World Rowing: Are you a full-time athlete?
Eric Murray: We do train close to full-time, but there is normally a few hours during the day when we have the chance to work. I work for the New Zealand rowing boat company Kiwi International Rowing Skiffs LTD, working on development and repairing boats. When we are in full-time training in our winter (European summer) before we head overseas, we train three times a day twice a week, so there is even less time.
WR: You have just finished the New Zealand National Championships. Are these races that you peak for?
EM: We do like to rest up a little bit for them as we race with people from clubs that have been training just for the New Zealand Champs. So they are peaking and we need to have done a bit of speed work to keep up with them and see how we can go against each other.
WR: How do you fit the New Zealand season into also rowing the international season?
EM: We pretty much do endurance work all year round. New Zealand has a good programme and it seems to be paying off. So we do hard work all the time, but also do team piece work twice a week to compare times and prognostic percentages against one another. It’s not an easy programme but I guess that’s why New Zealand has been producing some good results across the board.
WR: This month is the Olympic team selection trials. How have you prepared for them?
EM: There isn’t much you can do apart from eat well, get good rest, and not get too drunk at our Nationals after-party!
WR: What do you think is the hardest part about trials?
EM: The whole trials process is pretty hard and you can never rest and be complacent. We have to go out and prove that we are the fastest four guys in New Zealand and they will continue to keep us together as a four so we can continue to develop and hopefully get faster. The erg test is probably the killer for most people, as they normally do a cut of people after the erg test if you don’t go fast enough. New Zealand does weight a little bit on ergs and so we have to make sure we really hammer home the erg and pull a good score.
WR: Does it feel different this year than when you trialled for the team in 2004?
EM: Yes. In 2004, I was the outsider as I was not in the pair or the four in 2003 but in the coxed four, so I was very nervous. Everything I did I had to go out and prove that I was faster than some of the other guys to make it into either the pair or four. There were eight people at trails that were fast enough but only six seats. So eight into six didn’t go very well!
WR: What kind of training are you doing at the moment?
EM: We are training twice a day, a long row in the morning and a technique/faster workout in the afternoon. We have been doing weights twice a week. And we have been getting Saturday afternoon and Sunday off.
WR: Do you prepare with the men’s four?
EM: We have tried to stay together as much as possible. We have been training just the four of us all summer and doing a lot of pairs work. We didn’t do a lot before Christmas as James (Dallinger) had an injury and then Hamish (Bond) got hit by a truck out cycling and spent six weeks out of the boat. But we have been working hard in the pairs to get our four going faster. It was good because we have been staying at the top of the ladder in the pairs.
WR: What do you expect to be doing at trials?
EM: Ergs first, then most probably seat racing, and then later on time trials. We won’t know 100 per cent what the go is until we find out who misses out on the men’s single between Rob (Waddell) and Mahe (Drysdale) and whether or not they will be seat-raced for the four.
WR: When do you get some time off from rowing?
EM: Hardly ever! We got a month off after the Worlds and then did a lot of cross training including a 160km bike race. We got a few days off at Christmas and New Year, but have been full-on since. After the team is selected on the 7th March, we are straight back into training on the 10th. So two days off to get ready for the build-up to the Games.
WR: How do you choose to relax in your time off?
EM: I spend time with my wife and her sport, equestrian, so I help her out. Otherwise I spend time with my dogs or playing computer games, or working on our website www.kiwi4.co.nz .
WR: Why do you think the men’s four were able to step up to gold in 2007?
EM: We changed the way we were rowing and training and found a good crew dynamics with James coming into the boat. We worked hard to not repeat our stupid dead heat from 2006! We worked out a few things with Chris (coach Chris Nilsson) and we found better ways to train to hold our boat speed.
WR: Do you have a nickname?
EM: I have a lot of nicknames, but at the moment I have been known as Fid-git as I can’t sit still and I’ve always got a lot of energy.
WR: New Zealand rowing has been very successful in the last 3 years. What do you think has helped this success?
EM: We have seen a programme of training work from Rob Waddell to the Evers-Swindell twins and then as everyone joined in on the programme we started to get the results like in 2005. As we got faster, all the younger people below us got faster and people started to train harder to keep up with the ever-increasing level. Also with having top level international coaches like Dick Tonks and Chris Nilsson.
WR: What country do you think will be your biggest threat in the four at Beijing?
EM: Everyone. There isn’t one country that can’t do what we did. We were 9th in 2006 and won in 2007. So there is not one crew out there that you can’t count out. This is the year that everyone will be at the best of their game.
What we achieved in Munich was such a great effort but we know that to do it again, it’s going to take another step up. We have always been the crew chasing down the others to try and make it into the final, and try to beat them into a medal spot. And I know now we will be the ones that other crews are aiming at. Every year starts from scratch.
As the month has progressed Eric, our Athlete of the Month, has been immersed in rigorous trials to secure his spot in the men’s four for the Olympic Games. Read on to see how Eric did, what the trials were all about and why Rob Waddell will be along side him.
World Rowing: You have just completed trials to make the New Zealand Olympic team. What did the hardest day of trials look like?
Eric Murray: Well it was the first year that it was pretty straightforward for us. We had to do 3 x 2km races on each of the days that (the men’s single) Rob (Waddell) and Mahe (Drysdale) were racing, so that whoever missed out on the single if they wanted to, could seat race for a seat in the men’s four, then we would have all done the same amount of work and nobody would have an unfair advantage. At the same time, we were racing against the other guys in the sweep squad so we had to make sure that we were always a lot faster in the races so there would be no reason for the selectors to look at changing the crew.
WR: How many days did the trials last?
EM: They lasted eight days from the first day of erg tests. There was one day between the three races we didn’t row, as it was un-rowable.
WR: Did you ever feel doubt that you would make the team?
EM: You have to be confident, but you are never sure about what the selectors are thinking. So you have to make sure that there is no excuse for them to change things around. If you were to get seat raced, then if you loose a race, they would have the opportunity to switch you out of the boat. So there is always a very small element of doubt.
WR: What was your first thought when your name was read out as part of the team?
EM: It was a relief! It was good to see that our progress since Munich (World Championships) was seen by the selectors and we knew that they had faith in us. We can now get on with training and work out the programme for Beijing. We can work our training programme and racing to get the most out of our time in Europe. And work out where the best place to train will be before we head into China in August.
WR: How did these trials compare to the ones leading up to the 2004 Olympics?
EM: These were a piece of cake! Last time I was the outsider, and I didn’t think I was going to make it. But this time we knew we had done the work right from last year and over the New Zealand summer to make sure we would be the ones to represent New Zealand in the four. We had been on top on the pairs and the four and we knew we had proven to the selectors that we had the speed and there was no reason to mess around with our crew dynamic.
WR: Do you have a special way to unwind at the end of a hard day?
EM: Not really. Having a good beer with dinner always goes down well! There isn’t much you can do apart from sit down and just try and relax and recover so that you can go out day after day and give 100 per cent every time you are on the water or in the gym.
WR: Did you get any time off after trials?
EM: We had two and a half days off. The team was announced at 11am on the Friday, and Chris (coach Chris Nilsson) made us do an erg at 12pm. Then we had to be back for some lactate testing at 8am on the Monday morning. So not long. But because the few weeks building up to trials had been a bit disrupted we had had a few days off here and there, and the kilometres had been relatively low. So there was no need for too much of a break, rather just get the mind around what the next five months will have in store for us and how tough it’s going to be.
WR: What is your training schedule now?
EM: Train hard. We have to get the endurance kilometres in the bank now. There will be a lot of long hard rows, but there will always be prognostic piece work with the team twice a week. So we will always be focusing on improving but also making sure that we are trying to be on top of the prognostic percentage list every week.
It is really good now that the men’s double has been selected and we will see Rob Waddell back on the water and racing internationally. Rob and doubles partner Nathan (Cohen) have been given Chris (our coach) as a coach. So our two crews will work together in training and races to get each other going fast so we can both do well overseas this year. It’s good to have a training partner and even though the double will be a bit slower, there are always things that we can do to compete against one another to help improve both crews.