Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Some thoughts about Nat Champs

As most of you rowing folk will already know, British Rowing have recently decided to drastically change the date for the National Rowing Champs (now British Rowing Champs). Martin Gough's blog explains it here.

My first thought was "October?!?!?!" As in the month after September?

Who wants to do a full on 2K regatta in October? The racing season finishes with Nat Champs/Home International in July OH HANG ON.

I then realised that all hope of me going to Nat Champs with my Uni crew was pretty much scuppered what with people graduating and getting jobs and being home all summer. You can just about organise it to keep training till mid July but bastarding October? Any race in October will be with the next year's squad and therefore exceptionally likely to be ropey and in no way prepared for a weekend of 2K funtimes on Dorney.

One of the leading reasons for the drastic date move into the rowing down season was so that GB squad members could take part in the regatta. Although a lovely idea on paper, conjuring images of Kath Grainger cheerfully sculling in a quad full of Marlow club people, I honestly feel this is fundamentally flawed in the following ways:

1) Most of the GB squad is concentrated in one club, i.e. Leander which essentially means that if the above goes ahead (and the team is forced (?) to go to race at Nat Champs), Leander will almostly certainly win every single medal going with huge margins. If squad members were more spread out among the rowing clubs then this idea could just about work, but as it stands your average club rower who trains around their day job has zero chance of winning a badgering thing.

Now this isn't a bitch along the lines of "ooooooo all the squad will take all the medals boo hoo" - I mean they are faster than the rest of us. (Dur). It's more the fact that if you represent GBR at a World Champs/Olympics you are de facto more awesome at rowing than the rest of us and a Nat Champs gold is sort of trivial and pointless. There is also a amateur/professional divide thing to consider too. I know that officially the members of the squad are amateurs and aren't paid as such to row, but they are professional in the sense that they are funded and only have to concentrate on being awesome at rowing. It couldn't be more different for Mr/Ms average club rower who trundles on down to their local club. In my opinion it's equivalent to having a tennis league with Andy Murray et al. in along with people who play a couple of times a week with their friends. Just incomparable and a pointless exercise.

2) I fail to see what is the advantage for anyone here - by definition the squad are made up of the best rowers in the country. They train badgering hard three times a day and are funded. They are probably also slight genetic freaks (in a nice way). Turning up to Nat Champs and racing a bunch of people who squeeze sessions in around degrees and jobs and children and just row because they think it is awesome and fun is just pointless. By definition the squad will beat the rest of us by c. a minute over the course and it's crap racing for all involved.

3) October isn't just the beginning of the rowing season for club rowers but for squad rowers too - they will all have just come back after a post-Olympics holiday after presumably winning all the golds :-)
Why the hell would they then want to do a two day 2K regatta racing people they are going to utterly destroy anyway in shitty Autumnal wind and rain? Heck, the squad don't do the first October long distance trial as it is (which is more well suited to the beginning of the season anyway). I just fail to see why they would disrupt their training/pre-season recovery for this madness.

Now I can appreciate that Nat Champs as it stands (stood) needs a rethink and I'm sort of glad someone had the bollocks to make some changes. However, this seems very poorly thought out and with a complete lack of consultation with the people that usually go to Nat Champs, i.e. your club rower for whom it's the last big race of the season and a thing to work towards.

Maybe I'm just feeling a bit bitchy because I will have no crew to go with this year (and it's in OCTOBER). I don't know. This is just my very opinionated first thoughts on the matter. I'd like to know what you all think in the comments below - can anyone see and advantage at all to this new system?

More typical post to follow over the next couple of days (on 2K ergos wooooo :D). Night!


  1. Advantage for the sadists among us as they watch and laugh as the lwts try to make 57kg in October?

  2. Oh yeah shit! Had not thought of that either! Oooo ouch....

  3. oh god, making lwt! hadn't even thought of that. no. just not possible. :-(

    I agree that they need to do SOMETHING about nat champs - just not this. Not well thought through (if it is, their communication is rubbish) and too late to change for the current season.

    I see some advantage in having squad rowers race, as it would raise the profile - maybe there would be actual spectators! Interest outside the sport! - but not so fair when most of them are at Leander (or a few other clubs).

    (tiny, tiny final point... not even all squad rowers are funded, some of them are just pure nuts.)

  4. MK - ye I can't claim know a lot about how the squad is funded (but I'm all about the sweeping generalisations).

    I think rowing's profile will be raised massively by the Olympics on Dorney but tbh we're not helped much as a sport by the fact rowing is just a crap spectator sport. Boat race, World Champs - just much better televised!

  5. I think having the squad at the National Championships is essential! It will certainly make it very hard to win but I'd rather have that than the joke of an event it is at the moment! After all, it is meant to be the National Championships, the best in the country, if you don't make it a hard event then you won't attract the serious 'club' rowers. It sounds very elitist but if you are not excited about facing up to GB athletes the you should probably not attend the event.

    If you are concerned about your university crews then you should aim to get into a crew boat at your home towns once the uni term has finished, May or June, that gives you a few months to prepare. National Champs is not a University event and should not make special arrangements to suit students.

    Just my opinion though!

  6. TBH, if you want to face up to GB athletes put your balls on the line and go to GB trials. The people who win Nat Champs (in the 1x certainly) are usually people who are trying to break into the team. The only reason serious club rowers aren't really there in large numbers at the moment is because they all stop post HRR, not because the squad aren't there.

    Also, RE uni crews (1) I'm a grad student so don't go home any more and (2) my home town doesn't have a river! :D

  7. MB, I'm afraid I completely disagree with you and I am not sure what basis you are using to justify your opinion - if you look at the line of up for the small boats finals - these are the people on the edge of team GB / former team GB (e.g. W1x GOLD: F Sanjana - close to breaking into squad, SILVER: M Pauls, former GB lwt, BRONZE: K Johnson, Winner of elite singles at Met and qualified for HRR. Not sure what is a joke or low standard about that.)

    Nat champs is for the best crews / clubs in the country, therefore University crews have absolutely as much right to have the opportunity to take part as anyone - Oxford women won VIIIs head in 2008 - what's the point of not having the fastest VIII in the country unable to take part?

    The serious club rowers do turn up - but moving it to October will mean they won't / can't because they will be at trials, so you'll have the "unfit" squad racing the not quite so serious club rowers. Not sure how that's going to be a good race.

  8. @MB, no, I'm not excited about facing up to GB athletes, I do that 4 times a year already at GB trials... some of the events at champs at the moment are a bit of a joke but singles is a strong event with those who almost-but-not-quite-made-squad out in force.

    When I was doing uni rowing in Cambridge the only rowing club within commutable distance of non-uni 'home' was a far lower standard and didn't have anything suitable for me to do - I think this is similar for most people!

  9. A couple of valid points regarding there not always being a club close enough to your home town to join during Uni breaks... Uni's do have BUCS or BUSA to race at though which is really there championships

    The only events that have been listed above are the small boats though. I absolutely agree that the singles are a high grade event. I think the idea is to get more depth through the championships. By giving clubs chance to face up to GB athletes in crew boats I believe this will attract a bigger entry. I think it's important to note that you are facing the individuals back at there clubs and not the actual squad boats. I know some clubs have more GB athletes than others but thats just the way it is.

    Having the constant competition through trials, and potentially losing, if you then went to an event which is meant to be the National Championships and won with half the squad/trialists not there would that not be a hollow victory knowing that there are faster being around that couldn't be bothered to race as its seen as a minor event?

    I think the argument regarding the clash of trials is the biggest problem. The event does need to be placed after the October trials so that trialists are able to attend. I think that is key.

    I'd just like to say that I'm not sure if October is 100% the right move but I am glad they have recognised that the event was poor and are trying something new. I think wherever you put it on the calendar someone will find faults!

  10. I was pretty happy winning singles at nat champs with the understanding that it's not racing the GB internationals but the best of the rest of us. True that many other sports' "national championships" would rank me XXth rather than first, because they would include squad, but the standard of competition was such that it still felt like an achievement to win (I had to turn over people who'd beaten me earlier in the season), so not a hollow achievement, albeit a lesser one than if it did include squad.

    Having said that, your point about crew boats is very true - friends in certain lightweight crew events that should perhaps remain nameless referred to their gold medals as a complete joke. Something does need to be done - but I don't see that moving a 2k race to a time of year when all the other available races are over much longer distances is a sensible answer. Perhaps having it around the time of final trials in March / April would make sense: that way it would be a useful 'build' race for squad and club rowers alike as they lead into the international and domestic 2k racing seasons?

  11. Another reason why July is better for the event than October - the July event doesn't disrupt the footy season

  12. "By giving clubs chance to face up to GB athletes in crew boats I believe this will attract a bigger entry. I think it's important to note that you are facing the individuals back at there clubs and not the actual squad boats. I know some clubs have more GB athletes than others but thats just the way it is. "

    World Champs 2011 boats broken down by club:

    Leander 15
    Molesey 7
    London 2
    Brookes, IC, Marlow, RUBC, TSS and UL 1 each.

    Leander: 8
    IC & London: 3
    Gloucester: 2
    Army, Miverva Bath, OUWBC, St Andres, Tees, Thames, Wallingford & UL 1 each.

    That's not even touching the vast numbers of people Leander and to a lesser extend Molesey have on the edge of the squad. It won't work now with the centres of excellence that have been set up. In the 'good old days' the international boats had people from all sorts of clubs, not any more. The only clubs that will win anything (apart from the 1x events) will be Leander and Molesey, I don't see how that is good for club rowing.

    Women's events are a bit more open, but it will still favour a couple of clubs over the rest.

  13. Couldn't agree more with you Mr Tom!

  14. Other countries (here in New Zealand) have the national team compete in the nat champs. BUT there is a huge difference - there are status races... novice, intermediate, senior and premier = elite. so you only race the top guys if you are yourself a top guy. AND this gives us a chance of actually winning something at the level your club competes.

    THis would be possible in the UK only if the Nat Champs was run over an 8 day format like the World Champs. It also has a couple of other advantages
    1 - it's the NATIONAL champs i.e. the place where all rowers compete so everyone in UK could go and race. Presently it's only top rowers as all events are open
    2 - over an 8 day format you can race more events as you only have one race per event per day so doubling or tripling up is possible. This is not possible unless you are a goddess in the current format
    3 - splitting off the juniors to a separate competition is a GOOD idea - they take up way too much time and races the focus should be on adults (and possibly a couple of U23 events).

  15. Will the Nat Champs still be held every 4th yr in Scotland or will that also go by the board. Will the event be rotated around the country or are we just trying to keep everything in the Thames Valley?