Athlete of the Month – November 2015
Australia’s Joshua Dunkley-Smith, 26, knows how to be a team player. He has been a regular of his country's men's four and also been part of the men's eight - often in stroke seat.
For the 2015 season he was selected for the eight, but when a bicycle accident took one of the crew out of the four, Dunkley-Smith was brought as the replacement. Dunkley-Smith admits he found the move from the eight to the four not what he wanted to do. The outcome, however, paid off in a silver medal at the 2015 World Rowing Championships.
Dunkley-Smith is now preparing for the Rio Olympics and with an enviable erg score and a London Olympic silver medal at just 23 years old, the Australian must be a top pick for the selectors. World Rowing is proud to present Dunkley-Smith as the November Athlete of the Month for his courage through difficult times, especially before the London Olympics, his ability to make boats really move and his team mentality.
World Rowing: How did you get into rowing?
Joshua Dunkley-Smith: I started rowing at school. After I finished high school a friend asked if I’d like to attend an information session at a rowing club about an hour before the session started. I said, ‘sure, why not’.
WR: How did your mother, being an Olympian in sailing, inspire you as an athlete?
JDS: I grew up watching her training and competing since before I could remember. I always thought she was tough, sailing out into rough, cold weather every day while I got to stay warm and dry on land.
WR: Your younger sister Addy won bronze in the women’s pair at this year’s World Rowing Under 23 Championships. Would you say you played a role in her choosing to pursue rowing? Do you both motivate each other in the sport?
JDS: I guess I had some impact on Ad’s decision to row but I always encouraged her to do what she wanted to do, what is right for me might not be right for her. I think sport in general is an important part of life because it introduced me to so many new people and encouraged critical thinking.
WR: You won the majority of your international medals in the men’s four. What aspects of this boat class make it a good match for you?
JDS: I think the main strength of the four for me is the size of the group involved. The eight is awesome when it is moving well but there can be too many moving parts sometimes. I’ve never been overseas in the pair but it does seem like a small group. The four has a good mix of speed and simplicity.
WR: In 2015, you began the season in the men’s eight, racing to fifth in Lucerne. You then raced to silver in the four at the World Rowing Championships. What circumstances led you to change boats?
JDS: An accident while cycling meant that the four needed a replacement and the selectors felt it had to be me. I asked to stay in the eight and have a reserve in the four as I felt that meant the least disruption to everyone and that both boats could do a good job regardless. My opinion was noted but I wasn’t necessarily given a choice on the matter.
WR: How did you feel about the change then? How do you feel about it now?
JDS: I was pretty upset, the guys in the eight are my brothers and I wanted to finish the season off that I had started. The guys in the four are friends as well and I am glad that I could help get the boat over the line after a potentially season ending accident but when I start something or make a decision it is important to me to see it through. I believe very strongly in decisions and being responsible for their outcomes because sometimes the smallest, unthinking choice can turn out much bigger in terms of consequences.
WR: Is the men’s eight back on your radar screen for the 2016 season?
JDS: Unfortunately no, it still has to be decided if Australia will try to qualify the eight before the games next year.
WR: You stroked the “Great Eight” at the Head of the Charles Regatta in 2014. What were the highlights of this experience?
JDS: I really enjoyed getting to know the other guys in the boat. You tend to know other rowers by reputation or from passing each other in the boat park but never really talk to them for long. Before then I’d never had a chance to row in the same boat with an athlete from another nation so that was something very rare. It was reassuring to find that rowers have pretty much the same sense of humour all over the world and particularly that so many successful people still enjoy what they do so much.
WR: Ever since your first international appearance at the 2009 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in the eight, you’ve been positioned with few exceptions in stroke seat. In your opinion, what makes a good stroke?
JDS: People tend to give the stroke seat a lot of importance but I’ve never really believed that, I find that good support further back in the boat makes a boat fast more often than just having a good stroke. The stroke has to have confidence that they will be backed up well otherwise it is impossible to set a strong rhythm, if there is no support then people become doubtful and row to protect themselves rather than attacking a race. I think in my case the stroke seat worked because I just forget about the things going on around me and do my thing. Depending on who you ask it could be deemed good focus or just day-dreaming.
WR: Drew Ginn was your teammate in the four in 2011 and 2012. What was it like to train and race with him?
JDS: It was great, he has a lot of knowledge but also approaches things as though he is still a kid. He was always looking to learn new things and also to enjoy the journey. Rowing is meant to be fun, you have to work hard but you also have to find moments to enjoy everything.
WR: How would you describe the months of preparation leading up to London 2012 compared to other seasons?
JDS: Tough, we were doing a lot of volume and still getting through some very difficult sessions. I have the image of Drew’s back seared into my mind as I spent most of the time trying to hang onto his wheel whilst cycling. But as I said, it was also a lot of fun. We threw a frisbee around any opportunity we got and went swimming in the lakes near our base in Italy. If we hadn’t made the effort to ensure we were enjoying what we were doing I doubt I would have been able to overcome the challenges I did to race in London.
WR: What does your Olympic silver medal mean to you?
JDS: A lot of things, but mainly it reminds me of my family and of how the smallest objects and achievements can often conceal vast amounts of time, effort and learning.
WR: Do you study/work alongside rowing?
JDS: Yes, I am currently studying a mechatronics engineering degree by distance at Deakin Uni in my hometown, Geelong. Hopefully one day I will be able to get a real job!
WR: What is your best erg score?
JDS: For the 2k test, 5:39.6. That one is easy, for everything else I forget. I normally do PB’s on the erg when I cannot remember my previous PB and convince myself it was five seconds better than it actually is. Then I tell myself, ‘You can go easy today, it’s been big week. Just do a few seconds slower than your last one and no one will notice.’ I have never been a stats guy, not even for my own.
WR: If you could have dinner with any three people in the world, who would you invite?
JDS: Probably just my family and girlfriend, I am terrible at planning things like that. I’d decide what I was going to cook half an hour before everyone showed up and have to go to the shop to get it all. So inviting guests would probably be something I forget to do.
WR: What is something that can always be found in your fridge?
JDS: Milk, easy. Or maybe not since I tend to drink it by the litre. It runs out pretty fast.
WR: How do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
JDS: Working as an engineer and doing some sport, rowing or otherwise, for fun or competitively depending on how I feel over the next few years. I enjoy sailing and skiing but don’t often get a chance to do them.