‘In the last hundred metres I was an absolute bag of sand, knowing that I should have paced myself better’

Zak Lee-Green discusses his lightweight men’s double sculls quarter-final – raced into a strong headwind – and the row that sealed him and Jamie Copus a semi-final berth


Jamie Copus and Zak Lee-Green at the 2018 European Rowing Championships (Naomi Baker)

Lightweight rowing is like racing clones in different kit, according to Zak Lee-Green.

On the outside, the Welshman is almost exactly the same as everyone he races against – he weighs around 70kg (11st) on race day, is broadly the same height as his competitors and possesses a similar wingspan to his rivals.

When all these factors are so similar you’ve got to dig deep to find the speed that will be the difference between winning and losing at the World Championships.

Lee-Green says he and lightweight double sculls partner Jamie Copus are riding the crest of a wave as they progress through the Plovdiv regatta on the back of training camps in Silvretta and Avis.

The duo qualified for the semi-finals on Wednesday in tricky conditions, with a strong cross-headwind meaning their quarter-final was nearly 25 seconds slower than their heat.

“You know the race is going to be longer because of the headwind, but you never think about saving yourself,” he said.

“You end up thinking that you have to go harder and for longer. The last hundred metres I was an absolute bag of sand knowing, that I should have paced myself better.

“In the heat of the moment you’re in battle and you have to put yourself on the line and maybe I went past the line. But we’d done the job; maybe by going hard we’d already broken the Germans.

He added about his partnership with Copus: “When we raced at Lucerne and Glasgow we hadn’t been together that long. Glasgow was a good step up from Lucerne and we’d switched the order round.

“When we got here we knew we had arrived on a peak – physically, mentally and also we’re rowing a lot better together.

“And when you’re in conditions like that you can fall back on the fact that you’re rowing well together. If we had have fallen apart we’d have lost.”

Lee-Green has been the ever-present in the lightweight double this season, with Copus racing in the lightweight single at the first World Cup in Belgrade and Sam Mottram racing the double.

The same pairing raced the second World Cup in Linz before Mottram moved to the single in Lucerne and ultimately won a fantastic bronze medal at the European Championships in Glasgow.

But there’s no resentment among the lightweight squad about who races in the Olympic-class boat – the double – with all of them getting along well.

“It’s tight at the moment because the three of us are in a very small room on the seventh floor [of the hotel], so when Sam goes out rowing at 5am for an early race we’ve got to watch him go,” Lee-Green said.

“Yesterday morning I was so worried that he’d missed his alarm so I was there panicking like a parent thinking that he wasn’t going to get up and then five minutes later his alarm went off. We’re a good group though; we’re all good friends.”

Lee-Green is one of a host of rowers in the GB Rowing Team who have come through the World Class Start talent ID scheme at Agecroft RC in Manchester.

His coach at Agecroft, Hamish Burrell, is now his coach at Caversham with the national team and Lee-Green says being able to follow in the footsteps of the World Class Start graduates who have gone on to win Olympic medals is inspiring.

“The whole system is fantastic,” he said. “It’s not just World Class Start, but when you move into the Team there is a lot of support and a lot of people behind the scenes who get no recognition and who work tirelessly to make sure we can perform.

“We get all the ups and downs of racing on the water but they have to work every hour to make sure we can go and do that. It’s an amazing thing to know that [support] is behind you when you’re doing this.

“When you go through World Class Start and into the Team you are following in the footsteps of many people who have done the same things. And those people can pass on genuinely helpful information to help you perform at your best.”

Watch Zak Lee-Green and Jamie Copus in their lightweight double sculls semi-final on the World Rowing website at 9.54 BST on Thursday.