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.
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.
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.