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The eight - noisy, aggressive, fast & furious

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Annabel Vernon | 10:52 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2012

It's a tremendous honour and a big milestone to have been named in the rowing team for the 2012 Olympics, although I am still waiting to be confirmed in a boat.

It's not like writing names on a team sheet and that being the end of it. Within the team there are still a number of selection decisions to make, including for my own crew, and I've been named in a squad of 10 for the women's eight and the spare pair.

Going through the whole experience four years ago, when I was selected in the quad scull and ended up with a silver medal, has taught me some lessons.

This time around I have a greater appreciation for what it means to call yourself an Olympian; but at the same time I am even more aware that it is all about my rowing.

GB women's eight in Lucerne

Annabel Vernon (second from right) made her international debut in the eight in Lucerne (Picture: Getty)

On the one hand, becoming an Olympian is an indescribable feeling because it encompasses not just sporting ability, but also those Corinthian ideals of equality and achievement. Whether a British rower, a Kenyan marathon runner or a Hungarian weightlifter, all compete equally with equal respect for each other and all are there in pursuit of the Olympic ideals of "Citius, Altius, Fortius".

At the same time, however, I'm not aiming for the Olympics for any reason other than to be a part of a very fast British women's eight and to see how fast we can make that eight go.

But back to the here and now. Following the team announcement, we've returned to the coalface to continue our preparation for the third of the three-regatta World Cup series, in Munich next weekend.

Unlike the mainstream sports which play matches weekly, we have only a few events every year in which to test ourselves before the World Championships or Olympic Games, meaning there's far less room for error. Of course we practise racing against each other within the British team, but nothing can truly prepare for the international stage.

The second World Cup, in the Swiss town of Lucerne two weeks ago, held some interesting challenges as I made my international debut in the women's eight, meaning I've moved from two oars (sculling) to one oar (sweep).

This transfer is perhaps similar to the differences between water-skiiing and wakeboarding, and it didn't take long to feel comfortable in this slightly different movement. A greater challenge than moving from two oars to one, though, was moving from small boats to the Tyrannasaurus Rex of rowing, the big daddy ... the eight.

What stands out is simply the sheer number of people involved: eight tall, opinionated, confident women, shepherded in our case by Ealing's finest cox, Caroline O'Connor.

There is a huge amount of energy created and the challenge is to channel that energy into perfect synchronicity, in a racing environment which is the noisiest, the most aggressive, the fastest and most furious of all the different boat types.

In the pair, Helen Glover is able to whisper into Heather Stanning's ear in order to coax more effort out of her; if a cox needs more speed she'll scream at the top of her voice down her microphone to reach the bow pair who are 50 foot away from her.

However, representing your country at an international sporting event is a pretty awesome experience in whatever boat class and from my first regatta wearing a Union flag (Amsterdam, 2004) it was an environment that I immediately loved and felt at home in.

Along with the physical effort required, I loved the mental game of performing to my best on the day and going out to test myself against the best in the world. In the quad in 2007-8, for example, I was pitched against the legendary German sculler Kathrin Boron, and I relished having the opportunity of racing one of the most successful rowers ever.

I think that's one of the main attractions of the Olympics - as athletes we strive to be the best, and for that fortnight every four years not only will I be at my best, but so will all my competitors.

Representing my country at sport is something I will never take for granted and every chance I have to wear the Union flag is a huge honour.

And getting to sit on an international start line, hands resting on your oar handle, eyes fixed on the starting light, muscles fizzing with anticipation, is unmatchable.


  • Comment number 1.

    Go Annie; take a bit of Cornwall with you..

  • Comment number 2.

    Annabel may play it down but sculling and sweep are somewhat different and not everybody makes the transition,, although most do. Sir Steve was never a particularly good sculler for instance. However I am sure she will make the transition fine.

    The other interesting point is the lack of competitive events each year. I think Rowing is seen as the highest Training to Competition ratio of all the sports i.e. much more time is spent training than actually racing. Which does tend to make the races all the more intense.

    Good luck to the whole Rowing Team GB, it should be a great Regatta at the Olympics and I did manage to get a few tickets, although not many. Home advantage on the ever windy Dorney Lake will be a benefit as well.

  • Comment number 3.

    A fantastic blog, giving a great insight into the sport. I'm not a rower but always enjoy it when I read a well written and revealing blog. Can't wait for the Olympics.

    Good luck Annabel!

  • Comment number 4.

    "Sir Steve was never a particularly good sculler..." Didn't he win the Diamonds at Henley twice, the Wingfields five times, Commonwealth gold and represent GB at several world championships. I wish I was that rubbish at sculling!

  • Comment number 5.

    "Sir Steve was never a particularly good sculler...I wish I was that rubbish at sculling!

    I share your sentiment and wish that I'd been as 'rubbish' a sculler but I think the point is the disparity between his 5 Olympic Golds in sweep events and his relatively poor showing in sculling. I'll always remember him being rowed down and 'blowing up' at Henley against Bjarne Eltang...a lightweight!

    Always had the feeling that it wasn't about technique, clearly Redgrave is a 'boat-mover' but it seems he always needed to be part of crew.

  • Comment number 6.

    As a fixed set rower in my middle 60s I admire anyone who has acheived the levels of ability as Annabel has. I wish her every success in making the team. I will be watching team and be cheering for gold.


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