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Beautiful weather at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia
To make the 2000m buoyed course on a natural lake that is just over 2000m long has meant starting at the town end of the lake and ending very close to a far end inlet. It requires the lanes to track through the middle of the lake, passing Bled Island at the 1800m mark. For the athletes it means through the middle of the race it is almost peaceful and serene as they row far away from the noise on the lake’s shore.

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 What has changed, though, is actions off the water. World Rowing Championships were held on Lake Bled in 1966, 1979 and 1989. Through these times the regatta was held in Yugoslavia. FISA’s president was Thomas Keller. Athletes rowed for countries like East Germany, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. In 2011 Lake Bled is now part of the Republic of Slovenia. FISA’s president is now Denis Oswald. Athletes row for countries like Slovakia, Belarus, Russia, a united Germany and Serbia.
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Old fashioned boat also at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia
Many of the people involved in the 2011 World Rowing Championships were also involved in past regattas here. World Rowing tracked some of them down to hear their impressions.

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 Noel Donaldson was the coxswain of the 1979 Australian men’s eight. Today he returns to Bled as coach of the same boat. “Bled city centre around the start has changed a lot: in the past it just didn’t have the splendour it has now. Behind the start were markets stalls, now great cafes and restaurants everywhere.”
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 Antonio Maurogiovanni was rowing in the Italian men’s coxed four in 1989. Today Maurogiovanni is here as the Dutch men’s coach. Maurogiovanni notes, “It is a very beautiful natural lake and one of the most beautiful courses (in the world).  As a coach it’s a bit frustrating though as you can’t see that much. But it’s better for the athletes. We just enjoyed being by ourselves on the water and I reckon it’s also important for the athletes to get away from their coaches a bit and mind their own thing on the water. During racing they are by themselves as well.”
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Spare race at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia.
In 1989 Curtis Jordan was coaching the United States men’s eight. Now, as coach of the Australian lightweight men’s eight, Jordan has returned to Bled. “I remember that at the finish area there was a little hut selling coffee for 13 cents a cup. But they pretty quickly adapted to the demand and raised the price to 27 cents,” Jordan remembers.

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Melchior Buergin of Switzerland won the men’s double sculls on Lake Bled in 1966 and he has returned as a boatbuilder for Stampfli.  Buergin comments, “In 1966 the start was blocked off, now it’s quite open and you can watch from the street. Everybody was always very happy to be in Bled, because it is such a beautiful place. I would say you could also still feel the Tito regime (in 1966) – something like a strong, leading hand.”

For Great Britain’s Martin Cross, 2011 is his third time here. Cross raced in both 1979 (men’s four) and 1989 (men’s quadruple sculls). This year he returns as a media correspondent. Cross says, “I was aware it was a special place in rowing and it was the first time I went to a communist country to compete.  It was also very different, for example the discipline in the hotels and overall was more strict than you would expect somewhere else.  At that time, I had no understanding of Slovenia being a different country; this was Yugoslavia.

Start of heat 4 of the Women's Double Sculls at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia.
“Politically speaking I was much more aware in 1989 that it was a different place and it gave me a new light from 1979; I understood at that time that European countries would be dislocated and remodeled.  I saw Slovenia more like Austria and Switzerland.”

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Members of the 1966 Australian men’s four and the 1979 women’s coxed four for Australia have met up for a reunion at Lake Bled. Susie Palfreyman was the coxswain of the 1979 boat and she says, “We came back to Bled to do all the things we were not able to do when we were here as athletes.”

“And we came back for the Kremsnita (vanilla slice), the slivovice (plum brandy) and the tiger milk,” says Verna Westwood who rowed in the coxed four.

 “Yes, we actually went hunting for the tiger milk, which is a great mixed drink made out of rum, cognac and milk and which was very popular twenty years ago. But times change, and apparently it’s not that popular anymore – we had trouble finding it. But we finally found an older waitress who remembered and mixed it for us,” adds Palfreyman.  

“Overall not much has changed, the course is the same, the finish is at the same spot. A major change from back then was that we only rowed 1000m in ‘79 and had the start at the island,” says Westwood.

Racing continues today on Lake Bled with athletes aiming to advance to the finals. For the athletes it is still 2000m of sheer stamina and fortitude.