There was a hallmark [the quick entry of the blade] and I think, I mean, certainly with Cambridge boats, I still think that sort of ’94 crew is probably one of the best ones you’ll find. It’s very hard to find… even subsequent crews which were very successful…
I think one of the things that leads to that ability to produce that kind of blade work is relaxation control forwards, and, you know, momentum, momentum and inertia are things in rowing which aren’t coached often.
I mean, maybe, incidentally they’re coached for but effectively, you’re trying to, in a men’s eight you’re trying three quarters of a ton one way as hard as you can, and then coming back the other way as gently as you can.
And I think those crews that had that really good blade work were just so nicely balanced on their feet, letting the boat come to them. There’s no ducking of heads, dropping of shoulders, no chests going down on the boat. There’s no negative force there. So all you’re left with is this delicate thing you’re holding in your hand, which weighs a couple of kilos. In it goes.
if you’re rowing at 35 or 40 strokes a minute and you’ve got any weight from your shoulders or your body going towards the cox or the stern when you’re trying to get the blade in the water, it’ll have an impact on the blade, and it’ll have… the body language of the blade will reflect it.
Whereas if you’re totally on your toes, and your body mass at that point is like not going anywhere really, just sitting there, you’re receiving the boat, receiving the the front end or the catch, whatever you want to call it, then actually the blade work is easy.
Static drills at first
So if you do those sorts of entries as a static drill in a rowing tank, or with 4 people sitting the boat, it’s easy, it’s easy to do.
So you practise those drills as a theoretical exercise in an easy situation with half the crew not rowing, and then you do it with a bit more boat speed, and a bit more boat speed, and a bit of crosswind, and at race rate, and then when you’re really really tired, and bit by bit you can upskill people so they can do it.
And I think it’s true of any exercise really, that you’re trying to teach people, whether it’s for balance, rhythm, power, timing, anything like that, you know, you can teach it at a simple level on an ergo, in a rowing tank, with a stable boat. And then you can do it with a moving boat with maybe eyes shut, at higher rate, flicking between exercises, you know, and you can complicate it to the nth degree.
And in doing that, people then find just rowing at 35 flat out quite easy because they’ve done all these things at a much harder level in practice. And certainly with the international crews I’ve coached, I mean that’s definitely something I’ve tried to do.
Catch a tennis ball in one hand while rowing
With the women’s pair [2016 Olympic Champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning] in the last 6 years, that was something we did a lot of, was take an exercise at a basic level, an intermediate level, and an expert level. And the expert stuff they could do was pretty expert.
You know, they could be rowing along and from the launch I could throw a tennis ball at them and they could catch it in one hand and carry on rowing – either hand from either side of the boat. You know, just because you can. And it was enjoyable.