Our crew’s first event of the season was to be this year’s European Championships, held on the Beetzsee in Brandenburg, Germany. This venue held a special significance for me, as it was on the very course that I coxed a GB crew for the very first time at the 2005 Junior World Championships, winning a bronze medal in the junior women’s eight. Returning to Brandenburg in itself was a exciting prospect for me, but this excitement was nothing compared to my crew’s eagerness to get out and open our Olympic racing season.
The women’s eight selected for the Europeans contained five of last year’s crew, including myself and Leander athlete Katie Greves, with the addition of two more club athletes – Karen Bennett and Polly Swann. In this new-look crew we had been performing well in training, which was made clear during our heat, which we won with a confident and calm performance, to advance directly to the A-final. The second heat in our event was won by the slick-looking Netherlands, in a time 0.5 seconds faster than our own. We knew we would have a fight on our hands come Sunday’s final.
During the course of the weekend between our heat and our final, the weather conditions deteriorated markedly. We made the most of a day in between racing to test ourselves in the tougher water, but were all aware that the forecast was due to be even worse during the medal races. Sunday arrived and, as expected, the wind steadily increased, from reasonably calm during our early morning pre-race paddle, to a fierce, white-horse dominated cross-wind as we boated for our warm-up.
Despite an obvious awareness that we were about to compete in the worst water in which any of us had ever raced a 2k event, our warm-up was collected and poised, and, dare I say it, we even started to enjoy the challenge of the conditions around us. We attached to the stakeboat ready for a quick start, with bow girl Katie doing a great job of staying clearheaded and keeping us switched on with tapping into the wind so we would be straight and ready when the green light went.
… was, unsurprisingly, a lot lower and more contained than we would usually want, however in the extraordinary conditions we decided to focus on staying long and setting a strong rhythm form the very first strong. A feisty Russian crew jumped out to a commanding early lead, passing the 500m mark with clear water on us, and just under a length on the Dutch. These positions stayed roughly the same as we powered through the half way into the second 1000m of the race, with the Dutch closing down fractionally on the leading Russians.
Now, one length down, in third position, was certainly not where we had planned to be with 1000m left to row in our European finals. However, it was clear that we were rating significantly lower than our opposition, and were generally being more efficient in our efforts. There was no moment in the race when I doubted our ability to win the event, and my crewmates showed their remarkable tenacity, as they relentlessly stayed on our rhythm, refusing to be distracted by the crews around them. As we moved into the second half of the race I could feel our momentum building, and we slowly raised our rate of striking. With 500m left to go it was clear that the Russian crew could not sustain their early pace, and it would be between us and the Netherlands for the gold medal. We still had plenty of distance to make up, however, but we set a blistering pace in the last quarter of the course, piling the pressure on to the Dutch, and finally pushing our bow ball out ahead of theirs mere strokes before the line. Crossing the finish I had to look back to the big screen to confirm it, but was flooded with relief and pride in my crew when I realised we had in fact won.
Zoe de Toledo
Cox, GB women’s eight
Click here to read a full account of Leander athletes at the European Championships