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Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

Champion of the World!

And I’m back!  After five weeks of training, tapering, racing, then vacationing (yay!), I’ve finally made my way back to New Jersey. And while Princeton does have its beautiful seasons, late November is not one of them— I arrived on a grey, frigid, and windy day, already missing the sunny beaches and springtime flowers of New Zealand!

Now it’s down to business: this is an Olympic-qualifying year, which means that the 2011 Worlds in Slovenia are super important. (The Olympic field is limited to only seven women’s eights, and these crews are determined by the country’s placement the year before.) And we only have nine months!

The entire women’s squad gathered at the Princeton boathouse this morning, ready to work. After three weeks of just cross-training, my rowing muscles are probably going to be a little sore; in fact, I can feel them twitching as we speak. Time to go find the bottle of Aleve…  (but as I often remind myself, achy muscles are a worthy sacrifice for the amazing memories and fantastic adventures I had during my New Zealand vacation with Mom and Dad!)

And remember, it’s not too late to order your POWER AND GRACE CALENDAR: PORTRAITS OF AMERICAN WOMEN ROWERS. All proceeds go directly towards helping the athletes of the US National Team! The perfect stocking stuffer, if I say so myself…  www.yearbox.com/rowing

And for your viewing pleasure, here are some pics from The Redman’s Amazing Kiwi Expedition:

The gatekeeper of Abel Tasman Nat'l Park

Although he looks docile, this New Zealand fur seal was actually very grouchy.  Mom says she’s never seen me run so quickly… though it’s not my fault that he parked himself in the middle of the trail.

Kiwi Crossing

A kiwi on skis!  This is my sort of pet!  (Note Mt Ngauruhoe in the background, otherwise known as “Mt. Doom” to Lord of the Rings fans)

Earthquake + Old Bicycle = great sculpture opportunity

After a severe September earthquake damaged many Christchurch buildings, local artists lightened the mood by adding some Kiwi flair to the supports of a local church. (You can see the cracks in the masonry at the very top, to the left of the mountain climber)

Living the dream on the Banks Peninsula

A great view, some fluffy company, what more could you want in an outhouse?? (Actually, there was a FLUSH OUTHOUSE at one of the backpackers huts! Whoa)

Kiwi Lisa

A local artist’s rendition of Mona Lisa, as seen on a supermarket poster. The paper in her hands is a NZ visa application.

From snowy mountains...

... to golden beaches

New Zealand is truly a paradise on Earth. We have a mile-long list of places we still need to see– it’s time to start planning our second Kiwi expedition!

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Champions!

What a day! I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not just sleeping. It’s been a total whirlwind the past twelve hours, and I’m pretty sure my endorphin high still hasn’t worn off…

Over the past three days, we’ve witnessed some incredible racing, with some medals being decided by agonizingly close margins (ex: the Chinese LM4- missing the silver medal by .01 seconds). We’ve also watched as pre-race favorites have faltered in difficult water conditions, or as dark horse crews sprinted their way onto the medals stand with an unexpected surge. So even if the USA was considered a favorite for the W8+, we knew better than to let the hype get to our heads. The other boats were going to fight for every inch.

With this in mind, in our pre-race meeting, we talked about racing a gutsy, aggressive race, and to take nothing for granted. “Don’t wait”, our coxie told us, “If the other crews are going to hold our pace, we have to make them pay.” In short, we planned to push our own limits of “comfortable” race pace, and trust that our fitness and the adrenaline would carry us to the finish line.

So yesterday afternoon, we lined up against the five fastest eights in the world: China, Romania, Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. We were encouraged by the beautiful conditions: flat water, slight wind, warm temps. And we also drew on the energy of the thousands of spectators (more than I’ve ever seen at a regatta!), who we could hear cheering all the way at the starting line!

Almost 60,000 spectators came this weekend!

It wasn’t a perfect race (then again, no race ever is!).  But it was a well-executed, powerful, no-holds-barred race. We set up a blistering base rhythm (36-37 strokes a minute, for all you rowing buffs), and powered all the way to the finish. It wasn’t until the last hundred meters that I actually realized we were going to win… I had been so focused on following Taylor’s back in front of me, and listening to Mary’s coxing, that I didn’t even comprehend that we had open water on our competition!

I started grinning in the last 50 meters, and I didn’t stop smiling for the next few hours– receiving our gold medal, hearing our national anthem, tossing Mary into the lake, meeting up with our parents… aside from my legs, I think the sorest part of my body are my smiling muscles!

The Gold Medal and the Greenstone

Along with our medals, we also received a “pounamu”, or a greenstone, carved in the form of a Maori paddle. These taongas (or “treasured gifts”) are gifts to the gold medalists from the Maori tribes of the Waikato River. Each one is hand-carved and unique, and each one is extremely precious. While I’m proud of my gold medal, I”m especially honored to receive this gift from our Maori hosts.

Celebrating with the Maori dancers

So, what’s next? We have a few weeks off (and by “off” I mean “keep training on your own”), then it’s back to training in earnest after Thanksgiving. 2011 is an Olympic qualifying year, so it’s very important that we maintain our fitness in the upcoming weeks. After all, it’s only nine short months until the 2011 World Championships in Bled, Slovenia! I’m spending the next few weeks tramping NZ with Mom and Dad, though knowing Redman Adventure Tours, I’ll probably improve my fitness!

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At the starting line (photo by Alison Fredrick)

Our first race! Our preliminary heat pitted us against Great Britain, China, Netherlands, and Russia. The top two places in the heat advance directly to the A Final, while the remaining crews will race for the remaining spots in the repechage on Thursday.

I always get nervous before a race (call it a healthy respect for our competition). But I was especially nervous this morning… Not only because this is the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (eek!), but because I had absolutely NO IDEA what to expect!  The last time (the only time!) I faced these crews was three months ago in Switzerland. And everyone knows that a lot can happen in three months: different lineups, new racing shells, athletes are tapered and ready, etc etc.  I mean, I think we’re fast, but at this level, everybody’s fast!!

But Coach sent us out on the water with some good guidance: don’t think about the other boats, just race hard, and the results will work themselves out.  Excellent advice!

Once we launched, and started going through our warm-up, the jitters worked themselves out into general excitement—after all, racing is exciting! Mother Nature thankfully decided to be reasonable this morning (light tailwind, mostly flat water), which meant that times were going to be quick!  [Rowing background: a tailwind speeds up a crew UNTIL it makes the water choppy. Once the water gets wavy, boats start to swamp, which isn’t fun for anybody]

As for the race, it was AWESOME!  We hit a great rhythm right off the starting line, and maintained our power and connection all the way to the finish line. The British and the Dutch put up a good fight, but our base pace was fast enough to give us a healthy margin by the finish (see below). We all felt great: after months of training, it’s such a relief to just go out and pull hard!

Almost five seconds ahead of Great Britian! (photo by row2k.com)

Now we’re back at the hotel, and I’m pretty much just propping my eyelids open until a reasonable time to go to bed (I tend to get sleepy after a good race!). I can’t wait until the Finals!  It should be a tight race: Canada and Romania both posted fast times in the second heat, and the racing is always intense when there’s a gold medal at stake!

Check out the World Championship coverage on www.row2k.com for race results, photos, and team updates. You can also watch racing on www.worldrowing.com, and I’ve heard rumors that racing is still streaming on www.universalsports.com. Go USA!

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Nothing helps the legs recover like an ice-bath in Lake Karapiro!

Happy Halloween from New Zealand!

With racing just around the corner, it doesn’t look like we have too much trick-or-treating on the schedule. Instead, Team USA is doing our best to stick to our pre-competition routine: breakfast, forty-minute bus ride to the course, row #1, lunch at the course (AMAZING food!), row #2, then back to the hotel for nap, stretching, and PT before dinner.

These practices are shorter and more focused than the epically-long row of the summer months; instead of building our aerobic base, these pre-race rows are designed to sharpen our fast-twitch muscles, solidify our rhythm, and fine-tune our race plan. Every day we’re making improvements, and every day we become more antsy to race!

The weather has been absolutely beautiful this past week– sunny skies, warm temperatures, flat water– so when a blustery tailwind started billowing yesterday, we all cringed at Mother Nature’s capricious irony. However, rowers are experts at waiting out weather-related delays. We stretch, we nap, we play cards, we read… everyone has their favorite way to fend off boredom as we wait for the wind to die down. When officials announced that indeed yes, the course will remain closed for the rest of the afternoon (thus eliminating the possibility of another row), Team USA didn’t miss a beat.

Wind + Waves = less-than-perfect rowing weather

In a planning session this summer, US Rowing decided to send ten rowing machines to New Zealand, in the event that the NZ springtime weather proves temperamental. So even if we can’t go out on the water this afternoon, rest assured that Team USA is maintaining fitness… albeit in the hotel parking lot.

Maintaining fitness in the hotel parking lot

Lucky for us, the wind is supposed to lessen throughout the week, so hopefully flat water will greet us for the Sunday finals. But if not, no worries! We’ve trained in worse, and Team USA is prepared to race in whatever Mother Nature has in store!

Our preliminary heat is scheduled for TOMORROW (!!) at noon –> that’s 4pm on Monday afternoon in Washington. Racing will be broadcast live on universalsports.com and worldrowing.com, and I’ve heard rumors that Universal Sports will actually be covering rowing on the television (fingers crossed!). Cheer loud for us!  Go USA!

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Rowing in Middle Earth (thanks to Esther for the photo!)

Sorry for the belated update… I didn’t expect the hotel’s internet to be so expensive! ($2 for 15 minutes! Highway robbery)

We arrived safe and sound in Hamilton, New Zealand, after a long 36 hours of travel (35 hours, 46 minutes, and 56 seconds, not that we were counting). The journey itself wasn’t too difficult, just lengthy. However, any jet lag grumbles were eased by the beautiful sunny skies and welcome reception we received at the Auckland airport. We had an official escort through the airport, and our own expedited line through customs and inspections. An interesting contrast: while American airports have bomb-sniffing dogs, the New Zealand airport hosts a pack of fruit-detecting beagles to sniff out any rogue apples or bananas… NZ is obviously very protective of their biosecurity.

The surest cure for jet lag is exercise, so after a short rest at our hotel, we all loaded the buses for the forty-minute drive to Lake Karapiro. A visit to the course answered the age-old question: “How do your boats get to New Zealand?” Well, after the Lucerne World Cup, all of the shells are packed into shipping containers and loaded onto a cargo ship for the long trip to the Southern Hemisphere. In order to fit into the containers, the largest boats are actually split in half and bolted together on site (see the photo, below)

Dr Hosea, Mary, and Anna assembling the two halves of our 8+

The rigging process is probably the most time-consuming task of our sport (besides trailer loading!), as everything has to be assembled, tightened, measured, and double-checked. In a perfect, non-jetlagged world, it would *still* take a few hours!

But now that everything is put together, we’re quickly getting into our pre-competition routine. Lake Karapiro is absolutely beautiful, with eight lanes on the course, with an additional 4k stretch of water above the starting line. The countryside along the water is green and beautiful; we actually feel like we’re actually rowing through Middle Earth! I haven’t spotted any hobbits or orcs yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled!)

Racing begins on Oct. 31 and everyone is getting more and more excited to duke it out against other boats. As more countries arrive, the course becomes more and more crowded, and it’s not uncommon to hear “Look Out!” yelled in several different languages. Lucky for us, Mary is without-a-doubt the most adept and talented coxswain on the water, and she keeps us safe from any rogue men’s quads and the like. Our heat is temporarily scheduled for noon on Tuesday (that would be Monday at 4pm on the West Coast!), and good news!, racing will be streaming live on both universalsports.com and worldrowing.com.

Wish us luck, and send fast thoughts our way! Go Team USA!

(more updates to come as soon as I find any $2 NZ coins to put into the hotel computer…)

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Amanda and I modeling our new track jackets and visors!

One of the best days of the year (after Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving and my birthday) is National Team Gear Day! As if earning a spot on the US roster isn’t reward in itself, we are presented with a package filled with all manner of red, white, and blue clothing– it’s like an early Christmas!
 
Our gear sponsor, Boathouse Sports, was especially generous this year!  Team USA will be traveling in style! 
– a BRIGHT SANTA RED track suit (I’m just a tad excited)
– a sweet USA softshell jacket and a polo shirt for travelling
– racing unisuits
– technical tees and longsleeves for practice
– an awesome vest (white, with a bright red “USA” on the back)
– athletic shorts and tights
– a Headsweats hat and visor
And, as an added bonus, Rudy Project outfitted the entire team with awesome sunglasses! 
 
Now, the returning Olympians aren’t *quite* as enthusiastic– I’ve heard legends of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when athletes scored heaping shopping carts of team-issue gear, filled to capacity with Polo Ralph Lauren, Nike, Oakleys, and all other types Olympic apparel. However, as my fellow rookies and I have yet to experience the awesomeness that is the Olympic Games (fingers crossed!), we remain enthusiastic about the 2010 gear package!
 
Speaking of gear, it’s about time I started packing… t-minus two days until we leave!
 
And on an unrelated note, check out this recent article in yesterday’s NY Times:  “How to Push Past the Pain, as the Champions Do”


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