All posts filed under “Rowing

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Saturday rowing finals – Fun, exciting and messy

The only event we had on Saturday was rowing. It included the A finals (and medal ceremonies) for the men and women’s single sculls, double sculls, coxless pairs, and the men’s coxless four.

Photos for everything can be found by clicking here.

The big race

The most exciting race of the day (for us) was the final of the women’s double sculls. Our friend Elise Laverick was racing for Great Britain with her partner Anna Bebington. It was going to be a tough race for them; while they had beaten most or all of the crews at some point or another, a couple of them had posted really strong times in the heats and reps earlier this week.

Elise and Anna seemed to get a good start, and were well in the mix in the first 500 meters. Some of the other boats seemed to take a bit of a push in the second 500 meters, which pushed them back to about fourth. But in the second half of the race China started dropping back and Elise and Anna really started going strong and put themselves in the lead pack. The last five hundred was incredible, and all three medallists (New Zealand, Germany, and Great Britain) crossed the finish line within ~2 feet of each other (0.22 seconds). Elise and Anna put in a massive effort in the last 250-500 meters to close the gap. Perhaps the best part was that in the last 500 it was clear that the top three boats had really separated themselves from the rest, and were going to be on the podium. We found out later that Elise/Anna were the quickest boat in the last 1000 meters of the race.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to the “friends and family” stand for both rowing finals days. Each country’s supporters group together, and it seems the Commonwealth countries (GB, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) have particularly big contingents, though the US group was pretty big, too. Life in the stands is fun, since so many people know each other from various rowing-related activities and events. But it also gets really messy… for the cost of one pint of beer in London, you can buy eight from the Olympics concessions stands. One GB support or another seemed to bringing a box filled with beer cups up to the stands every few minutes or so. That got interesting…

Luckily we got to meet up with Elise after the race. (Anna had to go to drug testing, which was literally taking hours. She wasn’t done until three hours after they got in.) That’s where I snapped this picture.

Other great races

Michelle Guerette from the USA took a surprising silver in the women’s single sculls event. The Belarus sculler (who had won the last three world championships, I believe) was pushed to bronze. It was an amazing performance for her, and she put in a huge push in the last 500 meters to put herself there. She was featured in a New York Times feature article on rowing earlier this year, so it great to see her success match some of the coverage of her.

The Great Britain men’s double scullers also took bronze. While Australia looked awesome in the event, Matt Wells and Steven Rowbotham look great and took bronze in style.

In a great race, the Great Britain men’s coxless four took gold. This boat has been the “flagship” of the mens rowing squad since 2000. While GB was in the pack, they weren’t leading for most of the race. They stayed near the leaders and put in one hell of a massive push in the last 250 meters to win it. The leaders up until that point (Australia) seemed to crumble once their lead was lost, and ended up losing by about half a length. It was particularly cute when the four did their row-past after the medals ceremony and the sister of the stroke-man (Andy Triggs-Hodge) jumped the fence and swam out into the lake to congratulate her brother.

The men’s single sculls race was as fascinating as ever. Alan Campbell of Great Britain got a great start and was leading early. But the lead switched several times until Olaf Tufte of Norway crossed the line first, with Czech Republic in silver and Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand in bronze. Mahe was predicted to do better, but I heard through the grapevine that he had a bit of a stomach bug earlier this week, which couldn’t have helped. Alan probably could have done better as well, but he had several weeks out of the boat this year for knee surgery. That Alan got into the A final is one hell of an accomplishment after that!

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Day 5 of competitions

Today was the fifth day of Olympic competitions. We spent the morning doing our tourist stuff and the afternoon watching some great rowing.

Tourists on the Prowl

Today we met up with a couple friends from Thames Rowing Club and their friends to tour the Forbidden City, eight of us in total. While it was a bit unwieldy to see the sights with that many people, we managed to work it all out.

The Forbidden City is really impressive. It’s a mammoth complex, and has a really rich and interesting history. I enjoyed just walking around the huge structures and plazas, imagining how life must have been five hundred years ago during the emperors’ time. The architecture is interesting, and the buildings are richly decorated.

We went through a few different exhibits that were recommended by the guidebook. While they were kind of interesting (museum-style presentation of old clocks, jewelry, artifacts and the like), I felt like they just filled the time and space. My favourite mental pictures are of the little courtyards and trees and buildings scattered away from the main buildings, but how they integrated into the city as a whole. While the gates, entrances, and plazas were certainly on a massive scale to impress, there was also a very human and day-to-day dimension, as well.

After our visit we caught a cab to one of the main shopping areas to walk around and grab lunch. We tried a duck restaurant which told us they had a table for us (we thought). But after going to the floor they specified, we realised that they didn’t, and in fact there was a massive queue on each floor for lunch. We went across the street to a different restaurant, which seemed a little dodgy at first but turned out okay.

At the Races

Lunch and finding a taxi afterword took a while, so we missed the first bit of racing. Luckily we just missed the C/D semifinals for the men and women’s singles, but made it just in time for the A/B semifinals. Michelle Guerette of the USA did really well in her single, and there were some surprises on the men’s side. Most of the usual suspects made it through to the A final, except Marcel Hacker. We heard later that his father passed away last week, and the funeral was literally the day before the first heats. That must have been a terrible thing to deal with on top of the Olympics stresses, so it was admirable that he made it as far as he did, considering. It looks like it should be an exciting final.

The GB men’s four was really great today. While they weren’t miles ahead at the finish, they just kept right on paddling back to the warm-down lanes while all of the other crews looked like they were dead. They’re clearly a fast boat, though they’ll have to prove that on Saturday in the final.

Perhaps the oddest final today was the C final of the Men’s Double Sculls. It featured two competitors: Iraq and the United States. The United States took it with a good margin, but the Iraqi crew clearly rowed their hearts out and got a lot of hearty cheers from the crowd. After crossing their line and getting their breath back, they raised their arms in triumph and it was clear that even though they were 14th out of 14 double sculls, they had achieved their dreams.

The scariest race today was the women’s eight. Five boats raced, and four of them went on to the A final. Essentially: don’t come last. The GB eight, which has two Thames Rowing Club members (Ali Knowles and Beth Rodford) was last at the first 500 mark. I’ve heard they don’t have the most consistent start, and it didn’t seem to go well for them today. But they dug deep and made up for lost ground. By the end it was still quite tight, but they crossed the line in third place and will be in the A final on Sunday. Both the German men’s eight and the German women’s eight lost their repercharge races, which has got to be a bit of a shock to their national rowing team.

Other stuff

Finally, our flatmate for the week arrived today, and that’s going well. We had dinner at a local restaurant and enjoyed chatting to someone who knows a lot about British rowing. Starting tomorrow we’ve got a bunch more events scheduled (wrestling, gymnastics, weightlifting, athletics and triathlon) so I have a feeling this week is going to fly by.

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How a small mis-calculation saved us lots of money in China!

So I’ve got a bit of an embarrassing story to tell. My wife and I were catching up this morning on how much money we’ve spent. Before we left London we had looked up the exchange rates for the dollar and the pound to the yuan. We memorized the numbers 7 and 13 for easy reference.

Well, we somehow mixed the two up (probably remembering that 2 dollars is worth one pound and forgetting the inversion) and got in our heads that 7 yuan equals one pound instead of 13 yuan equals one pound! Luckily, that just saved us a ton of cash, or at least it feels like we did. Everything we’ve bought so far only cost us half of what we thought, and we thought we were getting a pretty good deal as it was! Even with lots of food and drinks at the venue, with official souveneirs/gifts, it seems like we’ve hardly spent a thing! I managed to do a quick Google search on my phone to confirm it all, and that made our morning quite a happy one.

New places, old faces

China is a country of 1.3 billion people, and Beijing has millions. But yet somehow as we were walking in Tienanmen Square this morning we ran into two people from Thames Rowing Club! One guy that was on the men’s squad last year, and a cox from my novice year that has since gone on to cox at Henley finals three times, winning once. We ended up splitting up after about 20-30 minutes because we were doing different things, but it was great to catch up.

Then, as we were about to catch the bus to go out to rowing for the day, another friend that we haven’t seen since last year this weekend saw us at the bus stop! We ended up sharing a cab out to the rowing lake so that we could get there faster. She rows back in the States, and is in China for a chunk of the summer on holiday. We’re hoping to head out to see the Great Wall with her tomorrow.

Monday sights

Today we took our first in-depth tour around the classic sights in Beijing. We went through security and then walked through Tienanmen Square. There’s really not much there, and is surrounded by oppressive architecture. It’s got some Olympics-themed landscaping that’s been brought in, but that’s about it.

We then walked across the street to see the Forbidden City. Once we went in we realized that we just didn’t have the time to do it properly, so are planning on going back later this week, probably Wednesday morning. It looks fantastic, and has a really interesting history.

Finally, in my quest to see all of the cool new architecture that’s been built in Beijing, we walked around the Beijing Opera House. It was just recently built, and has been nicknamed the “egg-shell,” since it’s this bubble/eggshell looking structure completely surrounded by a ring of water. The entrance goes under this moat (which you can see above you). It’s very cool, and I hope to post pictures later.

Monday rowing

There was some great racing today out at the rowing lake. All of the men’s single scullers raced, and the top guys were spread out amongst the quarterfinals. Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand in particular had a fantastic race against Karponen from Sweden where Mahe just barely held him off, and Alan Campbell from the GB squad ended up taking second behind Marcel Hacker of Germany. But since the top three qualified to continue on to the top semi-finals, there wasn’t quite the same pressure to win.

Perhaps my favourite race was Elise and Anna in the GB Women’s Double Sculls. They were in the repercharge, and had to place in the top two of four to advance to the A final and a chance to medal. They were second for most of the first 1500 meters and well ahead of the next two, but were about 2 seconds behind Germany. Elise and Anna put in a hell of a push in the last 500 and beat Germany by just over 1 second. I’m really looking to seeing them race in the final.

The GB Men’s 8+ also raced today, and all I have to say is WOW. They were racing some tough competition, and once they got back the 500 meter mark, they took a solid lead and just wouldn’t let go. They just screamed past, and qualified directly for the A final on Sunday.

Finally, the GB Women’s 8+ raced, though didn’t qualify to move directly to the A final (only the top boat did). They looked really strong, but just couldn’t keep up with the USA women. The girls now have to go through to the repercharge on Wednesday (a reschedule), where we’ll be cheering them on again.


It was a great day. We saw our friends race and do well, we ran into friends in strange places out in town, and it looks like we just got set up for a trip out to the Great Wall tomorrow. All in all, a good day.

We’re skipping our rowing events tomorrow so that we can see the Wall. Everyone that we would have wanted to see rowing tomorrow either doesn’t have to because they did well yesterday, or their event was rescheduled. We’re going to take advantage of it and see some of the sights that you need most of the day to go see.

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She’s dancing!

It’s true! We’ve managed to secure tickets for the Sunday rowing finals in Beijing!

When we originally booked tickets in June of 2007 (!) we asked for every rowing event and got tickets for every session except the Sunday finals. Unfortunately, this day will feature the lightweight events, quads and eights, with a few different medal potentials and a couple of friends competing. (That our friends and fellow Thames RC members are competing was a much more compelling reason.) We figured we would somehow manage to get tickets, but it was really starting to worry us. Luckily a well-connected friend came through and now we’re all set. Woo-hoo!

Rowing impressions

The whole event is pretty organized, though the first day had some hiccups. (Long queues for security, completely disorganized food vendors). Our tickets are for the stands about 150meters away from the finish (of a 2000m course) and in good view of the television that shows coverage of the entire race and the results board showing who’s ahead every 500meters. When photos are uploaded I’ll link to them here. (I’m not the photographer in the household)

[By the way, porto-loos in China are squat toilets. Luckily they also have regular toilets in a separate building. Again, guys generally have things easier here.]

The initial heats are always a mixed bag. Typically the first 2-3 boats are pretty competitive, but the last-place boats are often miles behind. This should tighten up for each race. But as I mentioned before, some crews have taken it easy once they were in a place to qualify for the next round instead of racing it to the end, to save themselves some energy.

Today, Sunday the 10th, the racing was cancelled just after the quad sculls heats were done because of the weather. (Rain, lightning, etc.) The women’s eights that had been at the start paddled down the course, and the other eights came in as well. At first the announcements just said that racing was delayed, but about twenty minutes later (after another batch of lightning) it was cancelled for the day. Apparently it’s now been scheduled for tomorrow.

Another strange note, but two Chinese boats scratched (officially “Did Not Start”) yesterday. That’s really too bad, as that puts a lot of athletes’ and their countries’ efforts over the past years to waste. Rowing was one of their big efforts for these Olympics since it’s known as a “medal-rich” sport, and this takes away two of the fourteen chances just by not showing up.

Life in the stands has been interesting. We’ve met some interesting people from elsewhere in Britain, been in front of an enthusiastic group of Poland supporters, and laughed at a fairly boisterous (read: drunk) group of Ireland supporters dressed in leprechaun outfits. Also met a guy today who was at the opening ceremonies. He mentioned that there while most of the stadium was full, there were still a good bunch of empty seats, which is a shame.

Life in China

So we’ve been doing a homestay here in Beijing which has been interesting. The flat is owned by a couple in their 50’s, a Canadian man and his Chinese wife. They live in a flat in the same neighborhood, the “Airport Dormitories,” since it’s by the airport and populated by a lot of their workers.

When we first walked up to the flat, the words going through my head were “tenement”, “ghetto”, “s**t-pit” and more. Luckily once we got to the top floor and our flat, we found a nice new modern door and a newly and nicely furnished flat. It’s fairly small, but complete with good kitchen, Western-style toilet/shower, great TV, and DSL. The owners have been incredibly kind to us, making sure we know the local area, how to get on local buses, interesting places in the area, etc. They also helped us get a Chinese SIM card for one of our mobiles.

We are definitely the only Westerners in our area, but word about us got around pretty quickly, so there’s no strange staring going on. Yesterday we got to know the local convenience store, and today we got to know the local department store/grocery store. Coming back from the rowing today we got enough food to last us two or three days easily for the equivalent of £9.

It’s been great to come back every night and see other events on the television, across four different channels. Unfortunately all of the commentary is in Chinese, but considering the standard of most sports commentary, that’s probably a good thing. It’s fun to wake up to Olympic sports, go see Olympic events, and come back home to see more Olympic sports. It’s going to be full-on for the next 10 days which is great!