The GB rowers have been training at home since March, but this week they returned to the national high-performance centre at Caversham
It has been over five months since the Great Britain Rowing Team has trained at their purpose-built boathouse in Caversham. So long in fact that the rowers will need to check-in with the team psychologist to ensure they are ready to return to a centralised system, albeit with some COVID-minded adaptations to the usual routine. Between psychological assessments and brutal erg workouts three national team rowers have squeezed in time to discuss how they feel about the new season and the prospect of coming back together.
Vicky Thornley did not enjoy the smoothest of rides during lockdown. Vicky, the Olympic silver medallist and former European Champion, suffered a broken elbow after colliding with a van during one of her long cycling sessions. It was a disaster that could have been so much worse and might well have ended her hopes for Tokyo next year. This stress was heaped on an already uncertain period owing to the pandemic. So, it was great to see Vicky in good spirits, via a video call, discussing how well her injuries have healed.
She said: “I’m back on the water, back on the ergo, and back in the gym lifting weights. The fractured elbow healed about six weeks ago so I’m now focusing on rebuilding the strength. It is amazing how quickly the body heals if you give it the right tools to mend itself.”
“Part of being so excited to get back to Caversham is because the team has really thrived in lockdown and we all want to show off our new skills”
Of course, Vicky applied her determined single-sculler mindset and nutritional understanding to implement the process of recovery and take charge of her rehab. She says it might have been harder if she was at Caversham on the Wattbike watching everyone on the water, but now she feels in a great place to return to a group set up and “crack on” with the “long season ahead”. Vicky is focused on the next block of training through till Christmas and laying the foundation to regain peak fitness for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Fellow Rio Olympian John Collins is brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of getting back into a team environment. He says the isolated lockdown training has been “unbelievable”. At first, he was apprehensive about taking on the erg mileage solo, but gradually discovered a greater self-sufficiency that replaced the “push” he previously gained from coaches and teammates.
“I do think a part of being so excited to get back to Caversham is because the team has really thrived in lockdown and we all want to show off our new skills,” he said.
John is aware that there will be a period of adjustment to get everyone operating efficiently in a team environment which also includes training on the River Thames at Longridge, as well as Caversham.
“It is going to be very interesting to see how it all comes together. We’ve been on our own for so long now and a lot has changed, so the transition back to working together and creating a team mentality will require some effort.”
It is a task that John is looking forward to and he hopes that the other rowers will bring back “a massive sense of confidence” from their isolated training. Never afraid to share his feelings John says he has “missed everyone so much” and “can’t wait to get back to Caversham training with the boys and to get the job done”.
“A lot of people have built up some amazing momentum during lockdown”
Another international sculler who is eager to get back on the Caversham lake is Imogen Grant. Imogen, a former Cambridge Blue and two-time world championship bronze medallist, helped secure the Olympic qualification spot for the GB lightweight women’s double at the 2019 World Rowing Championships at Linz. She cannot wait to escape her home-made lockdown gym.
“I am excited to train with a larger group and erg with multiple people instead of on my own in my living room. I know we start in singles, but I am eager to get back in the double.”
Imogen says the team were given “the longest break ever” over the summer after the Olympic postponement to allow the rowers a chance to “rest and recharge”. Since the break she has been rebuilding the training load in preparation for a return to the national training centre. She expects there will be challenges and teething issues, but is still positive and keen to face these head on.
“The way we train at Caversham is going to be different to what it was before, our coaches have been working hard to make sure we can get the training done while still following government guidelines and minimising the risk of coronavirus.”
Echoing John’s sentiments, she believes the fruits of lockdown training are ripe for harvest.
“A lot of people have built up some amazing momentum during lockdown and I think by bringing everyone back together we can use that momentum to have a really productive block of winter training.”
It might feel like déjà vu for the national team rowers but, having overcome months of adversity, they have just 11 more to go (again) until the Tokyo Olympics. Let’s hope they can channel their new-found resolve and erg-hardened fitness to excel next summer.
Photos: Kerry O’Shea