Down Under Series: Getting to Know Chris Morgan
Australia’s Chris Morgan is one of the most experienced members of Australia’s top class sculling group. He is currently preparing to represent his country on home waters at the opening Samsung World Rowing Cup of the 2013 season – the first international rowing regatta to be held in Australia since the 2000 Olympic Games.
Morgan was catapulted from being a novice athlete – curious as to explore his physical limits – to representing his country at the highest level just two years after picking up an oar.
World Rowing caught up with Morgan after the Australian selection regatta to talk about his past present and future in rowing.
World Rowing: Tell us how and why you decided rowing was a sport that you wanted to get involved in?
Chris Morgan: I started rowing in 2003. I was in my third year of university doing a lot of drinking and little to no exercise. I decided I needed to get fit and the university rowing club was running a 500m ergo competition to attract new members - the prize was a carton of beer. This was my motivation, beer and fitness!
WR: What made you decide to pursue rowing to the highest level?
CM: I have never done anything by halves, but at the same time I had not set my sights on making it to the highest level. I had started the sport for fun and fitness. As I watched my progress, I found myself wondering how good I could be. At every step, when someone suggested taking the next step I assumed it would finish there. I would go for the experience, but it was 12 months between starting and being selected for World University Games and another 12 months to (being selected for) the senior World Rowing Championships. I didn't ever stop to consciously make a decision - it just happened.
WR: Can you compare your Beijing and London Olympic experiences?
CM: Same boat, same seat and almost same crew, yet they could not have been more different. In Beijing we were the underdogs: no one expected us. Only one of our crew had been to the Olympics before and we were in awe of the whole event. It was our first race as a crew and we nailed the heat to perfection, when there was no pressure, but we crumbled in the final. That haunted me and was the sole driver for me to come back.
With London, we entered as reigning World Champions. We had spent the entire year training as a crew and we came in on bad form due to an interrupted preparation. Thankfully as the pressure mounted, we actually improved and got it right in the final. Getting it right when it counted, having the best race we could on the biggest stage we could; that is what I was after when I decided to see how good I could be a decade ago.
WR: You took a break from competing internationally after Beijing – what did you do during this time?
CM: Beijing was hard to take, not for where we finished but because it was below what we were capable of. I needed a break, but I needed a challenge so I would stay motivated to train. I also wanted to learn something about myself in the process, so I decided to do an Ironman. This was massive considering I could only swim a few hundred meters at most when I started. I ended up qualifying for the world champs and turning down the spot to resume rowing training.
WR: Did you think about your Beijing final before racing the final in London? Was it a positive look-back or was it in any way a ‘demon’?
CM: To be honest I think it was both. We talked about Beijing a bit in the lead up to London, it was definitely a demon but it was also a good reminder of how much we had matured as a crew. We knew we would be mentally prepared for the spectacle that was London Olympics. When the time came to race the final, Beijing was the furthest thing from my mind.
WR: You’ve really established the quad as your home – what is special about this boat for you and what role do you play in it?
CM: I have always liked the symmetry of sculling and when all four people get it right, the feeling of the quad cutting through the water from up in bow seat is amazing.
My greatest strength is how hard I drive myself each and every training session. I bring this to the crew, keeping an eye on how we are moving and keeping us striving for more.
WR: Tell us about how you found yourself in the pair in 2010. Did becoming World Champion make you consider moving to the sweep squad?
CM: Coming back from triathlon, I was training in my single a lot. I was national champion in the single that year, but had done very little crew boat rowing and the style we were rowing was subtly different. This meant I struggled during crew boat trials. In the lead up to final selections for the 2010 World Champs I got a bad back injury which compromised my training and ultimately my selection. Thankfully I was reserve and when someone dropped out of the coxed pair, I was asked to step in with six weeks to go. It was my first serious attempt at rowing a pair (training in the 2- ). I had a lot of fun, but I never entertained thoughts of making the switch.
WR: The M4x final in 2011 was pretty dramatic - did you realise what had happened in the German boat (who caught a crab just before the finish line)?
CM: One of my focuses for that race was to try and stay focused within the boat as much as possible. When we entered that last 100 meters the world could have ended and I would not have known unless it disturbed the water in our lane.
I did notice James in front of me have a look out of the boat, and I remember thinking “what the hell are you doing, just wait for the buzzer before you look”. He was the only one that knew we won. I didn't know until it showed up on screen, similarly I didn't know about the crab until seeing the replay on the screen.
WR: How does it feel having a World Cup on home waters?
CM: I am really looking forward to it. Many of my friends and family have never seen me race, so it will be a good chance for me to share an experience with them. I don't think there is any more pressure than usual. It is usually the first real validation of the crews after they are picked for the World Championships. This time it is happening before our selections.
I think it will be huge for Australian rowing. It is going to give a lot more people a chance to perform on the international stage. This can only strengthen our squads for the coming years.
WR: Did the fact that the first race of the 2013 season, and new Olympic cycle, will be hosted at home impact your decision not to take a long post-London break?
CM: Yes. That is spot on. I am actually using it as a test to see if I am really prepared to commit another four years of my life to rowing.
WR: What does the future hold for you? Another four years?
CM: Ask me in a month or two :)