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The Return of The Purn

Nick Purnell made his return to senior rowing this year after an 18-month hiatus. The London 2012 Olympian is excited to be back amongst the Australian Rowing Team and will compete in the Men’s Eight that will race at the upcoming 2018 World Rowing Championships.

“It was always in the back of my mind to come back to it, however after not qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the Men’s Eight, I felt the time was right for me delve into the real world, bolster my CV, and explore other avenues and opportunities in life before considering a return to rowing,” admitted the Sydney University Boat Club rower.

“There were some great results in 2017 with the new look system, so that certainly motivated me to deliberate on coming back to the sport. I spoke to a lot of people both within the rowing community as well as elsewhere, and the consensus was that it was a good idea to have a go again. The summation of the advice I received amounted to the fact that you can work for a long time, but the window of opportunity to be an elite athlete is relatively brief, so you should do it while you still can.”

Nick Purnell (Copyright RA)

“That combined with the change in direction of Rowing Australia, the positive feedback from the guys in the Reinhold Batschi Men’s NTC, and the fact that I really like rowing, led me to the decision to throw my hat back in the ring.”

Although the 28-year-old, who last won a World Championships medal in 2011 in the Men’s Four, spent the last 18 months working, he also endeavoured to keep fit and stay engaged with rowing.

“I did some coaching at Brighton Grammar in Victoria and kept fit for myself, I did an erg challenge with Matty Ryan (Sarah’s Super Saturday) and got out on the bike to do some long distant rides. I spent the majority of my time living what would be considered a more normal, non-athlete life, seeing as I’d rowed for eight years straight since I left school,” said the New South Welshman.

Once he was offered a place at the Reinhold Batschi Men’s National Training Centre, Purnell made the move to Canberra, something that he felt was the right move for him and also for the sport.

“The good thing about having been away for 18 months was that I was able to take stock and reassess what worked for me and what didn’t.

“It’s clear that this centralised program has the necessary characteristics to provide a higher chance of success for a whole squad of athletes. As a general rule, in the past, Australia’s successful crews revolved around having a small number of athletes based out of a club, working with a coach, outside the system, which translated to the individual success of that crew but often not to the success of the Australian Rowing Team as a whole. The model relied heavily on having many high calibre coaches in a number of different locations around a geographically challenging country.”

“Comparatively I’m really enjoying the new direction [being in Canberra and at the RBNTC], it’s a simple ethos predicated on hard work. The rowing is competitive every day, there’s a lot of variety in terms of crew combinations and boat classes we’re rowing on a regular basis, there’s a uniform direction being provided and I like how we’re all in there together.”
“I like rowing – it’s not just about the World Championships or the Olympic Games, I genuinely enjoy the sport. I think in the inevitability of getting older I have found that I get a lot of fulfilment and satisfaction out of working with a group of people, whether in a crew or individually as part of the collective, striving to get better on a day-to-day basis. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all working towards the culminating point of the season which is the Worlds and ultimately the Olympics, but the steps along the way are all enjoyable. I don’t think I could manage to stick around if I didn’t enjoy the grind.”

While Nick first represented Australia at a senior World Championships in 2010, this will be the first time he’s on a team with his younger brother Alex, with the younger Purnell set to race in the Men’s Quadruple Scull this year.

“I always thought it was a possibility that we [Alex and Nick] could be on the team at the same time. Our paths to where we find ourselves now have been somewhat different. Alex developed comparatively quite a bit later than myself, and on my side of the equation it seemed that maybe I’d peaked early in my career and my time had passed, which accordingly made it seem a bit of a pipe dream, rather than something that would come to fruition. That being said, it has been great that it’s finally happened.

“We live together, amongst a few of the other guys in Canberra, and we’ve raced together a fair bit this season for Sydney Uni and NSW which has been thoroughly enjoyable. We’re close, but he’s also just another member of the team, so there’s not a huge difference in how we go about things. It’s really good to have him around, I think we complement each other well.”

Nick Purnell in the Men’s Single Scull at the 2014 World Rowing Championships

The chance to win another medal this year would mean something not only to Purnell, but also for others that have gone before him.

“For me personally, to win a medal at the World Championships would be the realisation that it’s still there, and an affirmation of what could have been for all those before me too. As a country, I think we massively underperformed between 2012 and 2016, which is why there was a restructure in the organisation.

“There are lot of reasons as to why things didn’t go right – on the athlete side, from the coaching side, from the admin side, so I think to win a medal would be significant on a number of levels not only to myself but also to those guys I rowed with, who are now retired, to show them what we can, and maybe what we could have achieved. Those guys (retired rowers) helped and guided me in my formative years and many of them I’m still close with today. This cycle I find myself as an elder statesman with a talented and promising group of new rowers, and it would be brilliant to get a result this year.”

Currently training out of the AIS European Training Centre with the full Australian Rowing Team, ‘Purn’ is enjoying being back amongst it. “I like the aspect that when we’re at home we’re in squads, the men’s, the women’s squad, the para crews, but when we arrive overseas there’s that stimulus and knowledge that you’re all together and it’s like ‘Right, we’re here – time to lift’. Whenever you’re in the ETC it is the final preparation point, the culminating point of the season is never far away, and it provides a nice boost.”

As he leads into the final weeks of preparation, Purnell reflected that this year’s World Championships might be a little different to others that he has competed in.

“I feel well prepared, I think we all feel well prepared – for me it’s been a shift from previous years. If I’m honest, I think this is probably the most well prepared I’ve ever felt for a World Championships. Ultimately, I think if you’ve done the work, and you can sit on the start line in confident reflection that there are minimal holes in your preparation, then you’re ready to take on the world.”