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Life goes on, out of Olympic spotlight

Annabel Vernon | 08:26 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

We're now well into the summer racing season, and there are two aspects of 2009 that have stood out for me so far.

Firstly, I'm discovering the value of experience. It's a term that is often bandied around in conversations about sport, but what does it actually mean? It's more than simply having done your time.

It's the years and years of confidence ingrained from results, medals, and close verdicts. It's knowing how the system works and how to win races. It's making the right decisions in the split seconds during which races can be decided.

Quite frankly, it's knowing what to do in any situation that is thrown at you.

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Having said that, though, I always try to balance the wisdom of six years' service in international rowing, with the freshness of a novice.

I often find myself thinking back to my first year on the team in 2005, and asking myself what the 2005 version of Annabel would have done.

There is a saying: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got" and I think you need to balance your experience of what's gone before with the aim to always look at your rowing objectively and with a clear head.

Getting through the training programme and relying on past results won't win races -excitement, vitality and new ideas set you apart from the rest.

A second fact about this year which has swiftly become apparent to me is that it is very different to 12 months ago!

This was clear when standing on the podium in Banyoles and again in Munich, where something like three journalists wished to hear our opinions and maybe five photographers took our pictures.

I cast my mind back to the sweltering heat of the Olympic podium, where probably 50 flashbulbs were going off during the medal ceremony, and there was a walkway several hundred metres long with journalists and reporters both sides, desperate to record our every thought for posterity.

Last year, every World Cup race was dissected on television as a possible pointer in the road to the Olympics. This year, we've been bumped off television by Jenson Button and Co, who apparently are more of a crowd-puller than us rowers.

And it's not only media interest that makes '09 so different to '08. This time last year, we were watching the Wimbledon finals over the internet, on yet another training camp on the Rhine canal, having already spent four months of the previous nine abroad.

I hadn't had a night out since Christmas Eve and I hadn't even stayed up to welcome in the New Year - I had an early night, to make sure my training sessions on New Year's Day were top quality.

One of my friends has a photo of me from a wedding we'd been to in June last year, and it's known as my 'sober and stressed' photo.

I look drawn, worried, and knackered and I remember leaving the wedding by 10pm having drunk orange juice all night, to be sure I could still get an early night.

By contrast, 2009 has seen us enjoying Wimbledon hospitality and socialising at Henley Royal Regatta, still giving our training 100% - but not spending our non-rowing time thinking about training as well.

Overall 2009 has, so far, been much more enjoyable. Of course the Olympics are the defining feature of our lives, and our entire sporting careers will be judged on our performances at this four-yearly event.

But the other years carry the same highs and lows, successes and failures, and rollercoasters of emotions; this year is lived much less in the public eye but it's no less challenging for it!

Watch Annabel in action at the third World Cup regatta in Lucerne, live on the red button and BBC Sport website on Sunday, with highlights on BBC Two on Monday, 1300-1400 BST.


  • Comment number 1.

    Very interesting article Annabel.

    From personal experience, I always felt my performances suffered somewhat when I became to focussed on the competition in hand. There were times when I was competing where I would go 9 months without letting my hair down. I think it actually added to the psychological strain of the impending competition.

    The times where I recall my best performances were when I was able to relax and enjoy myself more outside/after training. The recent performances of the British Lions have been exceptional and it has been widely documented that on this most recent tour they have participated in far more social activities off the field than in other recent tours.

    If you are to compete at the next Olympic games, do you think the experience you have had in 2009 will effect your preparation? Essentially, do you feel it may actually enhance your performance by allowing your self to unwind more in the build up than you did so for Beijing?

    I was interested to read that Tim Foster at the Sydney Olympics actually fell asleep whilst they were hanging around waiting for the race to start. Im not sure how anyone could ever become that relaxed before an Olympic final though!

  • Comment number 2.

    Just had word from Lucerne that Annabel is on the way home after pulling out of her race this morning with what sounds like a cold. Anna will race with Ro Bradbury instead - they failed to qualify from the heats but have a repechage on Saturday.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Annabel

    Sorry to read from the blog that you had to pull out of the race in Lucerne - hope you're ok now.

    Thanks for your reply to my last post. I note from your entry above that "Of course the Olympics are the defining feature of our lives, and our entire sporting careers will be judged on our performances at this four-yearly event."

    If you give your life to the sport (I'm still not sure from your post above that you don't!) then isn't it true to say that your life will be judged by your performance at the Olympics (you call it "the defining feature of [y]our lives")? Is there not something a little bit wrong about that? Isn't there more to life than just a gold medal, no matter where you get it?

    I often think that about athletes like Paula Radcliffe - that her outstanding career, including a truly amazing world record, world championship gold medal and many other titles and medals, is (for some unknown reason) punctuated in people's minds by her failure at the Olympics. But more than that, I often wonder how disappointed she'll be if and when she does win an Olympic gold medal - how it won't be all it's hyped up to be. There will be adulation and praise for a while (or even a long while)- and the memory of the event - but I don't think that'll be enough. Do you think it will?

    I'm sorry to be so philosophical - I won't say anything more on the subject!

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks for these responses.

    Blindbenny, I think you have hit the nail on the head there. I think you certainly do train better when you can switch off and relax properly; but like many things in life it's easier said then done! To get to the top in sport you have to be utterly driven and desperate to succeed; so I think it's certainly takes experience and confidence to be able to relax and be able to step away. I think particularly in Olympic year it's so easy to slip into the mindset of "I have to do everything I possibly can", so that you almost get into a vicious circle of actively trying to make your life and your training as hard as possible, so you can feel like you're everything to succeed at your Olympic campaign. It take time to learn how to balance your life and your sport so you genuinely go as fast as you can on the days that matter, and if that means your training occasionally takes a back seat in your life, then so be it. You have to know what works.

    Nick2012, I began to write a reply to your post but it got so long I have included it in my next blog entry which should be up in the next few days.


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