Ollie Cook racing with 3 teammates

Diary of an Olympian – Facing up to the next challenge: ‘Final Trials’ process for GB rower Oliver Cook

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Oliver Cook, GB Rower, World Champion and Boat Race winner looking to win a place for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Easter weekend saw the final phase of the public GB selection process. We call it ‘Final Trials’ and it is a mini regatta consisting of a time trial, semi-finals and finals – all in the space of two days. Final Trials are, in fact, the culmination of six months of trialing and testing in which prospective rowers from across the country take part in the hope of being selected to either the U23 or senior GB rowing teams.

This process begins with a weekend testing near Boston, Lincolnshire in early November. It is open to everyone provided you can make the 2k indoor ergo cut off time (6:05). Typically, around 80 people take part in this first set of trials for the men’s heavyweight ‘sweep’ team, with a further 50 or so for the ‘sculling’ team.

This first weekend consists of a 2k ergo test in a massive indoor gym on the Saturday following by a 5k time trial on the canal in Boston. Following this first weekend there are two more 5k time trial races and two ergo tests (these two can be done at your club) in which the numbers of those trialing are cut down until from the original 80 there are forty left who are invited to Final Trials in mid-April at the national GB rowing training centre in Caversham.

It is one heck of a process, with everyone trialing having to juggle work or university and their other rowing commitments to their various clubs. It is also a process in which from that initial 80 who start in November, maybe two in a given year will make it to an invitation to train with the senior team at Caversham.

The selection process for those already in the senior team is slightly different in that we are already in the team. We don’t have to travel to Boston for that first weekend in November but otherwise we still do the rest of the trials. In reality though, most of our selection happens behind closed doors every day. We take part in the process and are expected to of course perform better than those outside of the team, but the real work of getting into boats to represent Great Britain happens throughout the season.

I found myself in an unusual position before Final Trials two weekends ago. It was going according to plan until I picked up a cold that aggravated my asthma, so they rested me for a few days in the run up to the trials. I recovered well but not in time to race Final Trials with my pair’s partner (who was now rowing with someone else) so I raced the trials in a single scull.

If you ask most ‘sweep’ rowers they will tell you that it is not always the easiest transition to make from a sweep boat to a sculling boat, especially not when you then have to race against the fastest scullers in the country in a few days’ time!

Nonetheless, I had a good weekend of racing and came away 11th out of 22, which was a decent result – especially considering I had only had three days to prepare.

Coming down with a cold just before Final Trials was more than a little frustrating, but it does happen, and will hopefully not have much of a bearing on the rest of my season. It does demonstrate to me that sometimes things outside of your control can just happen, but that as always, the best way to respond is to face up to the next challenge.

Indeed, my next challenge is to get myself into a GB boat for the summer racing season. This process will take a few weeks as we find the right kind of fast combinations to take on the best of Europe at the European Championships at the end of May in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The next part of my journey takes the team and I to Portugal for the Pre-European Championships training camp in preparations for the European Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland which I look forward to updating you on in my next blog.