The momentum continues to build in this important year with plenty of activity on and off the water in the first quarter of 2016. We have recently completed our Underage National Selection Trials and just last month capped off another fantastic Sydney International Rowing Regatta.
High Performance Update – Row to Rio
With only 116 days until the start of racing at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Rio, I thought it timely to touch on the preparation of our Olympic and Paralympic crews. I would also like to call upon the rowing community to help our crews in the lead up to Rio.
What would you give to be an athlete preparing for the Olympic or Paralympic Games? Most of us look on with envy for what is an opportunity of a life time, to be able to simply forget about work, study and all those other commitments for the next few months and just row! It is an opportunity to do something quite unique and the quest to be the best in the world when it counts most at the biggest sporting event in the world.
Alas, for some of us we have had our shot at the title and it is now time to move on and focus on new challenges and opportunities. However, one just can’t move on from the Olympics or Paralympics. The two are the ultimate events for competitors and spectators alike in our sport, we all get swept away by the expectations, the possibilities and the raw emotion of it all.
The day to day realities of our rowers preparing for Rio is far from the exhilaration of the Olympics or Paralympics. The training is gruelling and you can’t quite escape the demands of family, friends, work and balancing budgets. However, our rowers embrace the challenge and see this as an honour to represent our country.
Australian Rowing Team athletes and the Olympic Games
With final seat selections for the Australian Rowing Team now complete, our crews are in the final stages of their preparation for the World Rowing Cup regattas and the important Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland in late May.
Selection is a tough process for athletes to go through, being a former rower I understand this intimately. Be it selection trials for the Junior Australian Rowing Team or the Senior A, it is a demanding time for any athlete and this year, 2016, has signalled some important changes in this space.
This year we have improved clarity and openness on what we expect of our athletes and crews with regards to their performance standards at selection trials, and beyond, in order to ensure, as a nation, we remain competitive against international standards and deliver performances that will as a minimum secure us a sport in Finals at our benchmark events.
In an Olympic year, rowers, coaches and selectors are all trying to find something extra to ensure performances step up for this pinnacle event that comes around every four years. These are challenging times for all involved. There is the elation of making the team and squad together with the disappointment for those that miss out.
Often the margin between those that make the team and those that don’t is a fraction of seconds. It was therefore extremely encouraging to see 11 of the 12 boats that lined up for the Olympic boat class speed order trials all meeting the performance standards set. For those 11 crews that made the team, they realise that the relentless nature of the competition only increases from here on, as many medals at the Olympic Games will be determined by slim margins.
Those rowers that have missed out on the team this year are some of the fittest and most determined and disciplined people in Australia. Some will go on to future success in rowing and others will do exceptionally well in their lives, in part through the unique experiences of high performance rowing. Those of us in the rowing community should be there to help our rowers when they are down, as we help others on their quest for an Olympic gold medal.
There was a time many years ago when to make the Australian team and compete at the Olympic Games was for many the ultimate achievement. However, over the years we have seen many Australian crews excel on the world stage and claim medals, including gold, when it perhaps counts the most, at the Olympics. The Australian Rowing Team aims to be the best in the world, embracing the competition, rather than simply participating.
Crews such as Hawkins and Antonie; Slatter and Still; the ‘Oarsome’ Foursome; Tomkins and Ginn; Free and Ginn and Brennan and Crawshay showed the world what is possible from Australian rowers. Before they won their Olympic gold medals, some were favourites, others were prior finalists whereas others were considered complete outsiders to win the top honour. However, what they all shared was a strong belief in their own potential and they embraced the competitive spirit of the Olympics.
It has been encouraging to see the progress of the qualified crews at the Hancock Prospecting and Georgina Hope Foundation Destination Gold Camp in in Canberra. A number of people have commented on the strong culture of performance and excellence that is emerging from our crews training together in a world class training environment.
There is also no doubt that our crews preparing for the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta or Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta have all made significant improvements since last year. At a personal level, I know what it is like to be preparing for the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta, there is no denying that to achieve qualification requires an exceptional performance. When our crews achieve this important milestone, they should draw great confidence for the Olympics or Paralympics, where everyone is equal at the start line!
Supporting our crews
I wanted to share some of the practical aspects involved in supporting our crews and also to thank a number of people and groups that have stepped in over the past year to provide additional assistance for our rowers.
When I joined the RA Board in late 2014, we were forecasting a significant deficit shortfall against the minimum level of financial reserves required by the Australian Sports Commission at the end of 2016. This would have required significant reductions to our team size for the 2016 Australian Rowing Team and significant increases to seat fees in other categories, including the Underage and non-Olympic boats.
When Michael Scott joined as CEO of Rowing Australia, he was tasked with reviewing our financial situation and putting us in a more stable position than the one we found ourselves in. Michael led the restructure of the organisation that, with the support of the RA team, has resulted in a strengthening of RA’s financial position through a reduction in employee numbers, salary freezes for all staff and cuts to many areas of expenditure within the organisation.
These savings have allowed RA to maintain its investment in the qualified and unqualified crews, without compromising our high performance objectives. I would also like to thank RA Director Merrick Howes for his support as Chairman of the Audit & Risk Committee for his role in shoring up RA’s finances.
Last year, Rowing Australia spent over $520,000 on the underage tours, this was over and above the seat fees received from Junior, Under 21 and Under 23 rowers. These campaigns are important for the development of elite rowers and we remain keen minimise the seat fees required.
Over the past year we have sought to raise additional funds to supplement the support we receive from the Australian Sports Commission, so that we can provide direct support to our athletes and provide a better daily training environment in the lead up to the Olympic Games. The majority of direct athlete assistance from the ASC and AOC is positioned towards those crews that have medalled at World Championship events, so many of our team have been ineligible for this support in recent years.
We launched the “Rowing for Gold” campaign last year to raise funds that can be directed to our high performance athletes and their families to help support their preparations. I would like to thank Jeff David for his significant contribution to Rowing for Gold and also thank some of the RA Directors who have made significant personal contributions to Rowing for Gold.
The generous support of Hancock Prospecting and the Georgina Hope Foundation has also provided funding towards the seven qualified crews based in Canberra at the Reinhold Batschi National Training Centre. Our review of recent campaigns identified compromises in the quality of the daily training environment for some crews that ultimately detracts from performance. The Hancock Prospecting and Georgina Hope Foundation Destination Gold Camp provides our crews with the best opportunity for world class performance in the best possible training environment.
The RA team has also been active in generating additional commercial support from groups such as Tempur and Coles Supermarkets. This is providing further support back to our athletes, the CEO of Coles, John Durkan, recently sent $500 Coles’ gift cards to all of our rowers in our senior team, qualified and unqualified, Olympic and Paralympic, to help towards the cost of food and groceries. Meanwhile, TEMPUR ® Australia has recently joined forces with Rowing Australia as our official sleep and travel partner. They will be providing our athletes with the best possible products to make sure they are ‘competition’ ready on arrival in Europe and beyond to Rio de Janeiro.
Notwithstanding these new initiatives, the reality is that many of our athletes are drawing into their personal savings and/or borrowing from friends and family to get through to final stages of their preparation when full-time training and travel makes work a challenge and a near impossibility when in the pursuit on an Olympic gold medal.
I would like to thank all the clubs and rowing supporters that have provided support to our crews preparing for the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. This includes the provision of training facilities, accommodation, food, transport and also simply providing a helping hand when required. There is a long history of our clubs and supporters getting behind our crews and once again we have seen this in action. There are too many people to name but I would like to specifically thank NSWIS, Mosman Rowing Club, Nepean Rowing Club and UTS Rowing Club for their ongoing support of the unqualified crews. I would also like to thank Chris Noel and Matt Ryan for their recent efforts to support the Men’s Eight.
So finally, as we now enter our key international competition season, I would encourage you all to get behind our Australian Rowing Team in their final months of preparation for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We are opening up the Rowing for Gold fund to all supporters wishing to make tax deductible donations of $500 or more to support Australia’s rowers on their Road to Rio. You can be assured that all the money received through the Rowing for Gold program will go directly to our athletes on a needs basis, Please click here (selecting Rowing for Gold in the drop down menu) or email [email protected] for details.
I look forward to updating you on the progress of our crews in the coming months along with providing you with updates on our National Participation Framework, 2020 Planning and the National Event Strategy.
I wish all our athletes and coaches all the best with their final preparations before they head to Europe for what will be an exciting and challenging few months.
President, Rowing Australia