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One year on from the London Olympic Games I asked Team 776BC to write a few paragraphs about the challenges they’ve faced during the post Olympic year. As an elite athlete myself, I know from experience that challenges arise mentally, emotionally and physically after the buzz the year before. Here’s Josh Dunkley-Smith's insight into the year after the Games written in Lucern before he claimed silver in the Men's Four at World Cup 3 last month.
I have never written a blog before and have never been one to write my thoughts or experiences down regularly or at all. But bare with me and hopefully I can adequately describe the sights and sounds which an athlete competing for his country experiences. This season would seem to be reasonably unremarkable, given that last year I was competing for my nation on the grandest stage a sports person can step onto. Everything building up to rowing at the Olympic Games was a first for me. First senior World Championships, first international medal and first time rowing with truly inspiring crewmates in the likes of Drew Ginn and Duncan Free. First time really giving myself over to something much bigger than myself, as the crew and experience last year was. In comparison this year is just the first step of many on the road to Rio, the first year of four post the Games. Been there, done that. With a few interesting regattas (a World Cup in Australia and Champs in South Korea) but nothing really dissimilar to the last few years, which saw a World Championships in New Zealand and a whole lot of travelling as well. Except that for me it is different. All of the teammates I spent four years racing against for selection, racing with for medals and just generally grinding out kilometer after kilometer of training with, are gone. One or two are still around, but this years Australian Rowing Team is one full of new faces. Even the management is different. In one year I have gone from a green twenty three year old who absorbed every story and tale told at dinner tables to a veteran twenty four year old in a team of younger athletes. Last year I was closer in age to my crewmates kids than to them. So this is a very new experience, perhaps the most daunting first of my career to date. As such I was not sure what to make of the year ahead. People asked me a lot of questions, questions which had not been put to me before. I asked questions of myself and in the meantime my feet kept following the only path they knew. I tried to buy myself time and looked for the answers that I and others wanted in training, where I had found so many answers before. This time, looking ahead and being able to see the four years I was putting my hand up for in fearsomely sharp detail, I knew that the answers had to be good ones. The Games are a long way to go if you aren't quite sure of why you are going. I thought I had an idea and started training with in a Pair with Josh Booth, with a view to get selected in a Four with Will Lockwood and James Chapman, whom I had raced at the Games with. We were playing a long game, hoping to start up some momentum in a mostly tried and tested boat. Unfortunately a mix of illness and other commitments meant that four athletes still in the doldrums weren't up the task. Boothy made a very difficult call to bow out of trialling and instead focus on his medical studies, preferring one ridiculously taxing undertaking rather than two at fifty percent each. In the end, two young(er) athletes were selected in Alex Lloyd and Spencer Turin after winning the pairs racing during selection trials. In all honesty I will say that at first I was concerned about replacing two Olympians with a couple of new recruits, both of whom I have never met or rowed with for any length of time. But they had earned spots on the team through victory in the pair and I have always been more interested in finding out what can be done today rather than listening to what was done yesterday. Our first weeks training in Geelong and Melbourne were tough and would be aptly described a shaky start. But then new combinations usually start that way, when athletes of different sizes and techniques take their first baby steps together. Sometimes things click and new crews find a natural match but only rarely and in the end the starting point is often largely irrelevant, as with the right experiences any group can achieve a desired goal. So we worked away for weeks in the icy grip of a Victorian winter, mostly in Melbourne with another week long camp in Geelong thrown in. The cycling and rowing and weights and erg training served to strengthen our bodies but more importantly, the simple time spent operating in close proximity and complex environments (Carrum at 6:30 in the morning in winter is pretty bloody complex) meant that we were learning to work together to get the job done. Slowly we were developing enough coordination to get the most out of the whole group for longer and longer stretches, not just on the water but also off. I will admit that for two Sydney-siders Spence and Lloydy are actually okay at cycling. With things gaining pace we boarded a flight to Eton for the second World Cup of the three event series. We were eagerly anticipating warmer water and some faster conditions, frankly Will and I should have known better after last year. Eton is a rowing course built exactly ninety degrees from perfect and we were lucky to get one day with reasonable conditions. Still the training done there built on what had started at home and the racing was a good reflection of our hard work. We laid down two good first thousands and were able to come away with a win in a post-Games year field, though the lack of a single focused rhythm meant that the good fitness we were developing only got us that far before fading. Encouraged by the win nonetheless, we travelled to the AIS training base in northern Italy. Here things really kicked off as we dove headfirst into a huge workload. More riding, more rowing and more ergo work. The difference between a crew working it out and a crew that fights each other all the way down a course is a few hundred kilometres of rowing a week and by the second week in Italy we were definitely beginning to work things out. A few spectacular vistas along the way don't hurt either. Now we are in Lucern, having raced our heat of the final Rowing World Cup. I expect this to be a stronger field than we saw in Eton, as some nations might opt not to travel to South Korea for the World Championships. The Americans could be surprising, being Aussie we will naturally have one eye on the British and the other watching for anyone else who looks like they have found some speed. But we will all be focused in our own boat, bound together by weeks of sweat. More soon post racing. Josh