Olympic rowers were tested to their limit by the elite Royal Marines in their bid to win medals at the Rio Games.
Members of the GB Rowing Team’s lightweight squad hoping to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics literally broke the ice on a freezing day as they survived a shortened version of the renowned tough training.
The rowers, including London 2012 Olympic silver medallists, said the extreme physical test, which included breaking ice in order to crawl through a flooded tunnel (the ‘Sheep Dip’) in the Devon wilderness, had made them better athletes and they felt inspired by the Royal Navy’s frontline amphibious troops.
They said they had learned the Royal Marines’ team ethos and how to push themselves mentally and physically beyond their expected limits. On the other side they also earned the Marines’ respect.
The tunnel ordeal, in soaking wet combat gear, was followed by a 3-mile run (4km) across Woodbury Common, and a firemen’s lift of their colleagues. An exhausted Richard Chambers, veteran of Bejing and London (silver medalist), said: “This was really good. It took us out of our comfort zone, two hour of hard physical tests, so different to what we’d normally do. We have come back more of a team now. Because we had to work together in order to get through it.’’
He said the experience, in which they learned about the history of the Corps, what makes a good commando and talked to Royal Marines with frontline combat experience, was humbling: “We soon realised that what we go through as athletes doesn’t compare with the Royal Marines. We are not as tough mentally of physically. But we now know that there is always an extra ten per cent reserve we can fall back on once we gain that mental robustness.’’
The ten rowers took part in two-days of the toughest training in the world. They were taken out of their comfort zone and normal environment into the challenging tough and potentially hazardous outdoor world on Woodbury Common, near Exeter, to test their mental and physical response while learning teamwork.
This includes the notorious endurance course when they were route-marched from Commando Training Centre Lympstone, Exmouth, Devon, and sent into the unknown with no warning of what was ahead, to tackle obstacles including the ‘Sheep Dip’. The energy-sapping course is conducted under the critical eyes of the Royal Marines’ unforgiving instructors.
Chris Bartley, crew stroke London 2012 silver medallist, said: “The big difference with our training is that the Marines’ is full of surprises, which is what it must be like out in war zones for them and it was great to have a go. We were especially nervous at the Sheep Dip, whether we could hold our breath and if the ice would stop us doing it. But when we saw the others doing it we knew we couldn’t let our mates down.‘’
He said the Rio squad included new rowers and the course had not only taught them more about team building, but helped them bond with the new guys and helped him confront his fear of heights: “Our training doesn’t include climbing and sprinting together and when this was joined up to the rope climbing I was scared because I am afraid of heights. But I was very proud of myself to have done it. may be we can come again next year.’’
Captain Steve Cotton, the visit coordinator praised the rowers. The course had challenged the rowers’ mental robustness and physical endurance while they were under pressure. He said: “The Olympics were compulsory viewing for us. There is a lot of cross-over in terms of physical and mental fitness between Marines and elite athletes. “They did very well considering their training is so different. I hope they go away with that ability to build on their mental attitude necessary to get medals, crucially that everyone has that ability to dig deep and use that extra ten per cent
The Lightweight Men’s Squad embarking upon the road to Rio 2016 is a completely new team from that which trained and raced to two silver medals at the London Olympic Regatta. Whilst three Olympic silver medallists return to the squad to trial for the 2013 season – Chris Bartley and brothers Richard and Peter Chambers – along with highly-valued Olympic reserve Freeman-Pask, the squad is augmented by the addition of six new rowers – Chris Boddy, Mike Mottram, Jono Clegg, Sam Scrimgeour, William Fletcher and Jamie Kirkwood. The squad’s coaches include Darren Whiter and Rob Morgan.
GB Rowing coach Darren Whiter said: “In terms of medals won along the way, the lightweight squad have ten highly successful individuals. However to look to the future Olympic context we have to achieve as a squad. Even those with London medals understand this is now consigned to history and the road ahead is a new and fresh one.
“It is important that the road to Rio starts with re-visiting basic skills in physicality, endurance and technique as well as toughness and mental application. In Lightweight Olympic Rowing there are only six seats available between two boats (a coxless four and double) and both of these are crew boats i.e no individuals. It’s a massive juxtaposition in rowing that, to win a seat within the team, individual performance is paramount yet to move on the crew boats on the World Stage teamwork is then essential.”
The GB Rowing Team will compete at three World Cups, in Sydney, Eton Dorney and Lucerne next year before the 2013 World Championships in Korea. The rowers have the following objectives from training with the Marines:
- To take the opportunity of exposing the GB Lightweight Men to the Royal Marines, the Commando Training Centre, and the Commando Instructors, in order that they may understand, appreciate and be motivated and inspired by the Esprit de Corps, excellence in training and delivery, under adverse and often ever changing conditions, as a team and as individuals.
- To remove the GB Rowers from their own environment, out of any zone of comfort or familiarity, to a place where they will need to show mental toughness and adaptability, make decisions, plans and communicate with each other regardless of seniority or standing in rowing.
- To observe how individuals respond when the ‘going gets tough’ in a physical and mental sense. Not just in terms of physical challenge but also environmentally testing conditions.
- To see who really is capable and inclined to support their fellow rowers and the team.
- To provide a unique and powerful stimulus for learning lessons that can be debriefed and brought into working practice on the road to Rio after the exercise.