Holiday over for Olympic rowers

By Emma CookBBC Sport rowing producer

For Great Britain's rowers, the holiday is over and the battle to make the 2012 team begins now.

In the last three weeks there has been an engagement, a stag do, a wedding, some DIY, a stay in hospital, quite a few European road trips and some holidays further afield.

Between now and next August, they will have one Sunday off a month. Birthdays are missed, there is no chance for a quick weekend away, friends' weddings arranged around them.

Last month, GB enjoyed their most successful World Championships ever, winning 10 Olympic-class medals, three of them gold, in Slovenia. They also qualified boats in 13 of the 14 Olympic classes.

There is a tough winter ahead if they are to replicate that success in London next summer.

Miles and miles will be covered in the gym, on rowing machines known as "ergos" and out on the lake at GB rowing HQ in Caversham, and there are extremely tough training camps ongoing around Europe.

The women's squad have just returned from Majorca while the men are currently in Seville.

Dan Ritchie, 24, from Herne Bay in Kent is just one of the squad who has had to arrange his own wedding to fit around his preparation. He will be tying the knot the week after the Games finish to allow him to focus on finally beating Germany after two agonising seasons that ended in world silver.

The stroke of the British eight - which includes 1992 Olympic champion Greg Searle - took his entire crew on his stag do in Soho.

Alan Campbell, world bronze medallist in the single sculls got married to fiancée Juliette in Somerset, with one of the guests Mahe Drysdale, the New Zealander who clinched his fifth world title in the same final.

Katherine Grainger won her first world medal way back in 1997 and to celebrate her sixth world title, the Scot went driving through Europe with two of that boat from 14 years ago, proving that the relationships you build in a crew never die.

"They've been involved in rowing so they understand it," she said.

"Leading up to the World Championships there's a lot of pressure and stress - physical, mental and emotional. It's really important at the start of an Olympic year to get some down time."

Grainger - who has won Olympic silver at three successive Games - and her crew-mate Anna Watkins won their second successive world title together in the double scull in Bled and are widely tipped for gold on Dorney Lake near Eton in less than 300 days' time.

Having won world bronze, Richard Chambers has been preparing for the birth of his first child, helped by prospective uncle Peter, who will be battling to join his elder brother in the lightweight four that also features Paul Mattick, who celebrated his engagement recently.

At some point this year they will have to choose between family and crew-mates when Paul Thompson, GB's Australian head coach for women and lightweights, selects his Olympic crew. At least they row on different sides so they are not in direct competition for a place.

"It's really simple: we want the fastest people in the boat. If Peter's in it, then I want it. If not, then I want to go with the person who's fastest," said Richard.

"We want the four people in the boat who are the best, but if that's with us then that would be brilliant."

Jurgen Grobler, head coach for heavyweight men, is familiar with those tough decisions having coached Olympic champions at each of the nine Games he has attended since 1972, but it will still be hard for the whole squad when that decision is made.

Refreshed after a holiday of his own, Grobler's biggest decision involves the future of Pete Reed and Andy Hodge, Beijing gold medallists in the four who have been rowing in the pair since Beijing. They have not beaten the pair from New Zealand in 14 attempts.

Grobler could move the duo to the four, where they arguably have more chance of gold, but that four became world champions in Slovenia. And that leaves the question of what would happen to the two men making way, which in turn affects the make-up of the eight.

"There's been a lot of talk. I can see it turning into a four; I can see it staying as a pair. The eight is a bit less likely but still a possibility," said Reed.

"There's a lot of uncertainty at the moment but we need to forget a bit about selection now and concentrate on making sure we're as good as we can be individually."

Selection trials take place over the winter but the key moment will come at Eton-Dorney on 11 March, when the 2012 hopefuls will race head-to-head over the 2km course.

Three World Cup events, involving crews from all of the leading nations, from May to July will allow Thompson and Grobler to fine-tune their tactics and line-ups before the Olympic regatta begins on Saturday 28 July, by which time those holidays will seem a very long time ago.

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