A test of tension and nerves: Going for Olympic Qualification
The stakes are always high at the World Rowing Championships. In 2019, however, the bar is even higher. Athletes will not only aim to be on the podium, they will also seek an elusive qualification spot for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
World Rowing asked some of the world’s top coaches to ask how they approach this all-important year.
Mike Rodger is the coach of the New Zealand men’s and women’s single sculls and lightweight women’s single sculls. He says that in the Olympic qualification year, the approach to the early-season racing shifts slightly.
“World Rowing Cups become more about gaining race experience, trialing different approaches to how we handle external factors and generally fitting into a longer-term training schedule, than they are about results.
“For Emma Twigg (New Zealand’s women’s single sculler), the World Rowing Cups are more about finding where she is strength and endurance-wise and building confidence - as she hasn’t raced internationally since Rio (2016 Olympics),” says Rodger.
The coaches try to keep the pressure around the World Championships to a minimum. Mads Haubro, coach of the Danish women’s four explains, “I think that for some rowers it’s added pressure to arrive at the World Championships and know that there are Olympic qualification tickets at stake. Within the Danish national team, we try not to make a big deal out of it. The extra stress doesn´t help the individual athlete.”
This is the first Olympic qualification regatta for the newly-added women’s four. Haubro says the addition of the women’s four to the Olympic programme has been an opportunity to build on the Danish women’s sweep team.
“We put a lot of effort into sweep rowing for the 2016 Olympics and now we can continue that effort by having a women´s pair and women´s four who can support each other. It is a good opportunity for us in relation to the organisation and structure that we have within the national team,” he says.
Tom Westgarth, coach of the Australian women’s four also cites the opportunity for growth. “Having the women's four added to the Olympic programme and seeing gender equality achieved within rowing is something to be celebrated.”
Like Haubro and Rodger, Westgarth likes to keep it simple. “It is exciting to be approaching the 2019 World Rowing Championships especially knowing there is even more on the line with Olympic qualification up for grabs,” says Westgarth. “We always train simply to be our best and qualification is an important opportunity for our team so we will be looking to put our best foot forward and be as competitive as possible.”
Coaching the singles, Rodger points out that it is important to see the big picture. “Qualification year is technically an added process but we expect the best from our athletes at any World Rowing Championships event, regardless of Olympic qualification. It’s important to remember that competition and qualification is a process and not just one race – and it’s important to ensure that athletes have this mind-set too,” says Rodger.
Rodger, Haubro and Westgarth are all facing a similar challenge. How fast is fast enough? For Rodger, it is about judging the return of former World Champion Emma Twigg. For Haubro and Westgarth, it is trying to measure the potential growth in speed in the women’s four.
“The category has already grown in depth and standard since being added to the Olympic programme,” Westgarth says. “And we expect to see it only continue to grow further as we get closer to qualification and the Olympic Games.”
World Rowing Coaching Director Gianni Postiglione says there are no secrets in what to do in the qualification year. “The attitude of coaches must be under control and I support the concept of "normal" (high) tension to finalise three years of Olympic preparation and to control the tension of the rowers.”
Postiglione adds that this time qualification is only the same in the doubles and pairs. In all other boat classes there are less spots available. “I am sure we will see very interesting competition in the fours and eights.”
As coaches and athletes move through the 2019 season, they will have to rely on their training, their testing and their early-season racing to be prepared. They plan to approach the World Championships like any other race. But in the back of their minds, they will be joining the more than 1000 athletes who will try to qualify for the Olympic Games in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria from 25 August to 1 September.
For more information on Olympic qualification, click here.