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GB rowers battle tan lines & tight jeans

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Annabel Vernon | 13:12 UK time, Monday, 13 February 2012

For those first-time readers, I'm in the British rowing team hoping to compete in this summer's Olympic Games - and when I say "summer", it feels a very long way off right now with snow on the ground and ice on the lake.

There will be plenty of updates in the weeks and months to come on how training is going, the battle for selection and the increasing excitement as we get closer and closer to an Olympic Games on home soil.

However, this month I thought I'd give you a more personal insight into what it's really like to row for your country, warts and all. Here are the bits that nobody ever seems to consider.....

Writing your name on your clothes. Remember doing that for your school PE kit? Well, meet the 20-something women who are still doing it. Bear in mind, our PE kit is effectively our work wardrobe, and with all of us having near-identical collections we have to name it to keep hold of our own. The award for Most Obsessed With Naming Her Kit goes to Jo Cook, who gets her mum to sew school name labels into all her kit.

Anna Watkins attempting to get rid of her 'racer back' tan lines

Anna Watkins attempting to get rid of her 'racer back' tan lines

Sense of humour. One of our best coping strategies for the daily process of driving yourself to exhaustion and beyond is humour. There aren't many situations that are beyond a chuckle and I think rowers are excellent at finding the funny side of every event. Rower with the Best Ability To Crack Jokes? That would be Jessica Eddie, whose Geordie irony can make anyone smile.

Music. When it comes to long stints on the rowing machines, or ergos, what's on our MP3 player is absolutely crucial and hence we spend hours compiling playlists, meticulously planned to ensure the best songs come on during the darkest moments of the session. The award for the Most Interesting Choice Of Music goes to Beth Rodford, who believes the best album to see you through a long ergo is the soundtrack to Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Boyfriends. They must satisfy two non-negotiable criteria. First, they must be tall. Certainly taller than us (including when we're in heels), and that means at least 6ft 4ins. And heavier, obviously. Second, they must be secure enough to cope with their girlfriends being better at sport than they are, and possibly having bigger muscles. Winner of Boyfriend Who Doesn't Mind Being Beaten By A Girl is Lindsey Maguire's partner, who not only has a girlfriend better at sport than he but also a sister - Hannah England, the GB 1500m runner.

Getting clothes to fit. I remember, years ago, that I was a standard size 12. Now, however, it's a different story. The fact that I'm a lot slimmer, which is great, is counter-balanced by the fact I've got muscle definition around my body. Jeans that are long enough and not too tight around the quads are invariably too big round the waist. Tops that can accommodate my shoulders are baggy around the stomach. What is a girl to do? Rower Who Dresses the Best: Vicky Thornley, resident glamour puss.

If you're happy and you know it... The ability to be in a ridiculously good mood first thing in the morning is another defining feature of our lives. Rowing is a sport that requires participants to be up at dawn or beforehand, and having grown up on a farm, that suits me fine. The award for Most Consistently Cheerful In The Morning goes to Captain Heather Stanning, who always has a smile, clearly relishing the mornings before she goes back to her previous career of waking up in a foxhole on Salisbury Plain with the Royal Artillery.

Tan lines. Less of a problem this time of year, but still, spending so much time in the outdoors means that despite being religious in our adherence to suntan lotion, we still end up with some interesting looking lines. Glaringly white feet and bodies contrast to nut brown legs and arms, which look fine until we're on our holidays in bikinis. The award for Biggest Commitment To Skin Tone goes to Anna Watkins, who spent the entire summer of 2009 switching between different strappy tops every day in order to even out the brown shade across her shoulders and back. She did have a good reason though: her own wedding, a fortnight after the World Championships. Rumours she hit the sunbed after getting back from Poznan are unsubstantiated.

There are some fairly odd upsides and downsides of this unique lifestyle but I hope I've managed to throw some light on both sides. I'm back off now to my regular training regime, best summed up by describing it as all day, every day, many thousands of calories and a surfeit of chapped skin on my hands.

It's a month until our national team trials on the Olympic course at Dorney Lake, near Slough, so the focus now is on getting my single scull up and running. I'll let you know how I get on.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice insight to the minds of some of our best, fittest, athletes.... (although, a bit vain on the tan lines..!)

    Good luck for the trials...

  • Comment number 2.

    folllowing you girls all the way . love the blog especially this morning as its my first day of no smoking and im relying on your inspiration :) .

  • Comment number 3.

    nice start to your blogging insights. have a great, injury free year!

  • Comment number 4.

    Siemens employee who just bottled going to the gym at lunch to join the GB rowing trial training.
    But you and the team have inspired me, back in tomorrow to get below 7.30 for 2k by the end of the month. Don't laugh, I am 45 and 5 foot 10, not world class rowing material.

    Good luck to you all for the Olympics, i am sure you will all make us proud once again.

    By the way, we're British, we love a girl with strong thighs

  • Comment number 5.

    really enjoyed the personal insight - keep going and keep smiling :-) even on cold wet February mornings...

  • Comment number 6.

    Might have been a bad idea to read this whilst eating a late lunch. Backing you all the way to Gold - especially Kath Grainger, EUBC Alumni!

    Oh - and there's nothing wrong with us 5'9'' guys ... am quite comfortable with a taller other half!

  • Comment number 7.

    Way to go. Love the fact that you choose your boyfriends on their physical characteristics. That really impresses and shows your depth of character.

    God forbid liking a guy that might be in a wheelchair. Oh, I forgot that's the Special Olympics and so you don't have to worry about that.

    Such a superficial and discriminatory attitude is a great way to disappoint and alienate a heck of a lot of people that might have otherwise supported you.

  • Comment number 8.

    Excellent, good luck, and remember, when..not if... when you reach the final, whether you think you can win or whether you think you cant either way you will be right !

  • Comment number 9.

    @#7, are you serious? Can you not notice a funny, light hearted blog post when you see one? She's making a joke of the fact that they are all tall, strong, athletic women, qualities which many guys would find quite intimidating!

    Grow up and get a sense of humour.

    Annabel, love the blog, best of luck at the Olympics!

  • Comment number 10.

    MARWITT: You obviously failed to read item 1 on the list of requirements....SENSE OF HUMOUR!! Regardless of your physical characteristics, you fail on that alone!

  • Comment number 11.

    Good luck at trials, do you know if it will be possible for people to go to Dorney and watch?

  • Comment number 12.

    I will be a volunteer at Dorney, look forward to seeing you suceed

  • Comment number 13.

    Good luck in the journey to London 2012!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Nice one, Annabel. Enjoyed the blog - more of the same please - and do try to ignore reading posts from desperate miserable trolls with little else to do than expose themselves for being sociopathic-with-a-hint-of-selfrighteousness. Give some people a username and look what happens, eh? Frightening, really.

    Good luck to all of you.

  • Comment number 15.

    So, female athletes are worried about clothes, boys and tanlines.

    Still wondering why they have trouble being taken seriously?

  • Comment number 16.

    MARWITT, get a life and stop whining and looking for a reason to be offended where there is none. I thought people were supposed to be able to chose people they liked based on their own criteria. Sheesh!

  • Comment number 17.

    @MARWITT just because someone is 6'4" doesn't mean they are superfit superbeings, many 6 footers are in wheel chairs or have less than desirable ailments! As a 5'8" overweight man in their 40's I have nothing but admiration for anyone who has the ambition to compete in the Olympics, the fact that someone is preparred to write their diary, warts and all, to allow us to feel part of the experience is without doubt the most charitable thing anyone could do........
    @riffler, there is nothing better than to see a superfit woman who dresses well with a great tan..........go team GB :)

  • Comment number 18.

    have to say I've followed many blogs over the years and have always been amused by the petty small mindedness and pedantic attitude some people have ! Glad to see it's been maintined here as well, thought it was an amusing tongue in cheek article by one of our hard training athletes who showed she had a great sense of humour as well as amazing dedication and as sure as eggs are eggs there is MARWITT and riffler showing their own complete lack of it !! sense of humour that is, definitely not amazing dedication.
    don't worry Annabel (and I'm sure you won't be, after all you've gotta be pretty tough to even think about competing at the Olympics) you've got all the normal minded people in the UK and beyond rooting for you and wishing you the very best of luck !!!

  • Comment number 19.

    never ceases to amaze me how some people can have a complete lack of anything even approching a sense of humour.
    Don't worry Annabel, the vast majority of normal minded people will take your blog in spirit of how it's meant, a fun light hearted insight into an incredibly tough way of for the Olympics
    keep up the great work, good luck in your event and keep up the great blog !!

  • Comment number 20.

    mmm nice blog !

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Annabel, great blog! It's nice to read about the fun, lighthearted side of the life of tough disciplined athletes. Thank you for the window into your world and good luck!

  • Comment number 22.

    Great blog, nice to know you girls are human (if you know what i mean)!
    Good luck with your endeavours, you will be supported all the way, and are an inspiration for some of us who give up too easily!!

  • Comment number 23.

    Excellent blog, really good to get an insight into what makes Team GB really tick. I will be supporting from overseas and looking forward to having some bragging rights among the locals.

    @riffler are you kidding me?! What do you think male athletes are worried about...girls, clothes and tanlines probably. In fact if you look at a footballer it's scary that the likes of you take them seriousley.

  • Comment number 24.

    Intimidated! Let me tell you about being intimidated by a young, lighter, fitter, and far better looking rower.

    I, a forty eight year old lightweight rower training for the 2008 USA Masters in Long Beach CA. She, a twenty year old lightweight stunner seeking a place on the Canadian national team. It was an Olympic year so we had the lake to ourselves. Our coach, a legend in the Canadian rowing community, used me as cannon fodder during the training pieces. From unrealistic handy caps to bungee cords around my boat I spent months being pushed, pulled, beaten, thrashed and humiliated. My training partner’s wispy stature and long flowing golden locks belied an inner steel that kept me honest to every last stroke. The months of daily drumming’s were, in the end, worth it. She earned a place on the national team and went to the world championships; I won gold in the lwt 2x.

    An all-round wonderful (humbling) experience …

    Very enjoyable blog … keep it coming.

  • Comment number 25.

    Excellent blog, Annie. Great to see a fellow DCBC colour making it in such esteemed company. Good luck for the rest of the winter training. The vast majority of us are 110% behind all of you. Posts such as the embittered sad and pathetic attitude shown at #7 are not typical. I await further blogs with interest.

  • Comment number 26.

    7. listen to 9.
    9. well said.

    My first degree is in Sports Studies and this blog reminded me of all the fun attached to the warts and all world of elite athletes in training. There are lots of warts Annabelle could have discussed that would make you puke and if you are spending hours and hours with your team mates, vanity goes right out of the window. She can't be that obsessed with looks either, because she has many better photographs available to her than the one heading this page for the world to see. They might not care what they look like out on the water, but taking care about tan lines with one eye on the real world is important stuff.

    Never question the character of an elite sports person who is this humorous and no doubt holding back to keep it tasteful.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    Really interesting and what we need to know to appreciate what the rowing goddesses have to go through.

    Please remember that Bermuda Rowing is here for you after the Games. Crystal clear waters to 40 ft and sculling through Paradise Lakes.

  • Comment number 29.

    As a 2m05 (6ft9 in old money) ex-basketball player I TOTALLY emphasise with the problematic Jeans issue! Drainpipes, I just don't get this new squeeze style.

    Obviously I tried rowing but never made it 'cos of the early mornings - you either have it or you don't!

    Power to you ladies!

  • Comment number 30.

    Great blog. Keep them coming - even when don't want to be there, and the last thing you want to do is fire up the laptop. I scratched around at the bottom end of the squad a few years ago, so understand the pain.

    Don't let those people with chips on their shoulders make you go all PC on us - keep writing it how it is!

  • Comment number 31.

    Interesting, amusing and uplifting - what a massive difference to reading about Saurez, Evra, Terry, Ferdinand and Tevez.

  • Comment number 32.

    Oh, another question! (Assuming you actually read these, otherwise I am talking to myself ;) )

    Are there any metalheads in the squad? It's all very well listening to Joseph and his technicolour dream coat, but some people there must listen to proper music? ;)

  • Comment number 33.

    To Ten_Thousand_Fists: Music for a Jilted Generation is the best ergometer album. FACT!!

    Can't imagine erging to "I Dreamed a Dream"!

  • Comment number 34.

    I was under the impression that an opportunity to write on such a global platform about a minority sport like rowing would be used to open the window of what it's like to be a part of one of the toughest, team lead, and inspiring sports there is, inside one of the best national teams in the world.

    Unfortunately, Annie has presented our sport in such a way as to highlight its amateurism, and only support why we're not taken seriously unlike Cyclists and Swimmers, who have a very different image.

    This blog is so disappointing, and a hugely wasted opportunity, and I can say that it is thankfully not representative of the rest of the team. Lets hear from Katherine Grainger, Mohammed Sbihi, either of the Chambers brothers to name a few. Let's not listen to whingeing drivel from this pseudo-athlete. All you've done is support the stereotype you're trying to shed.

    For everyone who did like it, you have no idea! Shame!

  • Comment number 35.

    #34 I can't see your problem. Annie has covered many aspects of her life as an international rower in her blogs over several years - I can only assume that you are coming to this new and haven't read the accounts of hard day's training, dealing with defeats etc. Please go and read these (click on Annie's name at the top of the blog and a list of over 3 year's worth will come up), and then consider of your response was appropriate.

    Annie best wishes for the summer - stay fit and well, and bring back the gold.

    DCBC for ever.

  • Comment number 36.

    To A Rower: I'm not sure where you get the idea that we are not taken seriously compared to cyclists and swimmers. I'm guessing you are making that assumption on the basis on one lighthearted blog, so I suggest you go and read some more. I have read similar lighthearted blogs from swimmers and cyclists too.....they don't always have to focus on the misery! All I can say is that you must be a bundle of laughs on training camp!

  • Comment number 37.


    I've heard male rowers (and cyclists and tri athletes, for that matter) complain about silly tan lines when they hit the beach. They are all toned and gorgeous, but girls laugh at them because the legs are like an oreo biscuit.

    But then men are allowed to be vain, or light hearted.

    If a cricketer tweets about playstation games no one dares suggest he's an intellectual lightweight or he should be concentrating on the game.

  • Comment number 38.


    Yes, god forbid professional athletes actually have some downtime. Lets see what a serious, gold medal winning athlete has to say about things:

    Oh wait, some of those posts don't look very serious, they even capsized once! Amateurs!

    It seems even multiple gold medal winning coach Jurgen isn't past some light hearted fun.

    I could continue to prove you wrong, but it gets boring. Maybe you enjoy a world where every word said by an athlete has to go through a PR rep to remove any ounce of personality or opinion from what was said, but I prefer athletes to say something interesting or funny.

    Rowing doesn't need to be like any other sports thanks.

  • Comment number 39.

    Hey Ten_Thousand_Fists, (rather angry name?! lighten up dude!), Drew's blog is a personal one, it only goes to people who are interested in him personally, where as the BBC goes out to people who don't know much about the sport and don't know Annie, and won't have read her back catalogue. I'd rather their first impression wasn't something worthy of Closer or Chat magazine, or those other trashy gossip mag's some women like read.

    I like the video you chose to prove that Jurgen has some light hearted fun. Do you realise that Jurgen isn't in the video? I assume that if you had two brain cells to rub together, you'd also realise it was the men's 8+ who wanted to 'do it their way', not Jurgen's! There's a joke in there for you to work out... take your time...

    To quote you "I could continue to prove you wrong, but it gets boring."

    Last point, If this where her personal blog, i won't care, she can put what she likes. But it's not! It's much, much, much more important than that!

  • Comment number 40.

    Damn look like him in the van, must be Banksy's assistant. Either way, in another video of the series (since deleted from YouTube) Hodge, gold medal winning athlete, can be seen dancing around in bondage gear.

    Do you know where these videos originate from? Heathcote's blog on this very website for the 2008 Olympics. British rowing seems to have survived the amateurish behaviour displayed to a global audience quite well, don't you think?

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    Excellent start. One question though, why is the boat narrower than the bum? Or is that an optical illusion?

  • Comment number 43.

    Marwitt, more like Halfwit if you cannot recognise a humorous article. In any event every individual has preferences and should be allowed to choose freely without crass comments like yours. Great article Annabel. well done!!

  • Comment number 44.

    Babyloncandle: It is not an optical illusion - the boat is indeed narrower than the bum / hips. You sit on top of the shell (hull) rather than in it. If a non-rower tried to sit in a single scull, they would last less than a second before it rolled over.

    Eights are a bit wider, and the crew would sit more in the boat, but singles and doubles are pencil thin (with a round bottom), and the slides and seat are on a deck that sits on top of the shell.

  • Comment number 45.

    Ok, There are always times to play around, especially needed when times get more serious, like the camp before the Olympics. However my issue is more specific to the rare opportunities that our sport has to present itself to people outside of the rowing world, and outside of personal blogs.

    However i think we've done this to death, lets not start on the women boat race or how ridiculous Hodge looked in that video with his "flowing locks"!

  • Comment number 46.

    Im sorry but being a good rower does not in any way mean that your current or prospective boyfriends should worry about having a girlfriend who is better than them at sport.....

    There is very little technical ability, I know people who are completley useless at sports that require skill or hand eye coordination etc, but with incredible dedication and training, physical and mental stamina, can be very good rowers.

    Good luck in the olympics!

  • Comment number 47.

    To A Rower: Listen, most of us non-athletes already appreciate how hard professional athletes have to train. To compete in the Olympics, you have to be 100% dedicated - that's the point! I will never be as fit as an olympic rower, or an olympic cyclist, or an olympic swimmer. That doesn't mean i can't have the utmost appreciation (and complete awe) for what they do. I don't understand why you perceive that rowers aren't taken as seriously as swimmers or cyclists - unless there's a funding differential - in which case, that sucks. For my part, i salute all professional athletes (mostly - there are some footballers who don't make the list).

    Great post Annabel! As someone who spends most of the summer sailing (for fun) i appreciate the difficulty with tan lines!!! Having brown arms and white hands is not attractive...

  • Comment number 48.

    Amusing insight.

    Clothes noit just a girl issue. My son rows and the issue around big legs in an otherwise slim lower body is common. Chris Hoy, of the tree-trunk thighs must have all his trousers hand-made! Actually most of the blog I recognise although he isn't quite as worried about tan lines.

    The larger boyfriend comment made me laugh. I imagine most of the taller girls have probably had all the comments about their height for years so just turning the joke around.

    Rowing is a really tough sport and look forward to another successful Olympics from Team GB on the lake at Dorney.

  • Comment number 49.

    Refreshing to hear about tan lines and professional training et al. Nice to get an insight of the female athlete rathe Han th usual anaesthetised, poltically correct rubbish.


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