digested by our microbes and then they produce other nutrients which are very important to us.
Interestingly unlike our human genome (or make up) our microbial genome can change according to our diet, the use of pro and prebiotics and antibiotics.
We know that our diet influences the microorganisms in our gut both short term and long term and that diets composed of either animal or vegetable plant products alters the microbiome.
Crucially an athlete’s microbiomes are distinctly different from those of non-athletes. It seems the more active you are the more diverse your microbiome will be. And interestingly there have been several research studies in athletes including rowers which found differences in the gut even between different sports.
Analysing your gut microbiome to predict future performance may become common practice in the next decade and could be just like taking a blood sample. Diets and supplements such as probiotics may need to be tailored to the individual athlete to maximise their own gut microbiota.
What about Probiotics?
There are a range of nutrition supplement strategies employed by athletes to improve gut health and immune function. Of these, probiotic supplements are among the most popular. Probiotics have an established history of use for preventing gastro-intestinal illness, particularly traveller’s diarrhoea and antibiotic associated diarrhoea. Probiotics contain friendly microorganisms which boost the diversity of good bacteria, yeast and fungi living in our guts. Research has also focused on the effects of probiotics on immune function in athletes examining whether probiotics reduce upper respiratory tract illness (URTI). While promising results have been observed in relation to URTI the overall changes observed in immune activity are mixed.
Prebiotics are non-digestible polysaccharides that stimulate the growth and activity of the gut microbiota. A number of foods have a prebiotic effect, including chickpeas, lentils, barley, bananas, oats, wheat, soy-beans, asparagus, leek, chicory, garlic, artichoke and onion.
Whilst the use of probiotics has traditionally been focused on gut health this may now be extended to inflammatory and metabolic effects by modifying the microbiota thus enhancing athlete performance. There are capsules, tablets and readymade live yoghurts on the market but also lots of different products containing probiotics e.g. kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut in various forms such as pickles, milks or drinks. Its big business.
Intense Training/Gastric Stress.
While gastric stress is widely recognized as the bane of long-distance runners, it also appears to be common in other elite endurance athletes with symptoms such as abdominal bloating, pain, diarrhoea and gassiness.
Causes of gastric upset are not completely understood they may be due to a range of different reasons e.g:
– There is reduced blood flow from the gut to the muscles and anxiety affects hormones and gut mobility
– When the impact of running creates a physical problem
– High fibre, fat, protein or fructose and beverages/sports drinks with a high density (>500mOsmoles/L)
Eating real food is important: processed convenience fast foods may not contain all the microbes we need for a healthy gut and may contain other things like emulsifiers which may prevent absorption.
Avoid high fructose fruit juices. Check the label.
Do not try new nutrition strategies for race day: practice well in advance and train your gut during training.
Eat a variety of different rainbow coloured foods and be adventurous and try different foods every week: a healthy gut likes diversity in foods.
Eat minimum of 5 vegetables per daywith lots of polyphenols e.g. berries , legumes and vegetables.
A day prior to competition: A) avoid high fibre containing foods g.wholemeal bread, brown rice and pasta and choose white bread, white rice or pasta instead.The roughage takes time to digest and may cause gut discomfort; B) Consume less fruit and vegetables leading up to competition or remove skins and mash up vegetables; C) Minimise milk products and thus lactose consumption and substitute almond, soy and rice milks.
Minimise stress in your life and sleep.
Ignore fad diets and media hype.
Athletes are advised to work with their dietitians to modify their diet and determine whether supplements, such as probiotics and prebiotics, may be useful during prolonged exercise, periods of heavy training, and during competition and travel.
Henley Royal Regatta yesterday announced the election of three new Stewards; Sarah Cook, Alison Faiers and Luke Dillon. Each of the three new Stewards have been closely involved with the regatta for several years.
Australian rower and former world champion Sarah Cook has been contributing to the commentary team at the regatta for over five years while Luke Dillon rowed at Henley Royal Regatta in six different crews from 2005 to 2011. Luke became an assistant to the Regatta’s Chairman in 2016. Alison Faiers is a British Rowing Multi-lane Umpire and has volunteered at the regatta for many years.
Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Regatta’s Committee of Management, said: “We’re delighted to have Alison, Luke and Sarah in their new posts. They’ve all played integral roles at the regatta in recent years. The Stewards are a tribute to the long-standing history of the regatta; we look forward to seeing them all in their new roles at next year’s event.”
Henley Royal Regatta yesterday also announced a new rule and amendments to the event’s current regulations. According to the regatta, the rule has been introduced to ensure the highest level of sportsmanship at next year’s regatta.
New General Rule
The Stewards added a new General Rule under Unsporting Conduct which states:
42. (a) “The Committee shall have the power in response to acts of unsporting conduct to impose the penalties in Rule 38, and in addition the exclusion of competitors, crews or a club from an event or from all events at the Regatta.”
(b) “Unsporting conduct means behaviour deemed by the Committee and/or race officials to be unsporting and/or likely to cause offence which is displayed before, during or after a race by competitors, crews, coaches, club members or supporters.”
Notes and Instructions for Competitors and Coaches
To support the new Rule, the Stewards have amended the Notes and Instructions for Competitors and Coaches to:
35. (c) “All coaches, competitors and clubs are reminded of the possible sanctions imposed by the Qualification and General Rules in respect of unsporting conduct.”
Jim Flood is a British Rowing Coach Educator. He believes a more participant focussed approach with novices is essential to ensure they stick with the sport long term.
I visit a lot of rowing clubs where I see Learn to Row courses in progress – and I do not see a great deal of evidence to suggest that the courses are ‘participant focused’ in the sense in which it is taught in the British Rowing Level 2 Coaching course.
My view is that a poor learning experience is being provided and therefore reduces the number of people who could go on to make a contribution as long term club members.
The Uncertain Learning Environment
Lets begin by examining the ‘uncertain learning environment’. This is the part of the learning environment in which the learners face uncertainty and a loss of control.
the challenge for the coach is to convince the participants that following their advice will lead to success
My first experience of teaching and coaching was as a swimming and diving coach. In both of these sports there is an uncertain environment: in learning to swim it is the feeling of being immersed in water with no points of solid contact – and in the case of diving it is the experience of free falling.
In both cases the challenge for the coach is to convince the participants that following their advice will lead to success – but for participants to remember the advice when panic of the unknown sets in is extremely difficult.
Until the 1960s, the way that coaches dealt with the problem of panic when participants were immersed in water or free falling through the air, was to rehearse the necessary movements on land so that they would become ‘second nature’. And, of course, it was considered vital to teach the correct technique in order to prevent ‘bad habits’ from developing.
It was usual to see swimming lessons starting on land with participants standing on the side of the swimming pool rehearsing arm breaststroke movements. There were two serious problems with this approach, one was that the muscles used to replicate the swimming movement in air, are quite different to the muscles used when following the same movement in the water. Also in water the breaststroke movement tended to immerse the head – amplifying the uncertainty and panic. Quite simply, the rehearsal of the swimming stroke on land was counterproductive and delayed the process of learning to swim.
I believe that there is a similar problem in the teaching of rowing. However, before I leave swimming and diving, I want to outline the changes in coaching methods that took place.
There were two significant developments: one was to teach an understanding of buoyancy (Archimedes principle) by feeling the floating effect when lifting the feet off the bottom of the pool whilst keeping the head as close to the surface as possible; the second was to try to propel the body forward by reaching and pulling. This provided a safe and controlled introduction to the ‘uncertain environment’ of the water. With diving the important understanding was that the body follows the head – so trainees wore old clothing to protect their bodies against the painful effect of not entering the water head first. In summary, the key changes were:
Teaching an understanding of the mechanics of the process
Ignoring ‘correct technique’ in favour of what gave the participants success and confidence.
As a swimming coach, I found no problem in getting participants to progress from a confidence-building ‘doggy paddle’ to effective technique.
And so to the teaching of rowing, which, I will argue is still largely stuck in the 60s and suffering the same consequences of slow progress and high failure rates.
Most ‘Learn to Row’ courses start with a first session on an ergometer, a bank tub or rowing tank– which in my opinion is the equivalent of the land training of swimming. True it teaches a sequence and a technique – but in a situation totally removed from the situation that participants soon find themselves in, which is an unstable boat which makes it almost impossible to apply any lessons learned – and leads in many cases to a sense of failure.
The unstable boat is the uncertain learning environment which, because of a sense of panic and fear, destroys any confidence that has been previously established. Sadly, most participants, and especially women, locate the source of failure in themselves rather than in the person who is managing the experience!
So how, in my view, can coaches best manage an induction to the uncertain learning environment of the unstable boat? Well, it’s based on the strategies previously mentioned.
Teaching an understanding of the mechanics of the process
Ignoring ‘correct technique’ in favour of what gives the participants success and confidence.
In addition, it is about expectation management: the message to participants needs to be ‘There will be a tendency for the boat to rock from side to side but we will keep you safe by teaching why it happens – and how to control it’.
Learning to keep the boat level
The procedure I recommend with beginners is to have reasonably experienced rowers at Bow and 2 in order to maintain control of the boat. Another recommendation is to explain the importance of rotating the blade slightly so that the water runs underneath the blade – and not over the top of it.
Once the participants are safely in the boat and sitting comfortably with blades on the water, try asking them to work out, for a few minutes, what will cause the boat to roll from side to side. This might appear to be an extreme approach – but managing a learning experience so that the participants work out cause and effect themselves, is a very effective learning experience. In both the coaching of tennis and football these days, participants are likely to be asked to work out how to do something (e.g. get a ball over the net or dribble past another player) rather than simply given instructions. Rowing is behind the curve on this approach which is referred to as Problem Based Learning*.
The effect of different hand heights on stroke side and bow side quickly creates an uncertain learning environment – and one to be avoided at all times by all participants maintaining a hand height that keeps the boat level.
Progression to the next stage of coping with uncertainty
The next step can be to move the spoons of the blades backwards and forwards over the water by swinging from the hips and drawing the hands into the body– and to do it together keeping the boat level. This is best done by starting with pairs only, then fours, sixes, then all eight. A key point here is learning to move together.
When this exercise can be done confidently, try starting at front stops with a square blade, drawing it through the water, still using only arms and body, and rolling the blade out on to the feather, still in contact with the water at the end of the stroke. Again, this can be done sequentially in pairs, fours, sixes and all eight.
Rolling the spoon on to the surface of the water, rather than ‘tapping out’ vertically, might seem like heresy but in fact it is how most experienced rowers extract the blade from the water – so rolling the blade on to the surface of the water makes for an easier transition to rowing with blades off the water. There is nothing new about teaching participants to row with their blades on the water – it is how we introduce participants to rowing in a single scull, so why not use it for sweep oar rowing?
Establishing the body swing with only ‘arms and body’ rowing is an excellent preparation for good blade control and posture. It can be followed with gradual slide progression to introduce the use of the legs. I find that once the rowers achieve good control at ¾ slide, and are moving the boat, the blades begin to clear the water – enough to allow blades to square easily – but close enough to the water to discourage violent upward movements of the hands at the catch.
Key learning points:
As the body swings back and the hands draw the bland handle to the body, the hands stay at the same height. This needs the shoulder to be relaxed to allow the shoulder joint to rotate. Also the head stays vertical.
With all the hand heights at the same level, the blades will act in a similar way to a tightrope walker’s pole, and the boat will be easy to balance by squeezing down on one side of the seat or the other. If the shoulders are moved the boat rolls too quickly to be easily corrected.
Even one rower changing her or his hands will effectively ‘break’ the tightrope walker’s pole effect and the action will lever the rigger upwards (or downwards) causing the boat to roll.
Many clubs have invested in stable boats, both for ‘Learn to Row’ courses and recreational rowing. Whilst these considerably reduce the uncertain environment by providing a more stable platform, in my experience they do not make it much easier for rowers when the transition is made to club racing boats. I would use them – but with the same procedures that I advocate above.
Participant Focused Coaching
This is the official policy of both UK Coaching (https://www.ukcoaching.org/) and British Rowing. The broad aim is to make coaching less didactic and more interactive. It requires the coach to involve participants in their own learning and to discuss their needs. Above all it requires the coach to provide a safe and enjoyable experience that removes the ‘stumbling blocks’ that lead to failure and frustration. That does not mean removing challenges but giving participants the ‘tools’ and techniques to manage them.