Athlete of the Month - April 2010
Australia’s David Crawshay shook off the disappointment of not medalling at the Athens Olympics and came back four years later as Olympic Champion. Crawshay talks to World Rowing about his current training as well as his political thoughts. Crawshay squeezes much more than rowing into his life. Learn more about this remarkable athlete.
World Rowing: So how did the rowing in your life begin?
David Crawshay: I came from a sporty family, although ironically I was not sporty myself when I was young. I enjoyed running around but I did not take enough of an interest to be good at any team sports. I swam in the summer, and played football (Aussie Rules) in the winter. It was only when I was in year 8 at my school (age 14), Melbourne Grammar, that I went down to the Yarra River to first set foot in a boat. I was in an eight with some of my mates and I've got to say that I loved the sport from the moment I took my first (bad!) stroke. I loved it so much that I also decided to go out in a scull one day. After falling in twice (remember that the Yarra is not the cleanest of rivers) I even had a soft spot for it too! I progressed through school, and ended up winning our season-ending Head of the River regatta on a 1500m course with a kink in the middle. This remained a highlight of my rowing career till much later on.
From school I went down to Mercantile Rowing Club (home of most of the Oarsome Foursome) and rowed in their youth and under-23 squads. This was around the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I made an under-23 team that year, but it was only when I ventured up to Penrith (Sydney Olympic regatta course) to watch the regatta that something from within me was stirred. Watching the best crews in the world fight desperately for positions had a profound effect on me and I resolved to one day be a part of that. I guess that was the closest I have come to a (good) defining moment. Athens four years later was the (bad) defining moment.
WR: You have 3 brothers involved in Aussie Rules. Was sport a big part of your upbringing?
DC: Aussie Rules formed a great part of my childhood. Even though I was not sporty, I did come to appreciate the game immensely. Even now I find myself stopping to watch a game of little consequence. I would have loved to have been good at it but then again I reckon it may not have resulted in my pursuing rowing. All of my brothers were very skilful at footy, with Simon (my eldest brother) playing in the Australian Football League (AFL). Michael (my second eldest) played in the under-18 competition (which is a feeder system to the AFL), but was struck down early due to injury. Andrew was also extremely skilful at footy (maybe the most) but like Michael he was prone to injury.
Michael rowed for a term at Melbourne Grammar, but I think he found the early mornings a little testing. Pity, though, as we all may have made a good four or quad.
WR: Did being the youngest have any influence over your sporting choices?
DC: Maybe it did. I did my own thing when I was younger; the others being content to play among themselves. Perhaps if I was one of two, the other would get me outside and playing footy with rolled up socks (that's what we used to play with!) or doing high jump over the couch (again ...). I think they used to look at me and go, 'that's just David' and let sleeping dogs lie. So in a perverse way it may have influenced me to remain so uncoordinated that I shunned ball sports and, when given the opportunity to start a sport with a clean slate, take it with both hands!
WR: Where are you based at present?
DC: I am writing this from Canberra at the Australian Institute of Sport. We just had a very tough session and I am looking forward to lunch. I moved up here permanently after the National Championships, which were held in Victoria in early March. Before then I would ferry between Melbourne and Canberra. My girlfriend Siobhan is here working in the dietetic department, so at least I know what to eat. In Melbourne I have as my coach Chris O'Brien. When in Canberra, I am looked after by Rhett Ayliffe (Scotty (Brennan) and my coach in Beijing) and the great Noel Donaldson, so I get the best of all worlds.
WR: What is your current training focus this month?
DC: We have trials coming up soon, so obviously we are trying to get in some race work before then. However, we are mindful of the length of this season, and are being circumspect about the amount of fast work we need to do. We don't want to 'cook' ourselves now and risk underperforming later on this season. I guess athletes the world over are contemplating the best strategy given the end point of this season. This is probably something not done since Barrington in 1990, when many of the current crop of athletes weren't even born.
WR: What does a typical day look like this month?
DC: In terms of weather, it's looking pretty nice. But in terms of what I'm doing, it's pre-training snack followed by training on the water, followed by breakfast, and then some study (see below). Then there's lunch and some more study. Maybe some physio might figure somewhere, before our afternoon session (weights or lovely ergometers). Then there's dinner and after that a chance to catch up with my girlfriend.
WR: Are you a full-time athlete?
DC: I guess I'm full-time insofar as I don't have a job. This time four years ago I was working full-time while training, but I was in Melbourne, had a very understanding employer (the then Arts and Sports Minister, Rod Kemp) and my coach was keen to help me balance the two. Mind you, I did not derive any money from rowing then, so I needed to 'earn a crust'. This time round, I receive funding from the Government and have my expenses paid for by the AIS, so the need to work is much, much less. With this in mind, I am using the opportunity to reprise my Bachelor of Laws degree which I dropped some six years ago and I am enjoying it immensely.
WR: What do you like to do outside of rowing?
DC: As I said before, I am enjoying my studies in law. At the moment we're doing Criminal Law, which I always find interesting. Lately, I have been trying to read more often, and read fiction. Too often I found myself reading non-fiction books about history or current affairs or politics, which is fine by itself, but I was conscious of losing track of the writing styles of different authors. I was forever doing puzzles, such as cryptic crosswords, but my new-found penchant for reading has taken its place.
WR: Having worked in politics, has your rowing experience at all influenced your political views?
DC: I've never really stopped to think about it. My political philosophy is broadly in line with liberalism, which doesn't look on the individual with suspicion. I guess sport reinforces in some way the power of the individual, but rowing in particular also underscores the synergy created by a team. I am not an extreme liberal - the type who automatically thinks that government of any form is evil - and I do see a place for collective action in a limited number of areas, but I would like to think that individuals, presented with the right incentives, would want to better themselves. When this happens and the analogy can now come back to rowing, 'the rising tide brings up all the boats'.
WR: Do you talk politics with your team mates?
DC: I don't consciously talk politics with them, although they would probably ... no, definitely, be the first to tell you that I have my opinions. But everyone has opinions on issues (even if they don't admit it) and I like it when people take a healthy interest in these. One of many things I like about Australians is that they seem a little suspicious of political zealots, but there is definitely room for good, rational debate on subjects of great importance. We have compulsory voting in this country so it's incumbent upon anyone who is concerned about the direction of policy to 'pipe up' on occasion. After all, we can't use the excuse, 'don’t blame me, I didn't vote'!
WR: What political figure would you most like to have to dinner?
DC: I take an interest in those political figures who lead in every sense of the word. It is one thing to go with the will of the people (which is admirable, most of the time), but it is entirely another to 'take' people with you on this or that policy or decision. With that in mind, I would like to pick the brain of people such as Margaret Thatcher (so influential on our current economic system) or Ronald Reagan (who is under-appreciated for his role in the late Cold War), but obviously the latter is impossible. In terms of more recently, it would be difficult to go past Barack Obama, his current domestic troubles notwithstanding. For someone to go from being a state senator to President in five years is extraordinary. His politics are not entirely my cup of tea, but his nonchalance in the face of bitter attacks from his opponents and his oratorical skills are quite remarkable.
In this second interview of Australia's Olympic Champion, Athlete of the Month for April David Crawshay talks more about training, but also about food, books, favourite regatta courses and future goals.
World Rowing: You mentioned that you have team trials coming up. What has this meant in terms of your recent training?
David Crawshay: We do have trials soon. They start this Friday (23 April) at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith. They basically go until we've picked the team, which usually takes just over a week.
In terms of my recent training, I guess it has been more focused towards top-end speed. But we're still mindful of keeping an endurance base. As I said previously, this year offers challenges which rowers and coaches haven't addressed since 1990.
WR: You mentioned that your girlfriend works in the dietetic department, what is your tip for pre and post-workout eating? What is your favourite food indulgence?
DC: I guess most athletes at the higher levels of the sport know a few things about nutrition. Of course, it helps a lot if your girlfriend is also a dietician! My tips are fairly simple and straight-forward. Before training of any kind, you need to eat something high in carbohydrate and the same goes for after training. You need to watch your hydration levels - dieticians always say that thirst is not a good indicator, as you are already dehydrated. You also need to ensure you are getting in enough protein; not just at one sitting but spaced out over the day.
In terms of indulgences, I eat fairly normally, so I don't tend to 'binge'. If you were to pin down a particular food, I'd say pizza, but even then it's the healthier thin-crust type that wouldn't be out of place on a Roman street corner.
WR: What has been your hardest workout this month so far?
DC: We have been doing these ergometer workouts that are supposed to test your lactate systems. This is a nice way of saying that we get hammered. The ergos themselves only take a little over 10 minutes, and there's only three of them, but what they lack in time they make up for in intensity. Recently, during one of these workouts, my heart rate got above the level it sat on for the Olympic final in Beijing!
WR: What boat are you aiming/hoping for this year?
DC: I'm hoping to get into the quadruple sculls. We had such a promising year last year, and I am extremely keen to build on this momentum. We've got some very good talent which makes selections both interesting and exciting.
WR: Is racing in the single internationally something you would like to do?
DC: In time, I guess it is always a possibility. I raced the single in 2005, where I had a bit of a bridging season between the 2004 Athens Olympics and training in earnest for Beijing. I really enjoyed the training and racing and finished ninth, which I thought was alright given my low-profile preparation. If I was to do it again, it would be after London and I would be striving to aim for something higher.
WR: Since making the Australian team what is the longest break that you’ve had from the sport?
DC: The longest break I've had from the sport is probably only a month-and-a-half, between Athens (2004) and the 2005 season. After Beijing I didn't really start training in the single scull till mid-December 2008, but I was busy rowing in eights for my club Mercantile (along with Niccolo Mornati, our Italian 'super sub'). In truth, I can never go more than about two days without some type of exercise. I think when it comes to returning to training after international preparation, the key really is to differentiate between the day-to-day training (single rows, weights and ergos) and those activities which are less prevalent (cycling and sweep rowing). I try and ease myself back by doing the latter for a while and it is usually a welcome break and less psychologically draining than the former. What it eventually means is that I'm fit and healthy and have the necessary motivation to tackle the day-to-day activities when I finally get back to doing them.
WR: What is your favourite rowing venue in the world?
DC: I would have to say that Lucerne is the best for racing. The Swiss always put on a top-class regatta and the public seem really appreciative. The town itself is very pretty and its antiquity is something far removed from anything we have back here. I've never been to Brive-la-Gaillarde but I've heard some extremely good things about it. A friend who rowed at World University Games there in 2004 said it was akin to Lucerne and I'd be keen to see if they schedule a Worlds or World Cup regatta.
Equally, I have always enjoyed training in Varese in the north of Italy. We boat out of Gavirate, a lovely little town on the north-eastern side of Lago di Varese. It is always hot and humid, so it provides the ideal conditions for acclimatising to any stifling climates at subsequent regattas. The food is always molto gustoso, and there's nothing like a pizza and gelato for after a draining session on the water.
WR: So, what book are you currently reading?
DC: I have had a few on the go recently. I've read one by Robert Graves called 'Goodbye to All That', if for no other reason than it contains a man named 'Tibs Crawshay'. Crawshay being a rare name, I gave it a go. Turns out it was a wonderful autobiographical account of that writer and poet's boyhood, time at Charterhouse school in England and exploits in the trenches in Northern France during WWI.
I've just finished a colonial-era fiction novel called 'For the Term of His Natural Life', a classic of Australian literature. It is an extremely tragic account of an accidental convict, Rufus Dawes, and his incredible journey from being an heir to a fortune in London to being a manacled triple-escapee in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). I've done a lot of my training down there so the landmarks described in the book are quite close to home.
WR: Are you aiming for the 2012 Olympics?
DC: I am hoping to continue till the 2012 Olympics. The reason I decided against retirement is that I feel that my best years are still in front of me. I am still making good physical and technical improvements at the moment, and it seems that my hunger to race has not diminished at all.
In addition, I feel there is a momentum in Australian sculling which I am keen to share in. We have a great group of guys sculling and I feel there are so many talented athletes with which to fill our boats.