A taste of international competition for new rowing nations
The city of Hamburg, Germany not only just hosted the 2014 World Rowing Junior Championships recently, but they also welcomed athletes from Tunisia, Nigeria, Uganda and Togo for a two week training camp to help develop their skills before the championships.
Organised by local Hamburg rowing clubs in coordination with the FISA development programme, this camp provided the opportunity for young rowers and new coaches to learn from experienced coaches from local Hamburg rowing clubs.
Nigeria sent five rowers to the camp, a men’s quad and a women’s single sculls. Nigerian trainer and Secretary General of the National Federation, Ola Olubunmi Oluode, accompanied the athletes on the journey. “The athletes first started rowing together in February when the boats from Nigeria were finally accepted through customs. They were rowing in singles and doubles, but when we arrived here in Hamburg, the four athletes and the coaches decided to try a quad,” Oluode explains.
This was a big shift for the young Nigerian rowers who had only been rowing for a few months, but they embraced the opportunity. “It was great to be introduced to the quad. Now we know there is nothing we can’t do. I really like rowing in the quad because I feel better, we can really work on coordinating and synchronization,” said rower Dennis Aweh.
The sport of rowing is not very well-known in Nigeria, but Oluode questions this. “In Nigeria, rowing is seen as a sport that belongs to white men. But why? We like this sport. It makes you better, it brings people together and it encourages teamwork.” Oluode believes that with the right equipment and the right training, rowing could grow rapidly in Nigeria. “In Nigeria, 30 out of the 36 regions have water for rowing. These are places where people use the water for their way of life. There are already good rowers, we just have to teach them good rowing technique.”
Michael Spoercke, a successful international and national coach, was one of the five coaches at the training camp. “The biggest chance, not only for this camp, but going into the future, is to coach the coaches,” he said. “The athletes and coaches coming here had very different levels and helping the coaches to improve will really make the difference when they go back home.”
This was Spoercke’s first time working with development teams and he was quite moved by the experience. “In working with the development teams, everything is taken with pleasure, everyone is so hungry to learn. All the teams, even though they are rowing against each other, are also helping each other,” he explained. Spoercke was shocked to see one day that when the Ugandan coach was not able to be on the water, the coach from Tunisia drove over to the Ugandan athlete to coach him. “Uganda and Tunisia row against each other! It was so nice to see, one nation helping another,” said Spoercke.
Spoercke worked primarily with the Tunisian team, and also with Togo's single sculler, Akossiwa Ayivon. Ayivon has been rowing for two years and trains three times per week. As in Nigeria, rowing is not very well known in Togo, although Ayivon says in the capital Lomé people know a bit about it. Ayivon believes her technique improved during the training camp but admitted after racing at the junior championships, “my biggest surprise was how high the level was! I never thought I would be so far behind."
Spoercke addressed this issue with the athletes. “When the regatta started, they didn’t know where they stood. After the first races, we talked about it. We explained that they could be proud of their races, it’s not only about the time at the finish.”
The athletes still considered the training camp and the junior championships a great success. “We just have to make sure we catch up with the others,” said Aweh. “We improved, we tried our best, and every day we are getting better and better.”
Spoercke was incredibly pleased with the outcome for these athletes at the championships. “We tried to teach them rhythm and technique,” he explained, “but we also had to teach how a world-level competition works. It is so easy to make mistakes with the rules, traffic rules, boat weighing, equipment, etc. We worked very hard to prepare the athletes for this and we are so happy because we had no rule violations throughout the entire championships.” For many of these athletes, this was the first time they competed at a world-level event.
“There were so many firsts for us,” said Oluode. “It was the first time for Nigeria to do a training camp, the first time for the athletes to row in a quad and the first time for Nigeria at a world championships.”
These athletes and coaches will continue training for their next events. For the Nigerian team, they will look to have a successful outcome at the All-African Games. Togo’s Ayivon has continued on to the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Rowing at the Youth Olympic Games begins on 17 August, 2014.