Royal Marines put Great Britain rowers through their paces

By Brent PilnickBBC South West Sport
GB rowers train with Royal Marines

Aside from boats and water there seems, on the face of it, not a great deal in common between the Royal Marines and the Great Britain lightweight rowing squad.

But after two days at the Commando Training Centre (CTC) in Lympstone, near Exeter, they appear to share more similarities than you might expect.

The 10-strong squad are already preparing for Rio 2016, where they will battle for six seats in the double and quadruple skulls.

As part of those preparations the Marines are getting the rowers, including three members of the out of their comfort zone and ready for unexpected - just as Britain's elite infantry have to be.

"There are a lot of crossovers between how they perform and how our Marines perform," says Marines Captain Steve Cotton, who has led the rowers on long runs through the countryside, dips in icy water as well as rope and wall climbs.

"We're asking a lot of our young recruits in their training to perform to a high level - but so do the rowers.

"The crossover is trying to get the individual to perform to a high level, but also as part of a team," added Captain Cotton, who helps bring outside organisations, such as sports teams, into the Lympstone base.

"We could go out and row miles every day. But to come here and do two hours of physical activity is so different to what we're normally used to," says Chris Bartley, who was part of that silver-medal winning crew in London and now has his sights firmly set on Brazil in less than four years time.

"It's really helped us come together as a team and I think we can take things that we have learnt from CTC into our daily training.

"It helps you find people's strengths and weaknesses and then you can encourage each other as a team.

"We're not going to win Olympic medals in the single skull, it's going to be in crew boats, and our aim is to get each other to a really high level of fitness to win those races."

As the temperature around the vast open ground of Woodbury Common hovered around freezing, the squad of elite rowers were led, at pace, to the 'sheep dip'.

It is a six-foot deep tunnel of water and a pair of Marines had arrived in advance to break the iced surface with a scaffolding pole before the rowers were told to go through it - twice.

"I'd heard about it before and I think we were pretty nervous about making it all the way through," said Bartley.

"But when you see your mates do it you can't let everyone down."

And Bartley says exercises like the one he and his team-mates have been on for the past few days are as important as all the hours on the water and in the gym.

"We're at the start of a new Olympic cycle and there are guys coming into the team that we've not really met before.

"We don't know them that well, so to learn about them and trust that they can push themselves like we've seen in the last couple of days is really important when it comes to crunch time in crew boat racing."

The Marines pride themselves on their will to never give up and meticulously ensure they are always at peak fitness in order to be called into action at any moment.

Captain Cotton says that mentality is one which could be used well by a variety of athletes.

"They still have a lot to learn and gain in terms of mental robustness, and that's something we have in spades down here, it's built into the training syllabus," he added.

"What we've tried to do over the last couple of days is try to build in that extra 10%, that extra reserve in the tank that we always have to have in training.

"So we've always got something extra, and for them, that training in particular, has been really worthwhile."

So if Great Britain's lightweight rowers come away with gold in Rio 2016 they may well recall their cold and wet days with the Marines in December 2012 as the moment they embarked on the road to the podium.