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Best engine in the Boat Race

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Matthew Pinsent | 06:20 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

Of the 16 oarsmen preparing to compete in Saturday's Boat Race, Constantine Louloudis stands out.

The 19-year-old Londoner is not particularly tall at 1.9m (6ft 3in) or indeed heavy at 93kg (14st 9lb) but inside his frame is a good engine, as I found out recently when I watched him in testing.

There are lots of myths around physiology in rowing but, in short, you need to be able to do lots of work without putting in too much effort.

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If you run for a bus you might get short of breath; if you run a long way for a bus you might get burning in you chest and legs. That burning sensation is lactic acid - the by-product of your muscles when they aren't supplied with enough oxygen.

Almost any activity done hard enough will produce lactate but, in rowing how, much you produce and how you cope with it is a big part of the difference between first and second place - or in Boat Race terms, between winning and having wasted six months of your life.

For a Boat Race crew, the lactate kicks in after about a minute and stays there scalding and tearing at your muscles and mind for another 18 or so minutes.

The only way to relieve the pain is to stop, and that's just not going to happen.

Louloudis has a really efficient system inside him, which means that he can produce less lactate than others and either suffer less pain or work harder.

Both are valuable options 10 minutes or so into the Boat Race. By that time lots of the superficial techniques and habits will have been chiseled off the crews - they will start resorting to the path of least resistance and will be beginning to question just how much they want to win.

In a crew, doubt is contagious; once one person cracks, his missing effort is loaded onto another and so on it goes. A race can turn in 10 strokes as one crew falters and another suddenly lifts.

"Stan" is a fantastic asset to have in a crew - he's going to be able to row harder for longer than most. I'm sure, should he want to, he can appear in four races for Oxford during his four-year course.

He has already won world junior and Under-23 medals for Great Britain but whether he will go on to take part in the Olympics, especially in 2012, is a harder question and I fear those Games might have come a year or so early for Constantine.

He'll be 20 in London and whilst people have won Olympic medals before in their early 20s (Greg Searle famously won the coxed pairs in 1992, aged 20) the British team is a different beast now than it was two decades ago.

In order to win a seat in the Olympic team he would have to convincingly beat athletes in their mid 20s, who have been practicing for five years at a level he is just beginning to. If the Games were in 2014, he would probably be there. For London 2012, he's a possible.

But all of this is just theory - I've rowed with people who have the best physiology but, once in a boat, have been about as useful as a jam sandwich - it's just one section of a large picture that makes up an oarsman.

In order to win on Saturday, appear in more Boat Races and row at senior international level, Louloudis is going to have be fitter stronger, faster and - crucially - demonstrate mentally toughness at levels to which he hasn't yet pushed himself.

While the early evidence looks good, the jury is out - we (and he) are going to have to wait and see.


  • Comment number 1.

    Why all the fuss over him specifically? All the Cambridge and Oxford rowers are "beasts" at the end of the day. I doubt he is that much better than any of the others...

  • Comment number 2.

    Great shout #1. What would Matthew Pinsent know about rowing........? :-/

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting article!- I was just wondering how would Constantine compare with current members of the British men's 8 when it comes to erg times over various distances. I myself am a few months older than Constantine and although I have only been rowing for two years, I have learnt that experience plays a massive part when it comes to having the correct technique, and being able to turn any sort of physical advantage to an advantage on the water. So when you mention that the british team is a 'different beast' to what it was in times past, do you mean that if someone wants to break into any crew they have to perform at a much higher level than their competitors or that experience plays a big role?
    I'm not too familiar with the gb rowing set up but would constantine have a lot more lengthy competitive experience than rowers of a similar age such as Greg Searle, 20 years ago? ..and yes I apologise for the numerous questions, but as someone who wants to progress in the sport and has a groeing interest in the sport, I was just curious to know :)

  • Comment number 4.

    Well I've rowed with some of the Cambridge crew so I want to know what makes him so much "better" than the rest...

  • Comment number 5.

    All the fuss over Constantine is that he's 19, whilst most of the oxford and cambridge crews are mid 20's.
    He left Eton last year and at school he was known as being one of the best athletes we've ever had. You have to take into account that Constantine only started rowing when he was 16, even though most people start when they are 13. As Pinsent explains, Constantine pretty much doesn't lactate, so he can push himself harder than anyone can imagine and he won't be in nearly as much pain.

  • Comment number 6.

    The thing about the boat race and 8's rowing in general is that you row as one... Constantine could be Superman on speed, however if he is along side (not literally) other oarsman that are physically bigger and don't have the aforementioned internal capability that Constantine does... they will not win the Boat race. For analysis purposes it is much more helpful for lay people to have direct match ups of the two crews... Could that be in the pipeline Mr "you won more gold medals that Dame Kelly but haven't received a knighthood, what's up with that?" Pinsent?

  • Comment number 7.

    #5 - There is a big difference between producing lactate and lactating. I'd be impressed if he did lactate given he's a man...

  • Comment number 8.

    Well I've rowed with some of the Cambridge crew so I want to know what makes him so much "better" than the rest...


    Yeah the great thing about these forums is that you can lie about anything and everything.

    The race on Saturday should be very interesting though....

    Steven Spielberg.

  • Comment number 9.

    No. 5 You cant talk, i'm Steven Spielberg....

  • Comment number 10.

    No. I'm Steven Spielberg.

  • Comment number 11.

    this forum is only big enough for one whoever is lying, speak now

  • Comment number 12.

    I'm Steven Spielberg and so's my wife.

  • Comment number 13.

    #6 - Pinsent does have a knighthood.

  • Comment number 14.

    #3 - His splits were excellent - as Pinsent explains: after a session at different intervals he then does a 4m burst - at did over 1300m...which is a split of 1:27...huge.
    As to what makes him better than the rest? Well he's young, first Boat Race and 8s are always (I found) more difficult to row in anyway. Larger team, more effort to get everyone's catch perfect.
    As Pinsent says - he's a beast. Hopefully GB can grow him properly and get medals out of him in a few years.
    Would have actually liked a longer clip of his training/assessing though. Next time please Mr. Pinsent?

  • Comment number 15.

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

  • Comment number 16.

    "That burning sensation is lactic acid"

    Not true

  • Comment number 17.

    Quit splitting hairs Con80. A monkey would be able to understand that Sir Matthew is talking about the work carried out when lactic acid has built up is what causes the burning sensation. I love blogs like these, I have a passing interest in most obscure sports that don't fill the back pages of our papers but I love hearing about young stars coming through and if Sir Matthew reckons he's a freaky star, then he's on my radar to see if he fulfils his potential.

  • Comment number 18.

    There are quite a few reasons to think Loulo might do well in the future! He was stroke of possibly one of the most dominant schoolboy crews there has been, he's gone under 6 minutes for 2k, and at the GB trials in October he was 3rd overall - despite not doing nearly as much sculling as everyone else in the top 10. The closest other guy under 20 at those trials came 19th.

  • Comment number 19.

    At #8.

    "Yeah the great thing about these forums is that you can lie about anything and everything"

    Wht would you expect 4 to be lying? Rowing is a team sport and if they train for 6 months of the year, it possible GreekRooneyGod7 has rowed with them for the other 6 months, either at uni or in their local club at their own town.

    Maybe he was part of the intial training squad at the start of the uni training season before being cut. If so, then it is viable that he could have rowed with them, or even socially in a four during the summer months. It seems post 8 doesn't know much about rowing.

    I also would like to point out a couple of things. Everyone is vital in a boat but if you have someone who can work harder and for longer than anyone else, this will prob make the difference in winning and not winning if the boats are equal.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ultimately, as Matt says, it doesn't matter how strong or fit you are, if you're not as good a rower as the next guy, he'll get in the boat, ergos sink. I remember Redgrave saying that Tim Foster was always way behind others on the ergo times, but he "knew how to make a 4 go fast", a skill that few rowers possess. So how does this guy have an advantage? As he apparently doesn't produce as much lactic acid, his body won't be screaming as much as the next guy so he'll be able to concentrate his efforts on making the boat go fast, rather than how much pain he's in.

    Also, if Matt Pinsent thinks a rower is worth writing about, I think that's a pretty fair indication that he's not too shabby...

  • Comment number 21.

    I always find that lactic acid gets a bit of a bad press and in-fact is not responsible for the burning sensation at all, that is hydrogen irons in the body. Not really sure why i am sticking up for an acid but it is also responsible for the taste of sourdough bread, high praise indeed. anyway not trying to be a know it all, I'm just happy i know something. thought mr pinsent's short program on rowing in Iraq was fascinating, if you have not seen it then worth a watch.

  • Comment number 22.


    That's not true. Foster was never 'way behind' anyone on the ergo. He was getting 5:52 around the time of the Sydney games, 10 seconds behind Pinsent's best, but a very good score all the same. And probably in the top 4 squad ergos at the time ;)

  • Comment number 23.

    @22 If you're correct, then I bow to your superior knowledge! Maybe things are exaggerated in the book.

  • Comment number 24.

    @ 16.

    Indeed you are right. The common misconception that the burning feeling in the muscles frustrates me as lactic acid isn't produced in the muscles and so cannot produce acidosis. Hydrogen ions produced from ATP hydrolisation however...

    Anyway away from the science, the fact is that the lad is 19 years old and has massive potential. As a few posts have mentioned, a) if he doesn't have the technique to compliment his physiology then he is useless and b) in a boat as big as an 8, his overall influence is limited.

    If in the future he can be utilised in smaller boats then we could see him become a very successful athlete internationally. I was frustrated during the video that there was never a clear shot of the physiological variables on the big screen behind him. It would seem that his aerobic capacity is second to none so I would like to have seen the numbers. However, as in any elite sport the numbers are kept close to the team’s chest.

  • Comment number 25.

    Why does the BBC Persist with the running for the bus comparison?? It is the most condecsending comparison.

    People get it, rowing is hard.

    How about a bit of rowing journalism, targeted at rowers? Less of how the average rower can run to the bus without keeling over and having a heart attack, maybe a bit more about yer mans bogey catch or his strong finish.

  • Comment number 26.

    Matthew is probably on the river at the moment, is racing the Veterans Boat Race this afternoon and preparing to umpire the reserve race on Saturday, hence not replying himself yet. He mentioned yesterday having the option of going deep into the science or keeping it simple, which I suppose is the lactic v more detail debate.

    If you do a freeze-frame on the read-out at the end of the piece you'll see he ended a step test with four minutes and an average split of approx 1'28, which would be 5'52 if he could maintain that split over 2km.

    Here's how that compares with the GB men's squad's results at British Indoors in October 2009 (obviously not their best time of year but they don't make those publicly available). And yes, it is former rugby player Garath Archer in first place.

  • Comment number 27.

    floreat etona !!

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm louloudis's shoe shiner and the reason he's so good at rowing is he has only ever eaten raw onions from the age of 13. And if you don't believe this then be prepared for a whirlwind of watery nightmare.

    Your's sincerely the real S. Spielberg

  • Comment number 29.

    Finally a blog with replies that have spelling, punctuation and grammar!

    S. Spielberg

  • Comment number 30.

    @Martin Gough - BBC Sport

    Loulou is supposed to be around the 5'58 mark for a 2k erg. He's supposed to have gotten sub-6 at 18 anyway.

  • Comment number 31.

    This is a general comment. I am a Canadian rowing fan who appreciates any coverage of the sport of rowing and I am following Pinsent's postings in cyberspace. Thank you BBC. Keep developing your coverage of this wonderful international sport! I hope this will inspire our own CBC to follow suit.


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