World Rowing Championships - and onwards

If anyone missed it, arrsers may be interested to know that the stern pair of the eight that took a bronze medal in the World Rowing Championships yesterday are a pair of serving HCav Officers. At this rate, both should be well-placed to hold their places for Beijing next year.

It's worth noting that Al especially has had a very successful career rowing for the Army before breaking into the GB squad, and Robin rowed for the Army whilst at RMAS. Both continue to represent the service in the Head of the River each year. If anyone is interested in getting into rowing, or especially resuming a previously stalled rowing career, PM me!

There's a good profile piece on the stroke man here from the Torygraph:

Captain Heathcote in full stroke after Iraq
By Rachel Quarrell
Last Updated: 12:09am BST 16/08/2007

All athletes suffer from nerves. But for Capt. Alastair Heathcote, confirmed yesterday as stroke of the British men's eight at this month's world championships, the jitters are not as bad nowadays.

Heathcote, who turns 30 on Saturday, spent the last five years as a British Army officer in Bosnia and Iraq, and found his return to rowing a calming experience.

"Before the Army I used to get really nervous," he says. "Now I think back to Iraq, and I had soldiers there who were crying with fear. With good reason: it's a life-and-death situation. Whereas rowing, it's important, but nobody's going to die."

advertisementHe learnt to row at Eton, then dabbled in it at Newcastle University, a weak club at the time. He started again in 2000-1 while studying for his masters at Oxford Brookes, but had already decided to go to Sandhurst. He became a tank reconnaissance troop leader in the Blues and Royals and, after a peace-keeping tour in Bosnia, was made part of the Airborne Taskforce Troop, attached to the Parachute Regiment.

"I had to do P-Company with the Paras, their physical training course. I'm not blowing my own trumpet, but coming off the back of rowing, I absolutely breezed it." He didn't like parachuting, though: "They pretty much had to push me out."

In 2004 he went to Iraq, commanding 30 infantry soldiers in Basra. "I was involved in everything from mortar attacks, suicide bombings, small-arms fighting in the streets with insurgents. Very, very busy. But by then, I was already thinking I wouldn't mind giving rowing another shot."

The Army gym in Basra City had been ruined by mortar attacks, so he shipped a rowing machine out. "The only time I could do an hour erg was midday, in 111F, when it was too hot for anyone to be on the streets," he said. "I did exercises in the desert, with my rifle and body armour beside me."

Weight training had to be fitted into sleep breaks, sometimes at 4am. "The patrol programme meant I never had more than three hours' sleep. You're running on so much adrenaline, you just end up coping. And it was a welcome change to get my head starting to think about rowing technique."

Next he was posted to Dorset as a gunnery training officer, teaching, among others, Prince Harry, and began rowing again. In 2006, former Oxford Boat Race President and international Robin Bourne-Taylor was on Heathcote's gunnery course after Sandhurst, and suggested forming a pair for trials. They trained from dawn till dusk, coming fifth at the December trials. Two silver medals at the Fisa Team Cup in Seville in February convinced their regiments they were serious, and they were loaned to the national rowing squad.

Tragedy struck in April. Bourne-Taylor's girlfriend, Lieutenant Jo Dyer, was one of four soldiers killed by a roadside bomb. Despite not training for 10 days, the duo still came seventh at final trials. "All credit to Robin," said Heathcote. "He also had to deal with the pressure of not only trials but then coming back to racing as well."

It was no surprise to see the tough guys end up as stern pair of the British men's eight, who won bronze in Amsterdam in June. "I think if I'd come fresh from university and was stroking the eight, I'd be pretty overawed," he said. "It helps to be older." It is next stop the Olympics, hopefully, though he plans to retire after that.

He is also leaving the Army, his five-year stint complete. What it has given him is a forceful ambition. "I always want to be the person who is the most up for it." And he says the crew can do better than the seventh they need to reach Beijing. "I see no reason why we can't win a medal."

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