BRIC 2017 – The Verdict

As the dust settles on the 2017 British Rowing Indoor Championships it is time to reflect on another fantastic event. With 2,100 athletes competing across 72 races, cheered on by 1,500 spectators in the stands of the Olympic velodrome, BRIC 2017 was the biggest indoor rowing event ever held in this country. A number of competitors traveled significant distances to race – many flying in from Europe, some from as far as the United States. As usual there was a brilliantly egalitarian mix of on-water rowers, gym rowers and cross-fitters competing shoulder-to-shoulder on the race floor.

The race floor before action got underway

Perhaps one could attribute some of interest that saw spectator tickets sell out in advance to the participation of Bradley Wiggins in his debut rowing competition, but I like to think that it was more a reflection of the continuing growth of the sport of indoor rowing. Credit must go to British Rowing for their organisation and running of a slick and professional event, and their ongoing support for indoor rowing.

The Men’s Open category was doubtless one of the main attractions of this years championships. Could Bradley Wiggins, after only 9 months of training, compete with the elite British rowers? There had been much speculation before the event regarding the sort of time we could expect from Britain’s most decorated Olympian over the 2km distance. His coach and mentor, James Cracknell, had teased us with a prediction around the 6 minute mark – not a winning time, but an incredibly competitive one for someone so new to the sport. That he posted a time of 6:22.5 for 21st place, 34 seconds behind the 5:48.2 score that Adam Neill delivered to defend his title, was therefore a disappointment to many, not least for Wiggins himself.

Wiggins will improve as he adjusts to the demands of a new sport and sharpens his technique, but for this observer it demonstrates an important point. Rowing is hard. The major 2km milestones we set for ourselves on the ergo are, by their very nature, incredibly difficult to achieve and can only be done so through years of hard training. I speak from bitter experience. We should, therefore, not look at his performance from a narrow perspective as a personal failure. Rather it very effectively emphasizes the levels of endurance, power and technical discipline required in our sport. There is no fast-track to success, regardless of any previous sporting background. All rowers, young and old, can take comfort from that.

Other highlights of the day included Graham Benton claiming another gold medal to add to his burgeoning collection as he took top spot in the 40-49 heavyweight category in a remarkable time of 5:55.7 – one of only 7 athletes to break the 6 minute barrier and the only non-GB squad rower to do so. On the women’s side Mortlake’s Kaila Engelsman was the Open category winner in 7:01.6, but the best time of the day was reserved for Imogen Magner who’s 6:56.0 took gold in the Under-23 category. Nicola Lawless, runner-up to Magner, and Anna Muehle (30-39 heavyweight winner) were the only other female rowers to go below 7 minutes, in 6:58.2 and 6:57.3 respectively. Incredible performances by all.

From a personal perspective the 2017 championships were bittersweet. As it turned out my BRIC preview blog post was an accurate prediction of the top 5 within my 40-49 heavyweight category as was my anticipation that I would find myself behind with 500 metres to go. I was indeed behind – some 60 metres behind – and while I was able to close the gap a little in the sprint to the line, Georgia Peramatzi’s winning time of 7:03.5 is beyond what I’m currently capable of. My time of 7:13.5 was faster than last year and good for a silver medal. Victoria Starr was once again on the podium taking bronze.

While I was sad to lose my title, I was greatly heartened by the medal winning performances of my teammates from Auriol Kensington Rowing Club and Sub7 Indoor Rowing Club. It is their hard work and dedication that provides my motivation to compete, and to share in their triumph more than made up for any personal disappointment. I was especially proud of Diana Sargent, who I’ve been helping to train in the lead up to these championships, as she secured a bronze in her 55-59 heavyweight category. Diana is the first of many athletes I hope to train for this event. My ambition for 2018 will be to train a much larger group.

Celebrating with Diana Sargent

This seems an appropriate place to conclude this blog, reflecting positively on a fantastic 2017 championships, and looking ahead to what next year may hold as the sport grows ever stronger and more popular. I’m incredibly excited to be able to play a small part of that.

BRIC 2017 – Bigger, Better, Faster

With the British Rowing Indoor Championships less than two weeks away (Saturday, 9th December) it was the obvious topic for my first blog post.

The 2016 Championships marked my first experience of indoor racing and it was an incredible event – held at the Lee Valley VeloPark, with a record entry of 1,900 competitors and a sell-out crowd. To their credit our sports national governing body, British Rowing, has thrown their weight fully behind indoor rowing in recent years and this event signified the full realisation of that project. That said the 2017 event promises to be even bigger, not least due to the entry of a certain Sir Bradley Wiggins.

For my part I go into the 2017 Championships looking to defend the 40-49 Masters Heavyweight title I won last year. My strategy then had been to go out hard for 500 metres, get in front, and control the race from there. This played well into my hands as it’s the way I’ve always approached the 2km time trial on the ergo. The plan worked and I was delighted to win in a time of 7:14.3.

Receiving my gold medal at BRIC 2016

In 2017 both of the women who stood beside me on the podium twelve months ago¬†(Victoria Starr and Hannah Hawkins) are returning, along with the 2014/15 champion (Sally Pollok-Morris) and the current 1000m world record holder (Georgia Peramatzi). With such a talented field I’m well aware that I could find myself behind entering the closing stages of the race, but will stick to my tried and tested game-plan and will rely on my sprint finish to get back into medal contention. The stage is certainly set for an incredibly exciting race alongside some really fast athletes; athletes whom I have the utmost respect for. I really can’t wait.

I’m not just at BRIC2017 to race. I’ll be vociferously supporting teammates from the two clubs I proudly represent, Auriol Kensington Rowing Club and Sub7 Indoor Rowing Club, and like everyone else very curious to see how Sir Brad stacks up against the elite rowers in the Open category. Naturally I’m also supporting the sport of indoor rowing. Given the amount of time and energy put into the sport by so many people it’s great to see it fully supported and going from strength to strength each year. Long may that continue.

Are you competing at BRIC2017, coming to support or volunteer? I’d love to hear your aspirations and thoughts on the championships, and your views on the growth of indoor rowing as a sport in its own right. Please feel free to comment below.