Diamonds are my best friend

The Diamond Challenge Sculls and Pineapple cup from Henley Royal Regatta

I started my comeback to Rowing on the 1stJuly 2017 in the worst physical shape of my life, 19KG over my Rio racing weight and with virtually no training to talk about over the 11 months since winning in Rio. 

The journey back has been challenging to put it lightly. I spent 3 months making very little progress and since then while the progress has been seen in training, I have suffered a number of set backs and struggled to replicate my training into a racing situation. 

At no point have I got despondent, I know it is only a matter of time and my goal has always been Tokyo, which is still 2 years away. I know I will certainly see my form by then. I hoped and thought from my experience in 2013, I would start to see some real progress by early 2018 but my patience has been continually tested as I probably underestimated how age and the lack of training in my time off would affect my progress.

July 15 has been the date I’ve been targeting since January, knowing that was the moment where my 2018 aspirations of racing the single in Bulgaria in September would be decided.  I believe I can produce my best there, but I have to say its tough to keep believing when you don’t have any results to back your belief up and continue to experience set backs, especially as the clock ticks down and D day is only a matter of days away.

Since arriving in Europe as time got tighter Ferg and I have had to reassess progress and have been working hard on a few technical changes as well as a couple of changes in training to try and accelerate my progress. They have been positive and had a good impact on my speed at the higher rates. There have been a number of set backs during this tour but experience has taught me dwelling on what’s happened doesn’t help you go forward, so ultimately they have had very minimal impact on my progress as we find a solution and move on.

As a said in my post prior to Henley I took a step forward at the Holland Beker and I can very happily say, if that was a step forward the past 3 days of racing has been a giant leap. 

I managed to build and improve every race and very much see some of the changes Ferg and I identified starting to come to fruition. While the final was not at all the way I planned to race, I was solid over the whole course and even had something left at the end for a very crowd-pleasing sprint. I am not sure where that came from, the crowds and cheering certainly helped but it is something I haven’t seen since Rio and will blame it on the boat! After snapping my boat in two in Munich I have switched to my spare boat which happens to be the boat I won in in Rio and those familiar with that result will understand this boat likes a crowd pleasing finish. Me not so much!

The final in Henley via Kjetil Borch was an absolute cracker. I had a solid start but Kjetil went off like lightning. While I did manage to limit the damage, it was fairly severe (around 2 lengths) he was out of my sight and I just had to hold tight and believe. I was Rowing well and while I tried to keep the pressure on, I really struggled to close the gap as Kjetil responded to every move. By half way the margin was still about 2 lengths and I thought I had too much to do but I’m not one to die wondering and knew I had to keep the pressure on and not give in. 

Henley is a long course and the one on one racing I love, but can take its toll mentally, in those stakes I’ll back myself any day. With about 500M to go (the mile) I had slimmed the lead to 1.5 lengths but thought I had too much to do. I started raising the rate yet wasn’t making any sizable impression, about 300M (the mile and the eighth) Kjetil still had clear water but the crowd started to erupt. I had no idea of the gap but guessed with the amount of noise coming from the enclosures I must be closing and put my head down and raised the rate again at about 120M to go (the progress boards) I started to see him, as he was struggling to take the next stroke, he had rowed himself to a standstill. I must say it was a good feeling! The final verdict was 3 lengths which if you saw on paper looked comfortable and doesn’t do justice to the greatest Diamonds final I have been involved in (my eighth). 

It’s a pretty special and satisfying o win the Diamonds again and my sixth title, which ties Stuart MacKenzie’s record for most number of titles. Looking at the wooden box containing of a pair of silver crossed sculls with a wreath of emeralds and of course a sizable diamond it was pretty special to look through the names of the who’s who of Sculling over the years as former champions and be apart of an event dating back to 1844. I also recieve my 6th Pineapple cup so can finally have that pineapple dinner party I have been aiming for!

Henley was a leap forward, improving every race and the final was the best I have raced since the Rio final. It was however far from a complete performance. There is still plenty I can improve on and that needs work over the next 7 days.  The biggest thing Henley has provided me is confidence. Confidence that we are working on the right things and I am capable of producing a race of quality when I need it. This is my first regatta win since Rio but I am under no illusion of how big a challenge I still have ahead of me. I feel like I am studying for an exam the night before and still have a half the curriculum to learn.. The positive is I am at least studying the right subject and the exam doesn’t start for another few hours. A race like Henley would get me into the A Final but probably not in the medals, so the challenge now is to take another leap and cause a fairly sizable upset in Lucerne.

Robbie is in fine form, he has had a great year and I have struggled to get within 6sec of him at any point since coming back, quite often being considerably further behind.  What has happened so far this year now counts for absolutely nothing. I am not forgetting there is still a heat, quarter final and semi to negotiate, but if I do what I showed myself I can at Henley this weekend and I make the A final, Robbie and I will both start level. I know I can perform on the biggest stage and I know at my best I can beat anyone on anyday. The only thing I can control from here is what I do over the next 7 days, making the improvements required and showing up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday doing my best, if I can build on what I have started in Henley I might just produce a Jimmy Spithill type comeback and pull a rabbit out of the hat, to win the right to represent New Zealand in Bulgaria in September. Extreme pressure produces Diamonds and Henley has reminded me how much I love those situations and how great Diamonds can be. 

To watch the race you can visit the following link

Article added: Monday 09 July 2018


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