Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Girls

I started coaching for the recreational rowing program in my hometown when I returned home from college this summer. This is my first coaching job, so I've been learning a lot about being on the opposite side of the megaphone. Everything is multiplied tenfold (or, to be more precise, eightfold) when you're in a coaching launch. When you're rowing yourself, nothing beats the feeling you get when you come off the water after a good row. Conversely, there's nothing worse for your psyche than a completely shit row. Sharing that feeling when you're not actually rowing a seat yourself, however, is a completely different feeling. I wasn't prepared for the satisfaction that comes from teaching people how to row properly, but it felt great. Of course, when your boat has a bad row, you get down on yourself, too, wondering what you're doing (or not doing) to keep your points from getting across.

We have a good mix of people, from juniors looking to stay in shape for the upcoming head racing season to masters novice trying something other than aquacise. There's also an older group of women who want to compete in some local head races come fall. It's this group that I've been with most of the summer, and I enjoy working with the most out of all the different types of people. Despite the fact that most of them are old enough to be my mother, they listen to the entire coaching staff (most of whom are a little older than I am) without issue. Doctors, lawyers, or businesswomen, they're all successful and dedicated to their professional lives and their families. This makes their committment to the sport all the more surprising, as well as exciting. They want to work hard, they want to be competitive. They have no problem coming in and doing 2x20min steady state rows on days where the mercury tops 95. Their allegiance lies to the boat and to themselves. While the high school boys and girls are outwardly friendly, they have a hard time forgetting about the unis they row in during the school year; those type-A personalities that serve their parent programs so well aren't as easily adjustable to our program. It's easy for there to be an entire boat full of eight mavericks on a given day, especially with the boys (because high school boys are, well, high school boys). But the competitive masters, they don't talk back, they don't complain. They just lay into their oars every practice.

My mother, who's ambivalent to my rowing career ("It won't pay the bills"), doesn't really know what I do down at the boathouse, other that it involves water and going backwards on narrow little boats. So when she asks me where I'm going after my day job, I just tell her I'm going to see my ladies. At first, she wasn't really sure what to make of my explaination, but now she fully understands that I'm not carrying on affairs with eight older women.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I'm In Love!

This is a first: I've got a crush an oarswoman who I don't know from my own boathouse. Who is she? France's Sophie Balmary, who won this year's Princess Royal Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. As the Row2k Henley correspondent said in a report: "Saw Balmary walking down the lawn this morning; nice muscles mademoiselle."


Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Next Great Rowing Superpower?

I remember reading an article in Rowing News months ago which discussed the dominance of the East German rowing squad in the 70's and the 80's. At the end of the article, a coach compared the GDR training system to the system that the Chinese are currently using. Essentially, the coach predicted the rise of Chinese rowing by the time the Bejing Olympics come around, due to their approach to training.

I took very little stock into this report; how could the Chinese, a nonentity in a rowing world dominated by Europeans, come to rule over a sport? Certainly, when the East Germans took the rowing world by storm, both pre-World War II Germany and West Germany had already made itself a presence on the international rowing scene. But China? I didn't think it was true.

I may very well be wrong, however. I was looking at the results for the past two World Cup events in Munich and Poznan, and found that there were a number of Chinese boats in A finals, some even in first place. I know that not every great rowing nation sends rowers to each World Cup event, so the results can't be looked at as a definitive prediction of the World Championships, but to win medals; nay, even make the A final in an Olympic event at a World Cup is pretty impressive.

Not only were the Chinese winning and racing well, they also had depth like I've never before seen at a World Cup. There were some small boat races that had up to four Chinese entries in them. Depth is important to any successful rowing program, and if you've got four boats fighting it out for a chance at the World Championships this late in the season, the crews that come out on top are probably going to be fast.

Besides, depth is not an issue when 20% of the world's population lives in your country.