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From Beijing to Mongolia, then back to the boat

Annabel Vernon | 07:21 UK time, Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Welcome to the stream of thoughts, experiences, reactions and conclusions that constitute my blog. I'll do my best to give a taster of what it means to be at the coalface of Olympic rowing, in the gym and out on the river, and feel free to get in touch with any questions or criticisms - there's nothing I like more than some debate!

It's been nine months since I stood on the Olympic podium in the haze and humidity of Beijing having a silver medal hung around my neck, yet it seems like a lifetime ago.

The Olympics was an absolutely incredible experience on so many levels, but at the same time it wrings dry every part of your heart, body and soul, and I reached the point where I wanted to get back to just being me.

Anna Bebington and Annabel Vernon are back together in the double scull

Straight after the Games, I took a long trip to Mongolia and I think it was absolutely the best place for me to gather my thoughts again and remind myself of who I was. I don't know if you've been to Mongolia but there's not much there except space, and it was space that I needed.

After a long time thinking about Beijing 2008 and looking to London 2012, I decided that I hadn't quite finished with the lure of international sport, and I wanted to give it another shot.

This brings me up to where I found myself last weekend - back in a boat, sitting on a start line of an international regatta, in that moment of utter stillness before the starting buzzer sounds.

This was the first World Cup regatta in Banyoles, northern Spain, the Olympic regatta venue for Barcelona '92. We have three of these World Cups, which are points-accumulating and have less significance, before the big one, the World Championships in Poland in late August.

And even the World Championships is less important on its own as it forms a marker on the road to London 2012.

This World Cup provided more than the usual set of challenges, however, as four of us competed in two different events: the double scull and the quad scull.

Unlike swimming or cycling, where competitors routinely compete in several events, in rowing the technical demands of building a crew boat together with the physical demands of rowing a 2000m race flat out means that doubling up is comparatively rare. Steve Redgrave tried it at Seoul in '88 and 'only' managed a gold and a bronze.

The double scull found me back in my 2006 combination, with Anna Bebington, in which we finished a respectable fourth at that year's World Championships.

She's spent the last four years in this boat, winning a world bronze and Olympic bronze, so is incredibly confident and experienced in the double.

Having spent the past two seasons in the quad myself, it's been quite a learning process coming back to the small boat, where the races are longer and more tactical.

In Banyoles, we managed to win the double with a controlled race, and followed that with a victory in the quad.

Bebington and Vernon on the top of the podium in Banyoles

It was a great regatta and - after the pressure, razzmatazz and huge media interest in Beijing - it was great to be able to get out there and race hard without all the song and dance surrounding it.

Of course, in London in three years' time, no-one's going to remember who did what at the first World Cup of this Olympiad. But at the same time, it's the old saying: If not me, then who?

We go out to win every race and we think we should be the fastest double out there. Battle re-commences in two weeks in Munich at the second World Cup and the competition will get tougher with our main rivals expected to be Bulgaria and Germany. Watch this space...


  • Comment number 1.

    Congratulations on your win Annabel. Watching the race and you guys looked totally dominant and comfortable.

    How are you preparing yourself between World Cups. Is there a taper/min-taper period going into each World Cup event, or is the plan to train through and only taper down for World Champs?

    Also, I was interested in how you are you dividing up your time between water sessions, working in the weight room and ergo sessions at this stage in you season. Will that balance change as World Champs approach?

    Finally, what sort of work are you doing when on the water. Is it mainly high rate, race-like pieces or do you spend the bulk of your time at lower rate bedding in good technique and cohesion with Annie.

    Thanks, and apologies for the barrage of questions!

  • Comment number 2.

    Hey, congratulations on the first victory on the long road. Like the comment above I am also curious about the amount of training going into the season and the amount you rest before a competition approaches. I currently do a lot of work on the ergo but don't have facilities nearby to do any otw rowing, going to uni in september and can't wait to try it out! my current 2k time is 6:30, how fast can you do it in ?

    Again sorry for the many questions, despite rowing being one of our countries best sports, you do not see much content about it on the bbc website so will be looking forward to the blog in future.

  • Comment number 3.

    Congratulations Annie, am interested to know what Mongolia was like. I bet you met some real characters!
    Will see you in Poznan in August!

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Annie

    Congratulations on your victory in the World Cup. I watched the television show about your preparation for the Olympics in Beijing and could see just from all your expressions on the podium how much the whole experience had drained you all.

    I am just worried that you will go through all of that agony in training/competing for another three years and the same thing (or worse) will happen in London - even if you win, will it all have been worth it? Do you ever think it is too much to stake on one thing?

    If you genuinely enjoy it, that is one thing, but I always found rowing to be so painful that it was difficult to actually 'enjoy' anything (with the possible exception of winning).

    Best wishes

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi All, thanks for your comments. In reply...

    How much training do we do throughout the World Cups? Well of course, the 'big one' is the World Championships, so we do little tapering for each World Cup, with the aim being to bring us out at a higher level in Poznan at the end of August. So it's less of a taper, and more of a general increasing of intensity to make sure our lungs are open and our muscles are firing for racing.

    Mikhalich, yes I met some very interesting characters in Mongolia from all round the world; places as far afield as Korea, Netherlands and Israel.

    Nick2012, of course that is the big question for any athlete: is it worth it? Is it worth the sacrifice, the pain, the hard work, the total commitment to the cause? And I'm still not sure. I think the most important thing is that you don't stake it all on the result at the end of it; the journey should be as important as the destination, although that sounds like a horrible cliche! It's easier to say 'it's worth it' when you win a gold medal, but I think it's important to be able to say the same thing when you fall at the ultimate hurdle. You should enjoy and be proud of what you're doing, win lose or draw.


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