With the Olympic Rowing finals around the corner, Bob has interviewed British junior coach David Blackham to find out his thoughts on the emergence of a strong Chinese team, the weather conditions and the chance of the British rowers. Here is what he had to say, before heading out to see the Games for himself:
David Blackham – British Junior Rowing Coach
BOB: Rowing is a sport the Chinese have targeted in their campaign to top the medal table in Beijing. Have they been successful?
They have definitely made big inroads, how successful and how far they have come at the very top level is yet to be seen. What is evident is that they have become one of the major players.
They haven’t got everything right yet and some areas are getting better than others; they’re not competing on the heavyweight men’s scene as much as they’d like, but other areas (e.g. lightweight women) seem to be going very well.
They are definitely finding success but there have been some ethical issues raised about their programmes.
BOB: Can you put this success into context?
Although it wasn’t my generation, their rise has been compared to that of the East Germans. Although it is important to remember that team China still has to prove itself on the Olympic stage.
BOB: How have they done this?
From what I have seen the Chinese seem very focused and determined, which is essential for a sport like rowing. The main factors have been: investment in their programme to support their athletes and the drive of the athletes to compete in an Olympics on their home turf.
It is also a numbers game – with maybe 20,000 rowing in the UK, maybe 100,000 in Germany, there are only going to be a few who have the ability to row at Olympic level. China has a population of 1.3 billion.
It is fair to say that rowing is still an elitist sport to the global stage, and this has helped team GB in the past. The GB set up – some great athletes and some good athletes who the team can get the best out of – is much like the private school set up.
China has the athletes and is developing the set up. In many ways it is quite comparable to what’s happening in the UK at the moment in junior rowing, between club and school. Rowing has always been dominated by schools but this is now being challenged by the clubs. The sport is opening up which is only good for it: more competition = faster times.
BOB: People have speculated about drugs – what are your feelings?
It is a relatively clean sport, but drug cheats do occasionally occur. My gut feeling is that the Chinese rowing team is clean, but I also think that if one or two of them aren’t clean then it will be endemic, and the whole team will need to be scrutinised as it would more than likely come from their coaches.
I hope that they are clean, as it would drag the whole sport down otherwise. It is very easy to speculate about drug issues if an athlete/team do well, as a way of justifying why they are better than you, rather than looking at your own set up. Team GB though are also better than Team China at this stage so you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself.
BOB: Does the rowing world have a ‘world order’, and if so will China’s rise impact this?
Rowing, like any other sport, does have a world order but it seems to vary. GB, Australia, NZ, USA, Canada, Germany and Italy – in no order.
China is breaking into that group.
New competition is always good. Just like the economy, the Chinese rowing team has the potential to be #1!
BOB: What are the conditions like in Beijing for rowing?
Well… I gather things went well when the 2007 junior world champs where held there.
Smog, pollution and heat aren’t going to help rowers but it is the same for all the athletes and the governing bodies have known it’s going to be in Beijing for 7 years. Let’s hope a sand storm doesn’t blow off the Gobi Desert!
BOB: Are there any British stars we should keep an eye out for?
The form book says the women’s quad. It would be great for women’s rowing and GB rowing in general if they could do it. Individual stars – Zac Purchase in lightweight doubles has a great chance. Triggs-Hodget in the coxless four will have to ‘do a Pinsent’ if they are to win gold; he is a world class athlete though.
BOB: Is there a race that you are particularly looking forward to?
Everyone looks forward to the men’s eight. It would be great to see GB in the medals; lightweight doubles, heavyweight coxless fours for example for GB interests. For the pure enthusiasts the men’s single sculls will be a great battle and hopefully Campbell can muscle in on the act.