BBC BLOGS - Annabel Vernon
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Learning to live with losing

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Annabel Vernon | 17:40 UK time, Monday, 12 September 2011


I could have written a blog last year entitled "winning". This year, sadly, it is the opposite. I'm not going to sit and whinge about this being the worst result for my boat - the women's quadruple scull - since so and so, or my worst result since such and such.
This is not a list of statistics or a reeling off of clichés: this is a description of what it is like to lose, and how you deal with it.

The times and the race reports are available elsewhere - in essence, at this World Championships in Bled, Slovenia, we came third in a close race in our heat and thus had to race a repechage to attempt to reach the final. Again in the rep we came third in a close race and ended up having to contest the B-final for positions seven to 12 overall, with only one slot available to qualify a boat for the Olympics next year.

So in the space of five days we went from having high hopes of defending the world title we won in New Zealand last year, to having to scrap to gain the last Olympic qualifying spot and then to sit on the river bank to watch the Germans cross the line first in the A final, whooping and cheering.

Great Britain's women's quad missed out on a place in the World Championships final - Photo: Getty

I don't believe that anyone has a right to a gold, or deserves a medal, or is destined to achieve a childhood dream. I think sport is a brutal, cruel, ruthless business.

There's no magical quality or mythical element that separates winners from losers (as many sports journalists like to write). It's a question of who can be the most brutal, the most cruel, and the most ruthless and by hook or by crook get their boat across the finish line first.

There's no element of luck even in the close races: New Zealand's Evers-Swindell twins, who won three world and two Olympic titles together, were involved in photo finishes three years running: 2006, 2007 and 2008. Guess who got the verdict on every occasion?

The period between the repechage and the B-final was without a doubt the toughest 48 hour period of my rowing career. We had to pick ourselves up from the most crushing of disappointments on Tuesday to be back in a place where we could win on Thursday. Not qualifying for London 2012 was out of the question.

And by pick ourselves up, I don't just mean physically, but emotionally too. We were all in pieces after the rep yet we had to get ourselves into a place where we were excited about creating a special performance, not dwelling on the absolute necessity of winning. We had to find a winning mentality out of the wreckage of our Worlds campaign, even though we all wanted to walk away.

I was lucky to have my family out there with me and they were superb in cheering me up. Elise Laverick - a long-time member of the GB squad an Olympic bronze medallist in Beijing before she retired - emailed me after the rep with some words of advice and confidence.

Elise is one of the fiercest competitors I've ever raced with, and having her perspective was invaluable in helping me to re-focus on the task at hand.

So what have I gained from the experience? Three things. Firstly, I left Bled with a greater appreciation of the fine line between success and failure, but at the same time the huge effort that is required to bridge that line.

Secondly, my respect for my crew-mates Debbie, Beth and Melanie has gone up and up, because of the way we were able to come together to turn things around.

Thirdly and most importantly, I've strengthened my belief in the one fundamental of sport being the principle that whatever happens, however high you rise or low you fall, whatever life throws at you, whatever situation you are confronted by, however good or bad you feel, you never give up.

The outcome that is at stake is irrelevant. You put your pride on the end of the oar and you give everything, whether there's an Olympic gold on the line or whether it's a winter training session.

I think Rudyard Kipling puts it best in his famous poem If.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the will which says to them, 'Hold On!'

You never give up and you never stop fighting. Ever.


  • Comment number 1.

    I have to say I was surprised at the Quad's results at Bled, but one has to consider that the womens Quad is properly the most competitive rowing discipline at the moment.

    You have a year to put it right and at least you know how to win- I can't think of a better motivation. Good luck!

  • Comment number 2.

    It was surprising but maybe no bad thing before London, as it'll prepare you guys for when things go wrong. And the pain of this will help push you through those awful winter training sessions (not that you need motivation).

    Can't help but feel this blog, entitled, 'Learning to Live with losing' would be better written by Andy Hodge and Peter Reed! They've had enough experience with it in the last two years!

  • Comment number 3.

    I row in a womens' coxless quad too (obviously at a much lower level than Annabel!) but the race I learned the most in was a couple of months ago when I steered us into our opponents' lane and got us disqualified. It really taught me a lot about my team mates and also about myself - they allowed me 10 minutes of self pity, they didn't blame me at all, and we picked ourselves up and competed again over the same course the next day. My crew were amazing when I was a nervous wreck. We didn't win, but we didn't get disqualified either!

  • Comment number 4.

    You have the right attitude and good team members.Sport mirrors life.
    The hard work has already begun mentally for the year ahead.
    You will cross the finishing line victorious in 2012.

    If only people who could read your article and take the positives out of it.

  • Comment number 5.


    We love your great blog. It really is good. Keep it up. Just thought you might like to know that this one is so great that we have printed it out and are posting it on the notice board in the Room of Pain that is our Club gym & erg room. It's fantastic.

    Will be there to watch you win in 2012!

    Jim, Chairman (for my sins) of Ross Rowing Club (a.k.a. the Ross Navy)

    PS Was going to post your a-z but wimped out on justifying MTFU to the parents of the juniors
    PPS We have 86 juniors... give me strength!
    PPPS Here's one for you: character is destiny.

  • Comment number 6.

    Too many people who give-up when the going gets tough in life/sports.
    Too many children given notes to opt out of sports at school because it is cold or wet outside
    Too many overrated and selfish individuals tolerated in team sports

    Your experience should be an example and inspiration to competitors at all levels of sport.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am a Brit living in Berlin and am a member of the Berlin Ruder Club a club littered with Olympic medals. A comment made to me by a double gold winner " What happened to the ladies 4x they for me where the best crew in NZ last year" end of comment. Chin up, looking back at depression can be an inspiration. I am never going to let that happen to me again, never.

  • Comment number 8.

    Annabel, Lots of us have a great deal of experience of losing and what it feels like. Of course the feeling is worse when it is so unexpected, but without making excuses, what were the reasons for underperforming in those 2 races?

  • Comment number 9.

    By far and away my favourite blog on BBC (I've just registered so that I could comment on it). Best of luck with your training and remember form is temporary.................class is permanent.


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