Friday, January 21, 2011

Rowing to Cycling: Australia's Ginn Makes Transition Look Easy

Drew Ginn has quite a track record in rowing (note the use of dramatic understatement). He's won three Olympic gold medals, and would likely have won four, if it weren't for an injury that prevented him from competing in the Sydney Games. His last race up to this point was the final of the coxless pairs in Beijing, where he and Duncan Free dominated the field despite not being able to practice during the regatta (again, Ginn was suffering from an injury). Only the Canadians were able to come anywhere near the Aussies, though to do so they needed to overstroke the tall duo of Ginn and Free by an average of four beats per minute. Suffice it to day, Drew Ginn is a damn good oarsman.

In the wake of Beijing, Ginn, who was struggling with back issues leading up to and during the Games, finally took some time away from the sport, had surgery, and healed up, only to find himself with the itch for yet another physical challenge. Because of the condition of his back, Ginn fixed on cycling -- a natural cross-over for many rowers, as we've seen with James Cracknell, Sonia Waddell of New Zealand, and Amber Halliday of Australia, all of whom are Olympic rowers turned successful cyclists. Ginn proved that the success of his peers was no fluke.

After taking up cycling in 2009, Ginn discovered that his his power and length were well-suited to the time trial. Within three months of tackling the sport more seriously, Ginn won the Oceania Time Trial Championships. In typical, deferential style, Ginn downplayed the accomplishment, pointing out that there were faster times posted in the U23 event (click here for Ginn's interview with Cycling News). Despite Ginn's feeling that he hadn't proven anything, he followed up on his 2009 success with a 6th place finish at the 2010 Australian National Road Champioships, in a very competitive field.

Despite all this, there is still reason to be cautious about cross-training with cycling, or crossing over into the sport. James Cracknell was nearly killed last year, suffering severe head trauma when he was struck by the side-view mirror of a truck as he was cycling in Arizona. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet, but even this couldn't prevent him from suffering a fractured skull and some lasting effects from the injury, including memory loss. Amber Halliday also suffered a significant injury recently, after clipping another cyclists wheel during a race and falling awkwardly. In a press release today the Sydney Morning Herald reports that, while she remains in intensive care, she has opened her eyes and spoken once again, and has indicated that she recognizes her loved ones.

It's important to remember that these Olympic athletes are phenomenal physical specimens, and that they are constantly placing their bodies at risk in the name of sport. Their talent allows them to shine on the world stage, and the versatility of the rower is fully on display when it comes to crossing over into other forms of competition. The downside of this can be that you, the rower, take on more than your should a the outset. While the athletes mentioned above are professionals, it's important for those of us who are not to remind ourselves of this at times. Make sure to give yourself the appropriate amount of time to make the adjustment, and hey -- wear a helmet. The above rowers (who are, undoubtedly, cooler than you) did, and because of that, they're still here.

For more on Drew Ginn, check out his personal blog, "Rudderfish," at drewginn.blogspot.com. If you would like to send a 'get well' message to Amber Halliday, you can do so on the contact page of her website at www.amberhalliday.com.

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