rowingvoice

The independent voice of rowing in Britain

More silence over Grobler book

Posted by rowingvoice on September 16, 2018

A briefing from Hammer Smith:

Browsing in a fine bookshop the other day, my attention was caught by a biography of Jurgen Grobler, Britain’s stunningly successful chief men’s rowing coach, published by HarperCollins in July. I had seen a few references to ‘More Power’ in the media, but couldn’t recall a mention in British Rowing’s official Rowing+Regatta magazine, the latest 64-page edition of which had just popped through my letter box.

If I was writing a diary for the magazine as I did during its Regatta imprint, I would be posing the question as to why the official publication of Grobler’s employer should banish a book that tells his story of coaching eight crews to Olympic gold (and more to World gold) after an equally outstanding career in East Germany.

I would be asking why the editor of Rowing+Regatta dropped the idea of an extract prior to publication, which I understand she wished to do?

I would be asking why a book by two well-qualified authors [Hugh Matheson and Christopher Dodd] that has received critical praise and records British rowing’s climb to the top of the world should be shunned by the governing body – especially as the story has continued this week at the World Championships in Plovdiv, where Grobler is coaching the GB eight half way through the Tokyo Olympiad.

I would be asking who is the gatekeeper at British Rowing; who is the puppeteer pulling the strings?

Surely something for BR’s new chairman, Mark Davies, to investigate?

Hammer Smith, UK 2018

Plovdiv update:  the silence over the book at the world championships has been near-total, with many international coaches appearing not to know it exists, and of course no sign of it on the tables of the WorldRowing merchandise stalls run by New Wave under licence from FISA.  Grobler himself has repeatedly said he hasn’t read the book, nor the Times newspaper piece which rather selectively extracted the most sensational parts, but apparently friends of his have told him about both.

 

Some More Power review extracts:

But it is the human side at which Grobler has proved masterly – for instance, in managing the huge talents of Steve Redgrave through the vicissitudes of colitis in 1992 and type two diabetes in 1997, afflictions that would have seen an immediate end to his career had he been in the East German system. Grobler, by so many accounts in this book, is fundamentally honest with his rowers, hugely loyal, but also practical and at all times unsentimental.

– Mike Rowbottom, Inside the Games

 

We see a man who one imagines is capable of playing multiple chess games at once. His attention to detail runs to deciding who rooms together at training camps. In the words of Andy Triggs Hodge, It’s a genius at work.

– Tim Koch in Hear The Boat Sing

 

Describing the interaction between many well-known names and institutions, this is essentially a history of the development of modern rowing from a gritty but haphazard amateur pastime into today’s professional medal-making machine. A machine hand-built from almost nothing but with considerable influence from Jurgen Grobler’s hands on the steering wires.

– Neil Pickford, Amazon

 

Enjoyable read, well researched and written, particularly valuable for bringing to life the period of rowing history either side of the well-documented Redgrave/Pinsent era. It gave me a new sympathy for the pressures Grobler must have faced working within the GDR system and of the unavoidable personal compromises that he would have had to make in order to protect his family.

– G Braham, Amazon

 

Grobler may eventually decide to tell his story in his own words. In the meantime, however, this richly knowledgeable account does an excellent job on his behalf.

– Mike Rowbottom, Inside the Games

 

It is a splendid achievement by the authors, Hugh Matheson and Christ Dodd, the literary equivalent of the pairing of Redgrave and Pinsent or Bond and Murray – More Power to their elbows!

– Tim Koch in Hear The Boat Sing

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Posted in GB team, general, Hammer Smith, history, international, Olympics, regattas | Leave a Comment »

Wind, fairness and precedents wind up the nations in Plovdiv

Posted by rowingvoice on September 13, 2018

Dateline:  Thursday 13 September 2018

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

I was up until stupid o’clock on Wednesday night writing for the Telegraph (see a heavily edited piece here) and Row360 (see an explanation of what, who and when here) but they are more factual articles, so here’s a sprinkling of personal opinion with a bit more nerd-detail.  Those who haven’t got their heads around the 12th September 2018 fairness issue might like to read the Row360 article first.

At the time when racing was suspended on Wednesday I was bewildered. The serious lack of communication with the independent media nowadays (we are hardly ever given information proactively any more) meant that there was huge confusion about the reason, particularly once the announcement of suspension “until further notice” had gone out. Even allowing for the sheltered nature of the press tribune, the wind was so average that it couldn’t seem possible that the Fairness Commission (FC) would be unable to find a solution to the issue of wind dramatically favouring lanes 5 and 6. With all the weapons at their disposal – reorder lane draws, shift lanes over, delay until the wind direction stabilises later – they’ve not had an insoluble problem in the eighteen years I’ve been regularly covering international events. So it must be lightning, I reasoned — there was an ominous cloud gathering behind the start and thunderstorms had been predicted, indeed were being discussed by members of the FISA communications team who were clearly as much in the dark as us.

But no, the reason was solely fairness, and as it turned out the reason for suspending indefinitely then cancelling was that it became clear the wind was varying far too much and too quickly to offer any chance of being able to rejig lanes fast enough for fair racing.

Here are FISA’s FC measurements as logged from the anemometers (wind meters) after the end of racing:

I cut off the headers snapping pictures of the data quickly, but think the left-hand graph is from the anemometer above lane 6 on the bridge, where the FC members were discussing the problem during racing, and the right is from a different anemometer clearly showing that wind varied across the course. WS = wind speed, T = temperature, and I think TR (which goes to -100 below zero) is something to do with the difference between speeds of signals of the transducers in the anemometer, which provides a check on either wind speed or direction.  The main thing to notice is the wildly jumping wind numbers after 3pm.

“Every time we thought [the wind] was going down, it came back up again,” said Rosie Mayglothling, one of the three Fairness Commission members, explaining that they decided to completely cancel as soon as they realised how impossible it would be to predict anything. “And a lot of athletes had already been on the water a long time.” The wind was acting at odds to what had been predicted, especially since which lanes were affected was varying too much.

A side-bar to the team managers’ meeting was the sight of Svetlana Otzetova — FISA’s events doyenne, Bulgarian rowing icon and deeply connected to this course — telling Rosie Mayglothling of the Fairness Commission that they were using the wrong (non-local) weather forecasters and that the locals had predicted the problem. It’s easy to be wise after the fact, but FISA normally prides itself on its recruitment of really good weather expertise at every championships, and it’s a shame if the best aren’t currently involved.

The FISA Executive Committee (EC) has huge powers at a world championships, and for speed of operation at an event it takes charge of some other decisions which might normally be farmed out to a specialist commission. There is no appeal within FISA from the EC’s decisions (although countries have appealed to the overarching Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) at the Olympics a couple of times). The four federations who appealed the LM2x results (at a guess, Canada, Greece and two others) already knew that nothing would change when they entered the team managers’ meeting on Wednesday evening.

To those who think the FC was slow in reacting, in fact they sprang into action quicker than I have ever seen them do before. That is partly what tripped the situation up: within the first two races of the afternoon (109 and 110) the fairness commissioners had quickly decided racing was affected, and they shifted the lanes across to try and even out the disadvantage during the third LM2x quarterfinal (111) while they put in process the mechanism to halt racing and make a bigger change in lanes. The error came in doing this for race 113, but letting the WhatsApp message to the 62 team managers go out before race 112 had even started. It meant that six countries knew their quarterfinal, which would decide the top 12 crews this year and almost certainly impact on individuals’ funding, was definitely unfair at a point when it could have been postponed.

Was there an instinctive desire to let the whole of a set of quarterfinals take place before changing anything? That wasn’t addressed at the team managers’ meeting (and is easy to deny after the fact so I didn’t even bother asking) but there’s no doubt it was simpler to put all 24 LM2x into the exact same position. There’s overall fairness (was our race legit?) but there’s also fairness within your boat class, and both fret away at the minds of rowers and coaches. FISA go to great lengths to ensure that all rival crews have the same number of races, and if early suspension of activities had given the last two races a better chance of fairness, that would have increased the pressure to re-row the first two (with the knock-on effect that those competitors would have done an extra 2km race before the A/B semis on Thursday).

Nothing was easy for anyone yesterday. Both points of view are valid: the teams who feel they were robbed rightly point out that the decision will make it much harder for anyone to appeal a race on fairness grounds in future. Many will be discouraged from doing so even if the FC or EC are getting something badly wrong. That’s not a good outcome. But the Executive Committee’s concerns that if they did allow re-rows in this case they would be opening the door to an endless procession of re-row requests — perhaps even of Olympic finals — were also valid. Where would the line be drawn on how unfair it had to be to spark a re-row?

In the minds of some, the FC has been disenfranchised by being “overruled” but the FISA system is clear: the FC is there to inform the EC about the level of fairness during races, and to take prompt action if possible to improve fairness on the spot or delay racing until that can happen. But the one thing it cannot do is decide the outcome (eg a re-row or results standing) if unfairness is proven to have occurred. (And in fact the FC cannot restart racing after a suspension — that is done by the president of the umpire jury, though acting on their advice.) The EC made no bones about it: they totally agreed with the FC’s judgement of unfairness in the races which had already taken place, but saw greater reasons to disallow re-rows than to allow them in this situation.

Nobody wins here.

There is one lurking question to the Executive Committee which again I didn’t ask because it’s unanswerable and would not have drawn a reaction. It’s completely hypothetical, and any meaningful response FISA could give on the record would tie them to a future course they might regret. The question is this: “Had the unfair races happened in Linz 2019, with not just crew funding but Olympic selection at stake, would you have done the re-rows?”

Nobody can answer that at this point, but my gut feeling is that the Executive Committee might, faced with cutting several high pedigree crews out of any chance of qualifying automatically for Tokyo, have gone the other way. And probably insisted that this was for Olympic qualification reasons only, thus not a precedent for other regattas. Certainly the pressure on FISA would have been even bigger if it was 2019 and countries might have considered an appeal to CAS. We aren’t there, but FISA is going to have to consider that a possible scenario and work out what to do if it ever does happen.

Future options involving instant racing-suspension were mentioned on Wednesday, and sound interesting though FISA will have to work through the implications and possible unintended consequences. Another suggestion in the pipeline is athlete lane selection, trialled in May and still under consideration for the future, although all that does is shift the initial draw, and doesn’t change what happens when the FC decides wind has altered so much that a redraw is needed. Could we cope with having an athlete re-select at the start of an Olympic final? Does it make a difference when the real problem is a lack of parity between not only lanes but races?  Will those athletes with teams who can afford seriously good weather predictions do better?

There are no easy solutions which don’t create new difficulties, or which might, in shifting responsibility from officials to teams, put a burden of responsibility on crews and a drain on resources for the less well funded.  If that creates new inequality, we’re no better off.

Discuss……

 

Rachel Quarrell in Plovdiv

Posted in general, international, Olympics, regattas, technical | Leave a Comment »

Sitting on the Tideway fence

Posted by rowingvoice on April 2, 2017

It’s tempting to break with journalistic tradition when writing a Boat Race preview for real rowers, and refuse to make a proper prediction.  But in an apt game of two halves, as I write this looking west from Putney towards Fulham Football Ground on the morning of race day, I’m going to sit on the fence slightly for the men’s race but make an utterly unsurprising prediction about the women’s.

The 72nd Women’s Boat Race, going off first on the racecard later today, must be Cambridge’s to lose, something which has rarely been said in the last 16 years during which they have won only four races.  Oxford’s women are a decent crew, but Cambridge are superb, and it probably didn’t need the LIght Blues’ emphatic second place only four seconds behind Leander at the Women’s Head, to confirm it.  More importantly, the Molesey crew which came fifth at the Head, 45 seconds slower than Cambridge, raced honours even with Oxford only a week later in two half-course pieces.  Fixtures are not the Boat Race, and that was two weeks ago, but this is a powerful and experienced Cambridge crew who are a credit to women’s rowing.

During starts on Friday at the Fulham Wall, Oxford’s women were fractionally higher rating in their wind-up and settled a little later than Cambridge, but the Light Blues were at least a second quicker to the end of the Star and Garter building, regardless of station – raising the prospect that the Dark Blues may have to use up some serious energy staying with them over the first couple of minutes.  Oxford have shuffled their crew since the weigh-in, re-rigging from bow to stroke-side stroked to put Canadian international Emily Cameron in the hot seat.

Much has been made of how Westminster School will have a winner in the Women’s Boat Race regardless of the result, since both coxes hail from there.  They didn’t race each other at school – Ellie Shearer is a couple of years above Matthew Holland, and in fact only rowed at Westminster, starting proper coxing when she got to Oxford.  Oxford have no returning Blues and their president Isa von Loga had to retire injured from trialling this year, while Cambridge sees four returners including Myriam Goudet and President Ashton Brown, who will be spurred on by the swamping which marred last year’s event, as well as former Olympic lightweight Claire Lambe.

“For us this year there’s been a lot of rebuilding and a lot of new structures in place,” said their coach Ali Williams, “so it’s just trying to do what we can each day to bring the boat together.  It’s just a matter of trying to do the best we can on the day and see what the result ends up being.”  By contrast Cambridge coach Rob Baker has without a hint of bragging described his crew as the best that Cambridge has ever produced.

Given that relatively calm conditions may lend themselves to a fast race, there is every chance the Light Blues, who covered the Women’s Eights Head in 18-17, could match that in the opposite direction today which would bring down the official fastest Tideway time for the women’s race to within two minutes of the men’s record.  The outcome looks to be in Cambridge’s hands, but the chances are strong that her old university will win the first full Blues Boat Race umpired on the BBC by Sarah Winckless, making history as the first televised female umpire for the event.

On the men’s side it’s much harder to be certain.  Both crews have looked good all week, and there was little to choose between them during practice starts.  Cambridge drop their blades in more delicately and build the power during the stroke, while Oxford have Sean Bowden’s trademark hook-and-sweep, a more definitive start to the stroke.  Both techniques can work over a full course, and both look at home in the rather bumpy high-tide water their Boat Race will deliver, so race coxing and coolness under fire may matter more than normal.

Betting is firmly on the side of the Oxford men, perhaps due to them managing to beat Brookes a month ago, while OBUBC got the better of Cambridge in January.  It’s dubious how comparable that is, though – Boat Race crews accelerate in their preparation more than Head crews during the final two months, and when Cambridge are on form they are very fast.  Knowledgeable punters may also be taking into account the fact that Sean Bowden has not lost two Boat Races in a row (neither at Oxford nor at Cambridge), and he is never more dangerous than when coming back from a defeat.

In pedigree terms, Oxford have five returning blues and the two Olympians Olivier Siegelaar and Michael DiSanto, while Cambridge have only two returning Blues and no Olympians, but the slight advantage in weight and height.  They also have the knowledge that three former Blues are now sitting in Goldie, meaning the newcomers will have earned their seats.  For the likes of Freddie Davidson, the Light Blue 2-seat who at 18 is the youngest in the race, this is a serious vote of confidence.

Michael DiSanto, Oxford’s President, benefits from not having rowed in last year’s losing crew – he was away training for the Olympics in the US national team.  Of the 2016 loss to Cambridge he said “It’s not something we talk about too much – it’s a new crop of guys so we wouldn’t want to force that down the throat of the boat.  We had to find what unifies nine of us this year.”  “There’s a new sense of purpose for the race this year,” said his coach, Sean Bowden.

The press have been excited by the prospect of a serious rivalry given that Oxford’s bowman Will Warr rowed for Cambridge two years ago.  He will be only the third openweight man to have rowed in both side’s Blue Boats in the history of the race (there have been others in the women’s and lightweight crews), but the lack of communication with his old team-mates is more to do with focus on his own job than any real antipathy.  However, for those who love patterns, his two predecessors both moved from losses with Cambridge and then won with their new university, Oxford.

Back to the rowing, there is something about Oxford’s final few days of paddling which hints at hidden extra strengths, and suggests the smart money may not be wrong.  But in the end this year’s men’s Boat Race, which could be close for many minutes, may well come down to which has the weakest, rather than the strongest, link.

Rachel Quarrell.

Posted in Boat Race, history, women | Leave a Comment »

Rio-on-Sea

Posted by rowingvoice on August 9, 2016

Greetings fellow rowing cognoscenti.

Imagine my delight when my agent booked me to Rio for an overseas gig. Imagine my disappointment when I was diverted from beech volleyball at Copacabana to the Lagoa at Flamengo FC, where there was supposed to be a regatta on, although ocean waves had postponed it by the time I got there. still, beggars can’t be choosers…

 

Unrequited taste buds

The media room, a cool and airy space on the second floor of the Lagoa’s vast grandstand, is a great location for yours truly to pick up gossip, but with the athletes’ restaurant and volunteer ‘rest zone’ both on the floor below, the gentlemen (and nine ladies) of the press are regularly tantalised by the mouthwatering smells wafting up the stairs.  Alas, hacks have no amenities at the course, and must join the endless queues of spectators for overpriced cardboard hot-dogs, plastic ‘chicken’ fried in concrete, popcorn and sugary snacks.  Or they would, but the (Coca-Cola) catering franchises promptly pack up and stop serving as soon as the crowds have gone post-racing. Time to show a re-run of Alive! in the basement cinema doubling here as a press conference room…

 

Aye aye cap’n

Australian sculling star Kim Brennan was in a bit of a mood on Saturday after only just managing to qualify for the W1x quarter-final in water described as “oceanic” by some rowers.  With the flat calm experienced by the first three men’s singles races, Brennan had chosen her lighter-weight shell to race in, not the heavier one rigged for bumpy water, so her slow race was partly explained by lugging a couple of dozen extra kilos along with her svelte self.  Saturday’s epic boat-swamping wind blew up in less than ten minutes, heat 4 of the M1x suddenly encountering whitecaps in the Bermuda Triangle between 500-1500m which made them look like novices taking full strokes for the first time.

 

Bob caught in the frame

Dr Robert Treharne Jones is a man of many parts. Some may have known him as a medical columnist in the old Regatta magazine. Some will have come across him as Leander’s press officer, tirelessly promoting the pink’uns’ role and status in the world. Some may even have benefitted from his considerate bedside manner when he practised as a GP. Some know him as a FISA race commentator, and excellent at that, in which capacity he is serving at the Estadio de Lagoa in Rio. Wearing many hats is common in rowing, but becomes a heightened bone of contention at the Olympics because, as I have remarked before, the IOC’s protocol is chiefly aimed at barring social intercourse at their great festival of sport. Media, athletes, officials, functionaries and spectators are kept apart by armies of volunteer Jobsworths as much as humanly possible. Only mosquitos float unhindered between the classes.

Thus the scene at the gate of the Olympic boathouse area the other day, when the Pink Palace’s press officer made to pass through with a camera round his neck. The volunteer gatekeeper, well known in other walks of life as creator of bespoke rowing clothing and wielding cameras, refused him entry as instructed. Oh, protesteth Bob Jones, but the women’s eight have invited me to photograph them. Then I suggest you engage an accredited photographer, came the stinging reply as the gate failed to yield.

(PS – I hear the Minister for Sport from Uruguay was dealt with in an equally summary fashion two days later.  Sir Matthew Pinsent has also been denied entrance, and Romanian grande rowing dame Elisabeta Lipa, who said “But I am Lipa!” when challenged.  “But you’re not supposed to be here” came back the lofty reply.  “Yes, I know,” said a crestfallen Lipa, turning away.

 

Don’t trust the press

One journalist came asking the media services team for help getting exactly the shot he wanted.  “What do you want to photograph?” he was asked.  “The dirty water,” the journalist replied.  “But there isn’t any.”  “I must have dirty water” insisted the desperate hack.  “Sorry — the only picture of dirty water I have is from two years ago,” said the local volunteer.  A large clean-up operation has taken place since then.  There are rather a lot of fish visible in it now:  better than the Tideway…..

 

Hammer Smith, Lagoa Rodriguo de Freitas, Copacabana

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Russia’s Rio situation in FISA – part 2: annihilation

Posted by rowingvoice on July 26, 2016

Tuesday 26th July 2016, 7pm, and the bomb landed.  FISA’s second stage announcement exploded the Russian Olympic team and left it in smithereens, with only six rowers and a maximum of one crew at the Games.

We’d call it decimation, if it weren’t for the fact that the Roman’s practice was to execute only one in 10 men, not 22 out of 28.

Once again FISA’s determined thoroughness left us reading their announcement long after working hours, when most IF blazerati would have left for home hours before.  This time, though, there was to be no small-scale chipping away at the Russian entry as had happened on Monday night.  In one fell swoop 17 rowers and both coxes were removed from the Olympic entry list, on the grounds that, although they (to quote FISA directly) “are not at all considered to have participated in doping” they “do not meet the conditions established by the IOC in their decision of 24 July 2016 for participation in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”

What this means is that, despite a total of 547 negative tests conducted on Russian Olympic-crew rowers since 2011, not enough of them were done by independent non-Russian testers at the right intervals to be sufficiently certain the athletes are clean.  It is probable, given FISA’s mention again of the discredited Moscow Laboratory, that too many of the most important tests, particularly out-of-competition ones which catch EPO use, were analysed there.   The list of removals was also supervised by an independent arbiter from CAS to ensure no unconscious FISA bias.  The news was greeted with delight by rowers on social media, hailing FISA as an example to the IOC and other sports.

The entire women’s team is considered compromised.  Only six Russian ‘FISA-cleared’ rowers were left after the vicious cull, having presumably been tested enough by non-Russian bodies to satisfy FISA and the IOC.  Aleksandr Chaukin is the lone lightweight left from the Russian LM4-, so unless he’s going to join an openweight crew, he won’t be off to Rio.  Georgy Efremenko was by July 2016 in the men’s four, and four others — Artem Kosov, Nikita Morgachev, Vladislav Ryabcev and Anton Zarutskiy in the men’s eight after 2015-16 reshuffles.  One can guess that these men, probably cursing their luck at being picked randomly by WADA or by doping testers at previous world cups and champs, are now cheering that they have enough negatives on their non-RUSADA record to be considered clean.  But the only crew such a Russian squad could possibly form from their entered events would be an M4-.

So, with immediate effect and clearly not worrying about a CAS appeal which is likely to come, FISA had removed the RUS W8+, M8+, LM4- and LW2x from the Rio entries and offered places in the M8+ and LW2x to Italy, W8+ to delighted Australia, and LM4- to Greece.  All these crews competed at the Lucerne final qualification regatta (either as FOQR crews or European Continental FOQR crews) and were the next in line after crews already going under tripartite or standard decisions.  There must surely be some scurrying around to get lightweights down to size and shells of the right type on the Lagoa:  as commentator Martin Cross tweeted on Tuesday afternoon before FISA’s bombshell, the Russians race Filippis so the Italians might well just borrow their boats (New Zealand’s mens quad has already been seen out in Rio in the shell of the Russian crew they replaced in June, apparently).

The remaining question is about the Russian M4-.  With only five openweight oarsmen available, it’s Russia’s only current option and FISA have not yet heard from them whether they wish to race it.  The replacement rules might also intervene, since only Efremenko was entered in the crew and technically no more than 50% can change for non-medical reasons after the Olympic entry deadline of 18th July, although FISA might choose to waive that problem.  To save you looking it up, the next crew in line from Lucerne would be New Zealand.

Or RUS could choose to withdraw entirely, but at the very last minute before the regatta starts (or by not turning up) therefore robbing NZL of the chance to compete.

I was in touch with Russia’s head coach Mike Spracklen by email just after FISA’s announcement, though I am now fairly certain he had not at that stage heard the very latest news of his squad’s demolition.  He was already both shocked and sad, though he believes his rowers to be clean.  “My goal was not only to raise the standard of Russian rowing but to show the athletes and the coaches that with good training they could be successful without use of drugs,” he said.  “We are still pondering, wondering what the IOC will hit us with next.”  I wonder if tonight’s decision will be too much for his optimism.

Update – after another email conversation with Mike Spracklen on Wednesday 27th July morning, I can confirm that when he gave the quote above, he had not heard about FISA’s second decision.  He further said to me, “Life here has been hectic, fraught with uncertainty.  Communication here in the Russian team is almost non-existent which may be because I do not speak the language, but also because we do not have qualified management.  I understand [FISA’s] motives but it is hard on the innocent athletes who worked hard and were not using drugs.”  Spracklen is known to have the services of an interpreter through whom he speaks to the Russian athletes, other coaches, management, medics and support staff. 

 

Rachel Quarrell.

Posted in international, Olympics, regattas | Leave a Comment »

Russia’s Rio situation in FISA – part 1

Posted by rowingvoice on July 26, 2016

My recent post for those not on FB: 

 

This won’t be short, but a summary and a few thoughts about FISA’s statement released late on Mon 25th July http://www.worldrowing.com/news/first-stage-fisa-executive-committee-decision-related-ioc-decision-russian-participation-rio-2016

Context: RUS qualified M8+, M4-, LW2x and W8+ at the 2015 worlds, LM4- at the FOQR and also M4x (already disqualified and removed) also at the FOQR.
This entitles them under IOC/FISA rules to have max one M spare, one LM spare, and one W spare in Rio.

1. FISA have decided they can’t ban the whole RUS team in Rio, which I suspect probably means both OG and PG (the IPC is yet to make its own decision anyway), and which is likely due to a lack of sufficient violations to meet their own criteria for a full NF ban (which will not necessarily be the same as other sports).

2. Confirmed recently to me by FISA Exec Director Matt Smith, the rowing rules are that 8 non-whereabouts doping violations have to happen within any given 12 months before a full national-team ban can be triggered (or 12 violations in 12 months even if some of them are only whereabouts misses). That isn’t currently the case hence no full ban, but see later. This, Article 12 of the FISA rules, was used in 2007-8 when RUS rowing last hit a doping fiasco.

3. The RUS M8+’s Ivan Balanchin is the only Rio RUS rower whose sample was in the positive group later manipulated by his lab or Minister of Sport, so he is the only one banned under that part of the IOC sanction. The IOC says “he may not be replaced” which I read to mean that he can’t be replaced on the squad, since there’s nothing to stop a M4- rower doubling up into his eights place under the rowing rules. It’s less clear whether a RUS spare (if they have already been accredited) could substitute for him.

4. It looks as if at the moment Balanchin’s violation cannot definitively be said to apply to the 2015 worlds, where he raced in and helped qualify the RUS M8+ for Rio. That might just be due to lack of time to deal with that aspect of the problem – FISA has not yet announced which of his results will be banned as a result of the McLaren report information (and it may need a lot more time to check data to be sure).

5. Under the no-presumption-of-innocence rule the IOC has instated against RUS, their W8+’s Anastasia Karabelshchikova and M4-‘s Ivan Podshivalov are ineligible for Rio since they were both done for doping in 2007-8 although they have now completed their bans.
Inside The Games has heard that they’ll appeal to CAS but my suspicion is that the IOC has this sewn up tightly enough that they won’t get far, particularly now the track and field ban has been upheld.

6. That reduces the RUS openweight teams to 7 women and 10 men (and a cox of each) plus potentially spares. LWs could substitute for the missing 8th W in the W8+, and men from the M4- could double into the M8+ (more likely than lightweights doubling up). I suspect we will hear more about the use or otherwise of spares on Tuesday.

7. FISA has also got together all the info on tests for the remaining RUS Rio athletes from 2011-16 and is re-checking it. Under the IOC ruling, they can (and I am sure will) ban any Russian who doesn’t have enough clear evidence that they’re doping-free from recent years. Under what you could call a “Lance Armstrong catch” the IOC says that lack of a positive test does not itself constitute proof of innocence, unless accompanied by sufficient (whatever that is) negative independently-run tests from outside the NF.

8. So, on Tuesday 26th we should at some point get information about those re-checked tests and which RUS athletes FISA feels are clean enough to go to Rio.

9. We have not yet had FISA’s views about replacement of whole crews – it had asked the IOC what the options were and it’s quite possible that it may be regarded as far too late to put other NF crews in if Russian ones are disqualified. Even the practical process of accreditation and boat transport/hire could get really tricky this late and it may not be in FISA’s hands.

10. At some point we may find that the frequency of violations within Russian rowing has reached the point where FISA can invoke its Article 12 full ban. If this is reached, I don’t doubt that FISA would ban Russia for a period of several years, quite possibly including the Tokyo Olympics: it’s been hardline before against drug-taking and in the same country.
Note that any violations in Rotterdam or the Paralympics could add to the tally as well as any samples from the last few years retested and now found to be positive (eg those initially tested by RUSADA).

Watch this space: there’s still a way to go.

 

Rachel Quarrell

Posted in international, Olympics, regattas | Leave a Comment »

Britain’s rowers top the table in the Savoie

Posted by rowingvoice on September 8, 2015

This was the piece I was asked to submit to Daily Telegraph Sport on Sunday 6th September 2015, for publication in Monday 7th September’s edition.  500 words were commissioned, along with as usual the results, but unusually a medal table and a list of the crews which had qualified for Rio (all of which I submitted).  The commission was made at about 3pm UK time, which was easily late enough for the desk to have a clear picture of which other news stories were coming in and which might need more space.

I have no idea why the piece was truncated so badly and why the other items were unused.  It’s a little depressing….


Britain’s best oarsmen beat Germany again in a battle of wills yesterday which simultaneously handed them a third successive world eights title, Olympic qualification and the top spot on the rowing medal table at the Olympiad’s most important competition so far.  The sorely-tested duo of Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley were sixth, but safely in the zone for Rio, and the women’s eight along with three B-finalist crews also successfully booked their slots for Brazil.

On the glittering turquoise waters of Lake Aiguebelette, the British men’s eight weathered repeated assaults from Germany and briefly New Zealand but with composed expertise kept their bows in front to finish with gold by 0.18 seconds.  Less than two feet, but equivalent to a mile compared with the 0.08 second margin in Lucerne.

“Our plan pretty much went spot on, but it was relentless pressure from all the other crews around us,” said George Nash.  “But it seemed like we had limitless ‘go’, every question asked of us we answered straight away, all this nervous energy being released right down the track, which was amazing.”

“That is definitely the tightest most difficult race I have ever been in,” said cox Phelan Hill.  “It was so close, we needed to have a blinder in that race,” added Pete Reed.  “Absolutely flat out from the first ten strokes and then no settling, we had to sprint.  There’s no weakness in the boat at all, I’m so proud to be part of it.”

They had to finish in the top five to make the important qualification cut for the Rio Olympics, but completing a hat-trick of eights victories to add to the three previous men’s medals, consolidated Britain’s status as the top men’s sweep nation.  “We were put together for a mission, which was to qualify, but we were always going for gold,” said Moe Sbihi.  “After 1500 metres I was sure we would win it,” said their coach Jürgen Grobler.

Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley had already qualified for next year, and put in a gutsy performance which saw them lying in medal contention for the women’s doubles until their energy gave out.  “I think we raced well, but in the last 250 metres, it felt like we ran out of steam,” said Thornley afterwards.  The women’s eight were similarly brave, and were only a second outside the medals, but having reached their most important target, a top-five finish to guarantee tickets to the Olympics.  They have been much more consistent at this regatta, a good omen for next year.

Fifteen medals from 24 boats is an extraordinary haul, with six in Olympic and four in Paralympic events, and more athletes to come into the selection frame.  The only boats not yet qualified for Rio are the women’s quad and single, who will have a chance next summer.  It would be too much to expect the results from the 2016 Olympics to match those of a home Games, but GB Rowing has made a substantial start to its Rio campaign.

Rachel Quarrell

Aiguebelette-le-lac, Savoie, France


What went wrong?  I now know that Jean-Christophe Rolland had been on BBC TV sounding what some read as alarmist about the chance of rowing being kicked out of the Olympics.  [Carefully hiding the confidence in it staying he had shown me when I interviewed him for Row360 about precisely the same subject, and which Matt Smith had backed up again a week ago in France.]

If I’d known that was going on TV – which my editors may well have been watching – then I would have included that issue in the piece.  They love a scare story.

Should I have bigged up Olympic champions Alex Gregory and Pete Reed in the men’s eight, as if they (á la Greg Searle 2012) were somehow the heroes of the crew?  After all, the Heather Stanning/Helen Glover piece I wrote the day before went straight up, and if you look at the Teleg rowing index you’d be forgiven for thinking they are the only two international rowers who count.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but we can’t let the media go back to the days when we had to start any rowing report with the words ‘Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent’ (even on days when they weren’t racing – yes really….).  I didn’t want to pretend two men pulled the eight along when all nine are superb – but perhaps that didn’t help.  The media can perfectly well cover big teams when it wants to but just can’t be bothered in a sport like rowing.

Should I have done a “We beat the Germans, shades of 1966” lead into the article?  I wasn’t far off, but I didn’t spend words on comparing it directly to football, which was perhaps a mistake.  But I don’t get 500 words to talk about one result, I get 500 words to try and show how the whole team is doing.  In that sense it’s a very different job from that which either James Cracknell or Matt Pinsent fulfill if they give the Telegraph or Times a personal piece.  

In the end, it’s not really about these ‘reasons’.  They are convenient excuses for why a national paper did not cover online the world championships of an Olympic sport at which the nation is successful, and why it slashed my report.  In the end the editor on the day didn’t want to give rowing a big run, nor a picture to go with the article.  And the online team didn’t think it merited online inclusion.  And as I said in my previous blog piece, those making these decisions just don’t think we care enough, because (until yesterday) there has been so little reaction about rowing and many other ‘minor’ sports.

RQ.

Posted in GB team, general, history, international, Olympics, regattas, women | 3 Comments »

How YOU can affect online rowing coverage

Posted by rowingvoice on September 6, 2015

I wrote the bulk of this in late August 2014, during the rowing world championships.  Didn’t post it up, thinking it was too whiny.   But then what it said came completely true….  Read the first section from 2014, then read to the bottom.


September 2014

Rowing is in serious danger of being dropped even further down the list of which sports matter in Britain (and most of the world), and you can do something about it.

Somebody’s going to have to — in fact a lot of people are going to have to — or else we will become an idiosyncratic corner of the sporting world, fit only for Boat Race jokes and Olympic tolerance every four years, on a par with synchronised swimming and Greco-Roman wrestling.  Yes, really, I mean it.  If you don’t get how serious this is and what a golden opportunity we have to change things for the better, please keep reading.

It’s a long blog, this one.

Tough, it needs to be.

First, a digression.  Five years ago the situation was different.  Sports importance in the media was based largely on what the ad-men told the editors and producers the likely revenue was.  Advertising revenue was linked heavily to leisure spend.  The sports which won were those in which spectators tend to spend a lot of money — on tickets, travel to events, equipment and memberships to play the same sport in their free time, clothing and branded merchandise.  Multiply this by spectator numbers (mostly TV), and you’ve got a decent measure of what media gurus take to matter.

So football, a sport in which even a very averagely keen fan might well buy a replica shirt and travel to several live matches every year, as well as kick a ball about in his or her local club, and which probably three-quarters of the UK population wants to watch on TV regularly, was and still is top of the heap.  Behind that come ‘major’ sports with similar levels of interest/participation/buying, but lower numbers — golf, rugby, cricket, horse-racing, tennis, motor-racing and lately cycling.

Then you start to get into what the papers consider to be ‘minor sports’ territory.  Not a huge following in national terms, not much merchandise, not really lucrative in marketing terms, rarely on TV.  Rowing has long been one of these, and it has had a bigger profile than most for two reasons — the annual televised Boat Race, and the national-treasure status of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent who are genuine household names.

Despite this, in a world where no media now tries to cover everything, and stories are picked either for shock value or because they involve an ‘important’ sport, rowing has been low in the pecking order.  As newspapers went through the Noughties depression, they mostly ditched minor sports people didn’t seem to care about.  Redgrave and then Pinsent retired, and it’s much harder for most other rowers to build a big profile in their shadow.  Since it made no difference to reaction or readership whether they bothered to carry a report on the semi-finals of a world cup regatta, editors mostly stopped doing so.  The Indy, Guardian, Observer, Mail, Express, Evening Standard and many others stopped almost completely, putting in only a few lead-rower features except in Olympic year (when the rules briefly change and reporting racing becomes sexy again for about a month and a half.)

It’s really hard to move up this ranking.  I believe that nothing will ever rival football in the UK, partly for historical reasons.   Athletics, through a combination of increased TV coverage and canny marketing of personalities as brands (think Jess Ennis, Mo Farah) has moved up into the major sports group.   Team Sky singlehandedly shifted cycling from ‘minor’ to ‘major’, aided by the Chris Hoy Effect on the track and the overlap of Bradley Wiggins’ road and track careers, but even that fades at non-seasonal times.  Without someone spending millions on major events, most sports will stay minor and then the question is, are they top of the minor league (eg equestrianism, boxing) or bottom?

Ok, digression over.  The recent change, and it’s come about mostly in the last 2 years, is the new way in which the print media, TV, radio and online-only sites are measuring interest in sports and thus how much coverage they should get.  Of course, it’s based on the internet because that is how the younger generations, the ones the advertisers are most interested in catching before their habits form, mostly engage with sports news now.  If you’re over 40, you probably won’t like it.  I’m afraid you have to deal with it — it’s not going to change.

Nowadays, simple online page-views are not enough:  not least because advertisers are now canny enough to know that people often flick ‘through’ pages and quickly on to something else.

Instead, what counts is reaction.

Anything.  Basically something which shows in measurable statistics that you have read the article, looked at the photograph, or watched the video.  This isn’t actually new – in the old days, coverage of a sport depended on how many Letters to the Editor it tended to provoke.  When I started at the Telegraph in 2002, a phone call was starting to have more impact.   Five years ago it became emails.  Times move on and now publicly visible internet reactions rule — probably because of the very fact that they can be seen by every reader, not just the editors.

It was announced at the Telegraph in mid-2014 that the success level of stories, ie whether they supported the DT’s aim to increase its readership, would from now on be based on what’s loosely called ‘social media reaction’.  This is a broad church.  It includes simply pressing ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ at the foot of an online article or video, or adding a comment, as well as more obvious SM methods such as retweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook or other hubs.

For newspapers, making a comment at the foot of the online version of the story is by far the best.  But it really doesn’t matter what the comment says, as long as it is not pure gobbledygook.  You can slag off the piece, the sport, or the author.  You can be positive, add something interesting related to the story, or just express your support of the sport or athlete.  Or you can say ‘good coverage’ while simultaneously whingeing about why the paper/news site/TV station doesn’t do more on this particular sport.  [Eg:  “Great Boat Race article, but why isn’t there anything online about the Head of the River?“]  It must be coherent, clearly written by a real person not a program, and show that you have fully read the piece.

Look at today’s sport in the online Telegraph – because it’s one I know tracks this information.  A piece (nearly any piece) on football gets published online, and within a day there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of reactions.  Dozens of comments, lots of +1 FB likes, retweets, the whole shebang.  Now compare this to minor sports, and you’ll see what I mean.  Often (including most rowing) they attract complete silence.  I finally received a decent level of likes and retweets for my 2014 world champs eights report (and two whole comments!), but the rest of my Amsterdam articles pretty much led to interaction in single digits, or zero.  People were reading the stories, but they were simply not reacting.  As far as the editors go, it might as well have been a mis-click.  The same is true of the Guardian and many other papers and sports news sites.

The Telegraph sport index is quite dynamic:  if a story is getting lots of reaction on its day of publication, it will first move onto the front webpage and eventually move higher.  (Football stories top the list on most UK pages because hundreds of people react to them.)  I am certain other websites are the same, even though the BBC and ITV sports news websites don’t yet show how many comments they’re getting.  They will soon.  They will already be counting them, you can be certain.


September 6th 2015, Aiguebelette

That’s what I wrote last year.  Then, in early summer 2015, the new Telegraph sport policy hit rowing.  Nothing from trials after the Boat Race fuss was over.  They put my European championships pieces online, then the final report from Varese, then blank again.  Nothing from Henley Royal Regatta despite amazing results and large numbers of column inches in the print paper.  Nothing from Lucerne at all.  Nothing on the team selection (by the way, all these got space in the paper), while the story of James Cracknell gallantly saving a man from drowning, which is not sports news, had prime position in the rowing index.  Nothing from Aiguebelette for day after day this week.  And then, suddenly, the Saturday Olympic-finals piece was published online last night.

So today, for the first time since May 2015, a Telegraph international rowing story has gone online.

If this is going to have ANY impact at all, lots of people need to react.  If they don’t, I suspect we will subside to a point where rowing in the Telegraph only gets online when feature articles about big stars are published.  News stories about racing will be ignored as they have been most of the summer.

If you want rowing through the winter on the Telegraph website, before the Olympic fracas kicks in, go and post a comment, share the article, or tweet the link.  Comments are best but any reaction is good.  I don’t care if you hate my writing, just react to it.

This is your chance to show the Telegraph sports editorship that rowing supporters DO care that their sport is covered properly.  If we could get 20-odd comments on this weekend’s piece, perhaps they will put more online.

It’s up to you.

Measurements of these social media and online interest stats takes place constantly, and is collated at every level: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.  Comments, likes and retweets are still have some value, even if they are made several weeks later.

If you support rowing and want to see it have a higher profile in the UK, then go to an online newspaper article about the sport — recent or a while ago — and comment, or like, or retweet it.  Doesn’t matter which paper or magazine, but it DOES have to be the independent press – there’s no need to persuade bloggers, national federations or team publications to carry on covering the sport.  The difficult area is the press which doesn’t HAVE to cover rowing, the publications which cover other sports too and currently only choose rowing occasionally because they think it doesn’t have many supporters.

If you don’t want to join Twitter, Facebook or other social media yourself, then ask someone else to do it for you.  Athletes, you should be like-ing and sharing articles which mention your crew, routinely.  Hopefully so will your friends and relatives.  Say something, it doesn’t matter what.

Do it now.

Thank you.

Posted in Boat Race, GB team, general, international, Olympics, women | 16 Comments »

Nereus smash Temple record by nine seconds – Telegraph Saturday 4 July 2015

Posted by rowingvoice on July 4, 2015

Most of this one made it in, barring the last couple of sentences.   Again not online.

 

History was made at Henley Royal Regatta yesterday when Dutch students Nereus obliterated the Temple Challenge Cup record, taking a staggering nine full seconds off it while beating Oxford Brookes University by a mere six feet in one of the regatta’s most competitive events.  Rowing records usually fall by a second or two, but a combination of a light tail-wind and zero stream put both crews well inside the previous mark as they battled along the Enclosures, filmed by a drone camera capturing stunning footage of Friday’s races.  No UK eights now survive in the Temple, after University of London lost to Cornell’s lightweights.

Five other crews set or broke records yesterday, including Nereus’ Prince Albert coxed four, and Sydney’s Visitors’ coxless four.  South Africa’s reigning Olympic and world lightweight champions James Thompson and John Smith equalled a formerly heavyweight Barrier record for the Double Sculls, while Glasgow Academy rowed through to beat Sydney’s junior scullers in a course record for the Fawley Cup, taking one second off the time equalled a few hours before by Sir William Borlase.

The national minute’s silence was held at noon, when thousands of spectators stood to remember the victims of the Tunisian shootings.  Single sculler Genevieve Bailhache-Graham was still trailing Olympic and Henley champion Mirka Knapkova as noon struck, and composedly sculled over the line in complete silence before bowing her head in her boat.

Princeton and Sport Imperial were forced to make last minute crew-changes as a result of injury, which in Imperial’s case turned into a nightmare situation.  Lacking their usual substitutes, who are away in Germany, Imperial were forced to draft in Fred Vystavel, a full member currently studying in Princeton and racing in their Ladies Plate B crew, when their usual five-man Geordie Macleod woke up with back pain.   However, a complaint was made that Vystavel as a junior varsity oarsman was ineligible to race in the lower-standard Thames event, a point upheld by the Stewards.  Sport Imperial could not race, and the decision handed their opposition, the impressive University Barge Club from Philadelphia, a very easy day paddling over.

Princeton’s B-crew stroke man, former junior international Julian Goldman, had to race the 2112-metre course twice, the Princeton Ladies’ Plate ‘A’ crew stroke also out for medical reasons.  Goldman’s B crew were flat out unsuccessfully trying to get on terms with Leander in the morning, before Goldman stroked the A-crew against undisputed US champions Washington six hours later.  The Princeton Tigers manfully held the Huskies level to halfway, but could not quite match their power.  A mishap was narrowly avoided when an umpire’s launch, which had accidentally entered the course while the crews were mid-race, backed rapidly off again in front of a full grandstand of spectators.

A different accident beset Düsseldorf’s Ladies’ Plate crew, who clipped the course-edge booms soon after the start, ending any chance of beating Yale’s varsity eight.  “It wasn’t the cox’s fault, we were caught by a current,” said the stroke.  “He usually steers very straight.”

The Princess Elizabeth schoolboy eights started to get interesting as Eton College lost by a length to Gonzaga High School, the Americans managing to match Eton’s pushes to stay ahead.  That puts Gonzaga up against Westminster, who beat Andover by a similarly narrow margin, while St Paul’s and Radley race the other semi-final.

Today the British national eight is in action against Australia, an unknown quantity as they have not raced yet this season.

Rachel Quarrell.

Posted in british club scene, GB team, general, Henley, history, international, Olympics, regattas, women | Leave a Comment »

Steering mishaps at Henley Regatta – Telegraph Friday 3 July 2015

Posted by rowingvoice on July 4, 2015

This is the piece I had in the Friday Telegraph, again not online (see earlier posts).

 

The Red Arrows flew across Henley Royal Regatta in dramatic fashion before lunchtime yesterday, but the roar of jet engines did not faze the junior scullers of Pangbourne College, who were racing Y Quad Cities at the time.  The result, a two-thirds of a length win to Pangbourne, was one of a handful of close races on the second day of the regatta.

A gusting cross-wind threw several steersmen off their game, their errors being caught on camera for everyone to see in this first year of live online streaming.  The worst culprits were Ruderverein Münster, whose Visitors’ Cup coxless four veered sharply across the course as soon as they started, colliding with Harvard University’s ‘A’ crew and stopping the race.  Steering was little better on the restart, Münster being repeatedly warned until Harvard, who had calmly rowed straight on, put in a push at Remenham which brought them through the erratic Germans and to a clear-water win.  Later on in the same event Eton Vikings and Griffen hit the wooden course-edge booms at Temple Island, allowing Yale University to row away.

The shock result of the day was a victory for Boston College High School over the Canadian schoolboy champions Shawnigan Lake, who led at first but were soon rowed through by the Americans.  Other comfortable winners in the Princess Elizabeth Cup were Radley and Westminster, while there were verdicts of less than a length for US crews Gonzaga and Phillips Andover.  Eton were pushed relatively hard by Salisbury School, who had lost two crucial oarsmen who had to start their naval cadet training.

Another upset came in the Thames Cup, where Thames Club ‘B’, having put out selected crew Tideway Scullers the day before, defeated a new crew from 2014 champion club Upper Thames by a length.  Today the London club meet Leander’s Star and Arrow journeymen, who managed to cling on for a half-length win against a spirited assault from Agecroft.  In the bottom half of the event lurk Americans University Barge Club, who posted a Barrier time only three seconds off the record, albeit in the best conditions of the day.

The Temple student eights are shaping up for some hefty fights today, as holders Oxford Brookes meet perennial Dutch rivals Nereus in the top half of the draw, and Princeton’s third varsity eight meet Lyon in the other half.  Headington and Y Quad Cities won the opening heats of the expanded Diamond Jubilee junior women’s quads.

Today the senior women’s events begin, and the internationals join the small-boat events, including European champions Matt Langridge and James Foad in the Goblets pairs.  The high-quality Ladies’ Plate event for elite eights also starts, featuring an east-west match-up between Princeton’s Tigers and the Huskies from University of Washington.

Rachel Quarrell

Posted in british club scene, general, Henley, history, international, regattas | Leave a Comment »