Friday, March 6, 2015

British Rowing Olympic Bronze Medalist Phelan Hill's Golden 2014

The GB men's eight celebrates in Amsterdam (Photo courtesy of Phelan Hill)
The following piece comes to us from GB Olympic bronze medalist and current world champion Phelan Hill, who guided the British men's eight to their first-ever world championship title in Chungju. Here, he recounts the journey through the 2014 season, which saw the GB men defend their title in Amsterdam. From Phelan:

In 2013 I was lucky enough to be part of the GB men's eight that travelled to Chungju in Korea, making history in becoming the first eight from Great Britain to win the World Championships. This year we travelled to Amsterdam with the aim of defending our title, and becoming world champions for the second successive year.

There was substantial change in 2014 from the previous year’s winning eight with only myself, Tom Ransley, Pete Reed and Will Satch returning. We were joined by five new crew mates, two of whom (Matt Gotrel and Paul Bennett) were racing at the World Championships for the very first time.

"I was always aware of the raw power in the boat, and for me it was just about harnessing that strength and power."Going into the World Championships, we had raced together only twice before, winning the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta and then a week later finishing in third place at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. Winning bronze in Lucerne was the first time we had the crew together for any real time, and it gave us an indication of where we were and what we needed to do. I was always aware of the raw power in the boat, and for me it was just about harnessing that strength and power. We went away, we sat down for a while, messed around with the crew order, and came out with our final lineup.

Before we arrived in Amsterdam we knew the competition would be fierce this year with Germany, USA (winners at Aiguebelette World Cup II), the resurgent Russians (now under the guidance of Mike Spracklen) and the extremely consistent Polish all in the mix for medals, and all crews that had beaten us at some point earlier in the season.

Arriving at our first race in Amsterdam we were drawn against the German eight who are the current Olympic and European Champions. Whilst we didn’t win the heat, we showed good speed through the middle of the race, and we left the race knowing that we needed to address the start but took confidence from our strong mid-race rhythm.

Even though we didn’t win our heat I left the race feeling confident about what we could achieve, I could not help but think back to the British eight in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics, who came through the reps to become Olympic champions.

Phelan Hill (left) and Stan Louloudis holding their world championship medals (Photo courtesy of Phelan Hill)
One of the greatest characteristics of this crew, more so than others I’ve been in has been the ability to learn and change. Every race and every day we progressed in Amsterdam. The crew was really amazing, absorbing and digesting information from our coaches Christian [Felkel] and Jurgen [Grobler] in order to make the next step the following day. We’ve always talked about let’s go out and do this today, and every single time we’ve asked the question, everyone delivered on it.

Having lost in the heat the rep was really healthy for us, it gave us an opportunity to execute the start we wanted against the fast and resurgent Russians. Looking back at history, I’ve always believed the reps are never a bad thing at a World Champs or Olympics. I remember watching the Olympics in 2000 and the British eight didn't have a great heat, and went through the rep on the way to the final.

In our rep, we thought about taking a risk, attacking the start and delivering the tactical change that had eluded us in the heat. We did that and won our rep.

From then on, it was about building momentum. Jurgen and Christian our coaches have always been great at taking the pressure off us to ensure we can execute our best when it matters. Every day in the build up to the final it was about turning the dial a little bit more, not going crazy but looking for that one percent here and there.

"We knew what had happened in the heat with the Germans, and knew we could not let them get away."In the final we just talked about being tough and brave. We knew what had happened in the heat with the Germans, and knew we could not let them get away. On the day we executed that perfectly, coming through that second 500m we were there in the mix going head to head with the Germans and Polish. Then coming through the thousand I looked across at the field and said guys, this is our moment, this is our moment, we can have it here. The guys were fantastic, our rhythm was so strong, bulletproof! It felt that at anytime when the other crews attacked we could defend our lead and hold our position.

We had a two-man lead coming in to the last 250m. I was aware the Germans were starting to charge, but I felt as long as we stuck to what we did together we’d come through. Then with 150m to go I thought yeah, this is it. Although when we came over the line I still had to double check—then the excitement hit!

-Phelan Hill

A version of the above was published in the Leander Club newsletter. Thanks very much to Phelan for sharing this with us! You can keep up with Phelan and the rest of the team via Twitter, as well as through the new British Rowing Instagram account. The World Rowing Cup series is just around the corner! 

-RR

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