Recovery and lessons learned from 2019: Oliver Cook GB Rower

Oliver Cook, GB Rower, World Champion and Boat Race winner looking to win a place for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Eton Bridge Partners are sponsoring GB rower, Oliver Cook in the lead up to the Olympics games in Toyko next year. Oliver will be giving us regular updates on his progress and performance.

I was once told that the real difference between someone who rows for GB and someone who doesn’t is that GB rowers are paid to relax. Objectively we do live a very easy lifestyle: 6,000 calories a day is standard requirement, many of us nap more than once a day and we spend a lot of that day outside. Of course though, it is not all pleasure. We do occasionally have to push ourselves to our limits but, in general, the rule of thumb is that recovery is just as important as the training itself. And there is no recovery time more important than the break we have after the World Championships. We get three weeks off to ‘be normal’, to take time away from training and spend time with our long-suffering family and friends. The three weeks we get after the World Championships mark the end of one season and the start of the next one. The three week break was also our last chance to have some real down time before next summer and the Olympic Games.

Finishing a season is always a tricky one. The build up to the World Championships this year was especially intense as it doubled up as the Olympic Qualification regatta. It meant that we had to finish in the top eight to ensure Great Britain had a coxless four at the Tokyo Olympics. We didn’t think we would have trouble qualifying the boat, but there is always the worry that something may go wrong. Fortunately, qualifying the boat wasn’t any trouble and in the end, we won bronze. Nonetheless, the pressure of the championships meant that the three week break between seasons was very welcome.

With the plan for some decent R&R, the day after the World Championships I flew to Lusaka, Zambia. I have family who live in Zambia and we, as a family, have been travelling there for most of my life. It was more than slightly surreal to find myself, in just over 48 hours after being at the World Championships in Linz, Austria, in the middle of the Kafue National Park in western Zambia, in a tent listening to the sounds of a pod of hippos. The whole team really do all sorts of things. Some see family all over the UK, and many travel all round the world. I think this year saw the team spend their break in the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Zambia (in my case), Thailand and Bali amongst many other places near and far.

I feel it is really important to get away from the sport for a bit to recharge the batteries. It is tempting to do some extra training during the break, particularly while you know that the rest of the team are taking a holiday. Nonetheless, I think we often forget that it is not just the physical side of training that we need to take a break from every now and again. It is, I think, quite often overlooked but the effect of burn out is something that can creep up on athletes and can manifest itself most visibly in the effects of over training. It is a difficult balance to strike; train enough to be the best in the world, but not too much otherwise you may never make the start line.

The good thing was that as I sat sipping a Mosi beer overlooking the most unbelievable kaleidoscopic Zambian sunset I was very far away from the pressure of rowing and competing for GB. I stayed in Zambia for two weeks. My first week was spent on safari in the Kafue National Park, followed by a week in Livingstone, home to the famous Victoria Falls. There is, funny enough, an old rowing club in Livingstone. It hosted its first regatta in 1907 and in 1910 actually hosted the World Championships in the single scull – the first and still the only time a World rowing Championships has been in Africa. I was in Livingstone to take part in the festival of sport by racing in an Oxford alumni boat that was racing against a Cambridge crew and an invitational South African team. Notwithstanding my earlier comment about taking a break from rowing it was great fun to race with old university friends in such a fun regatta.

While I was on my break I had time to reflect on the 2019 season and some lessons to take into the 2020 season, ‘the big one’. My first lesson is that on the day anything can happen. Our final was ultimately won by Poland, 1.8 seconds faster than us. Poland was a crew we had raced four times over the season, beating them twice. The crew that we thought would be the biggest contenders for the win, the unbeaten at that point Australians, came last. As with all sports, anything can happen on the day. My second lesson is to insatiably aim high. 2019 saw my crew and I crowned European Champions, come second in the last World Cup and win a medal at the World Championships. However, it felt like we were still unsure of ultimately how good we could be, knowing how close the margins were to victory, we shouldn’t be ashamed of aiming genuinely to win. My third, and final lesson, is to trust the process. Our coach is Jurgen Grobler. He has won gold at every Olympic Games (bar Los Angeles, which the East Germans boycotted) since 1976. When Jurgen selects you in a boat, you’re not just selected in a boat to represent your country but you’re selected because you can win.

We are now a month into training in the 2020 Olympic season. This is my eighth season training almost full time for GB and it is in many ways the culmination of all these past years. The goal remains the same; to win the Olympic Games. A challenge and opportunity that drives me on every day.