Rowers start final countdown to Rio 2016
With the Olympic Games now less than 300 days away, the countdown to Rio 2016 is well and truly under way for the GB Rowing Team.
Following a short break to recharge after the World Championships in Aiguebelette, rowers and coaches are back at Caversham for the start of the Olympic and Paralympic season.
Training is tough but there is a tangible sense of excitement and anticipation in the air as one of the big targets that all have been working towards since London 2012 moves sharply into focus.
One of those hoping to make his Olympic debut this season is Paul Bennett, now a double World Champion after the men’s eight successfully defended their title in Aiguebelette.
“This year is special,” he said. “It’s the little things around you that give you clues, like the new forms to register with the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the schedule of training camps being different to previous years due to the timing of the Games.
“These little things make the first few weeks of training more focused and more exciting than I have felt previously. It is ridiculously cool to be in the build-up to the Olympic Games.”
The GB heavyweight men’s squad is renowned for its strength and depth, so Bennett knows there is plenty of hard work ahead this winter if he is to secure a place in an Olympic boat.
“I have been extremely lucky to have been rewarded with two very successful years of international rowing,” he said.
“But I am part of one of the most competitive rowing squads in the world, coming off the back of one of the most competitive World Championships that anyone in the team can remember.
“I am surrounded by present and future greats. It is an honour to think that if I get lucky for a third year, they will be my team-mates.”
Joel Cassells, now starting his second season in the senior squad, is amongst a host of emerging and talented rowers who will seek an Olympic seat.
There are just six seats up for grabs in the two Olympic-class lightweight men’s boats but Cassells is determined to build on a highly-promising 2015 in which he was crowned World and European lightweight men’s pair champion.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have won those gold medals and it has given me so much more drive for this season,” he said.
“This is a pretty important season for us as a squad to say the least. Its Olympic year and selection is about five months away now. It feels reasonably chilled now but I imagine the closer we get the more intense and nerve-wracking it will all become.
“As a team we will all have to fight for a place at the Olympics. There are never any seats with names engraved underneath them and it’s that competitive side that makes us a world-class squad.”
While this is a first Olympic season for some rowers, others at Caversham have been through the process before – including 20 medallists from London 2012.
Hoping to make a third Olympic appearance – and earn a first medal at the Games – is Jess Eddie, who was part of the women’s eight that finished fifth at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
“I was raring to get back into training, it is always exciting at the start of an Olympic year,” she said.
“The atmosphere has been great and there is an extra buzz about the place.”
Among those returning to Caversham in the past two weeks have been two familiar faces.
Olympic women’s double scull champion Anna Watkins has come out of retirement in a bid to reach a third Olympic Games.
“It’s really nice to be back,” said Swann. “The atmosphere this week has been great.
“There is a real sense of excitement about the new season, especially as it is an Olympic one.
“It is great to be around my team-mates and friends again. We really draw strength from each other and push each other on. I feel in pretty good shape and I have to make sure I stay like that.”
The GB rowers will get their first competitive outing of the season at the British Rowing Championships in Nottingham on October 17-18, when they will represent their clubs.
The first GB Rowing Team assessment will take place in Boston, Lincs, on October 31 and November 1. This is one of the differences for an Olympic year, as rowers who have competed at the World Championships don’t usually compete at the first assessment.
GB’s para-rowers, some of whom have just returned from a five-day Paralympic Orientation Camp in Rio, will have their first assessment at Caversham on November 14.