Friday, 15 August 2014


Sorry this is a bit of a long one, grab yourself a cup of tea while I tell you about the Gold that very nearly wasn't!

Moscow regatta lake. (credit to JJ for photo)
I love an adventure, and heading to Moscow for the first time, to compete on the Olympic regatta course, turned out to be exactly that.  It was an impressive and interesting venue to hold the 2014 World Sprint Canoe Championships.  The regatta lake itself has a city skyline, iconic Olympic structures and, given the current political tensions, armed security guards everywhere.  I have to admit to arriving for my first practice paddle with a mixture of awe, apprehension and excitement.

Most of you will hopefully already know I came away with my first World Gold (having taken Silver in my first attempt the year before), but getting that win was some “adventure”.
YAAAAY! Gold!!

Warm up day – time to become a drama queen
The first 'challenge' was during my practice paddle. The start mechanism malfunctioned, thrusting my boat out of the water as I paddled over it. Going for an unplanned swim the day before my heat wasn't good mental preparation.  On the plus side I learnt (the hard way) how to get back in a boat in the middle of a lake (massive thanks to the GB K2 pair Johnny Boynton and Ed Rutherford for rescuing me), and it also proved the theory my coach had been telling me that on capsizing I really could float free from the bindings in my boat!
Warm up paddle

On the downside, it freaked me out a bit and the hull and the rudder were damaged so had to go to be fixed before my heat the next day. This prevented me from further practice before the most important race of my season.

Heats day – back to school…
The next day arrived and Harry (my boat) was back from the menders - polished and fixed, with a new rudder.  As I paddled away from the jetty for my heat something was very wrong. The boat wouldn't go in a straight line and pulled heavily to the right.  Initially I thought it was just me being unsettled after my “drama queen” capsize episode the day before. It wasn't, and there was absolutely no way I could paddle in my race without being disqualified for going into someone else’s lane.  I didn’t ask for this kind of adventure!

Racing my heat
(Because of my wonky leg and foot I paddle with the tiller bar offset. The boat menders had thought the offset was caused by the crash and had mistakenly corrected it.  They had been absolutely amazing getting it fixed for me, and it was my schoolgirl error in that I hadn't checked my boat properly that morning.  I hadn’t been sleeping well and chose a later start rather than getting to the lake early.)

Refusing to panic, I waited for my coach to find me on the lakeside and we spent a frantic (me – he is always calm!) 15 minutes trying to alter the rudder.  It wasn’t perfect but it would have to do and, with a few minutes to spare, I paddled to the start of the heat with no warm up. With more brute force than skill I thankfully managed to keep to my lane and even won my heat, putting me straight through to the final the following day.

Finals day – Take 1 – thunder and lightning
The following day my boat was running straight. I had also managed more than 4 hours sleep, so all was looking up J  That is until I had completed my land warm up, and was just about to get on the water.  Black clouds had been gathering, the wind picked up and suddenly a bolt of lighting shot out of the sky.  The lake was evacuated, leaving me standing there ready to race with no race ...

The storm arrived.. and the boats left
After the storm a new race time was announced.  I decided to eat early and then start the warm up process again.  Just after I finished eating a message came through saying that my race had been bought forward.  I looked down at my empty plate and full belly and instantly regretted eating!

My warm up began again, with more black clouds gathering.  I carried on my warm up, ignoring the howling wind, the marquee falling down around me, and the distant rumble of thunder.  Just as I was about to get on the water there was another bolt of lightening and the announcement came that all racing was cancelled for that day.
Yes it was windy

Finals day - Take 2 – GOLD (but only just)
We didn’t get confirmation of the revised times until the next morning. As I warmed up for the 4th time for my race (I had made the effort to get to the lake early this time for a pre warm up paddle;-)) I was glad of my 24 hour mountain bike race experience, which teaches you to concentrate on just the present. In fact my coach was concerned that I was too laid back, “You have a race today you know?"

I think I was half expecting it not to happen again, so when I finally got onto the lake I was a bit taken aback - its actually going to happen!! I was also suddenly aware of seeing armed guards every 20m or so round the lake - another interesting development. We didnt find out until later about the bomb scares!

The wind kept changing direction, but as I lined up for the start, finally something went my way - it became a “tail cross from the right” which, with my weak right leg, is my preferred direction.
Racing my Final

GO! Argh - what was happening??!! For some reason my right (weaker) leg wasn’t working in its usual way and my timing was completely out. This caused me to do a couple of massive wobbles, letting everyone pull ahead.  I had to draw strength and determination out from every part of my body.  I was so angry and a red mist came down as I kept focusing and refocusing on my leg to bring it back.  After what seemed like an eternity this worked and I could feel my rhythm returning.  The boat leveled out and I knew I was gaining on the boats in front, but I didn't have that far left to bring the race back. I dug deeper and mentally pushed the finish line further away to force me to aim for something in the distance, rather than a few feet away. I didn't hear the beeps as we crossed the line and really didn't have a clue who had won.  To be honest I no longer minded.  My Russian adventure was over.  It had been an exciting race and I had put absolutely everything in to fight right to the finish. I had nothing more I could have given.
pulling ahead just before the finish

After what seemed like hours the results flashed up on the big screen and I had won by a mere tenth of a second!!!!  In fact I had posted a PB (49.7 seconds), become the first woman para-canoeist to break the 50 second barrier in competition, and I had broken the world record that I had set in the Euros a few weeks earlier!!
win, world record, and 1st para woman under 50 seconds!!

Apparently I had also caused a little anxiety in the team GB camp – the coaches were very happy, but in a stressed 'that was mighty close' kind of way! "Great race Anne, but please don’t leave it so long next time, my heart can't take it!!"
National anthem and podium

So what next? - Lots to work on
At this stage last year I was competing with an injury and I was determined to get to this point with no 'excuses'. Clearly I am happy with the result, but Im probably happier that my years training went well. I missed only 1 training session due to 'illness or injury', and I have come on massively in all my targeted areas. A measure of this is that I dropped 5 seconds from last year’s world championships to this and I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by super skilled coaches and a great support team.
My Coach Griff

I am really excited about next year.  I have watched the video over and over and know I have lots of room to improve.  But first I’m going on holiday, for a proper old-fashioned cultural adventure, with not a kayak or gym or armed security guard in sight!

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