Ode to the Small Regatta

This weekend, our club, and thus my family and me, participated in a small regatta in Brandýs nad Labem, a small town on the river Elbe, close to Prague. Having left Brno around 2pm, we arrived in Brandýs at 5pm.

This is Ondřej Synek’s club. The bronze (Rio) and silver (Beijing, London) Olympic medal winner and four-times World Champion of course trains in the Prague club Dukla, where most of the Czech  National Team train on the Vltava river or on the canal in Račice, but he is the president of the club where he started rowing and an inspiration to the local rowing community. Of course, this was one of the reasons why we had chosen to take part in this regatta, but also because there are many rowing clubs on the Elbe (Labe) river and it would be a good opportunity for the kids of our club to measure their forces with the kids from this region. In Moravia, our club is one of the best, but on the National level, the Prague and Elbe based clubs regularly beat us.

The joint towns of Brandýs nad Labem and Stará Boleslav. The island in the river Elbe is where the rowing club is located

The joint towns of Brandýs nad Labem and Stará Boleslav. The island in the river Elbe (top left) is where the rowing club is located

When we arrived, we were surprised by the humble conditions. We were wondering if it was possible to organize a relatively big “small regatta” on this site.

The Synek himself was laying out the buoys.

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A few pictures (not taken by me) of the rowing club’s buildings:

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We unloaded the trailer and sent the kids for a training. After that we drove to our “hotel” Sport Centrum Brandys, which was a time travel back to the Communist 1980s. The rooms were depressing, brown, and worn down, but at least it was clean.

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In the evening, we walked back to the rowing club for a party. The beer was on Ondrej Synek and we had a great time.

My race was scheduled for Sunday, so on Saturday I took my youngest son to the Prague zoo, just a 20 minutes drive from the race venue. We spent 5 hours at the zoo, and it was great, except for the heat. It was 31 degree in the shade. In the afternoon, we returned to the regatta. I had a beer and watched the races. Our tent was under a group of oak and birch trees on the East end of the island, so we were in the shade, but still it felt like being in a laundry.

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Sunday started early, because the girls had their singles races at 9am. I managed to get a little 30 minutes practice row in, just to check if I would be able to race in this 2 year old bow-wing Wintech single. It was OK. Compared to my own single, this felt a bit more like rowing a tank, but I managed to get decent boat run.

Lenka’s race didn’t go well. She didn’t finish too far behind but did finish last, rowing a low stroke rate and looking tired. After the race, she told me she wanted to start rating up at the 500m mark, but got demotivated by seeing the 800 sign when she was expecting 500. A 800m sign? I checked it and found that just before the 500m mark there is a sign marking 800km to the river’s end in Hamburg!

Then there was a long wait for my race, which I spent watching the racing, or reading a book under one of the trees. It was hot, 29 degrees in the shade, but it wasn’t as humid as on Saturday. It was actually one of the nicest Sundays I have spent. On a river bank, under the trees, with a view on the houses and gardens on the other side of the river, early 20th century villas. Big houses from the 1910s and 1920s and smaller, but elegant villas from the 1930s. With gardens sloping down to the river banks, with large trees, nice terraces.

I should also compliment the regatta organizers. Even though there was a very full program with starts every 6 minutes, and just two motor boats, the organizers managed everything  easily and calmly. There was enough dock space to launch and land without problem. There were no queues at the catering tent, there was nice commentary, and the music was fantastic. Usually they just broadcast a local radio station, but at this regatta they had a complete musical program, starting with some jazz in the morning, moving to rock during the day, but instead of the usual pop, the DJ played music from lesser known rock bands and really helped to maintain the easy sunny weekend atmosphere. Just perfect.

Then it was time for my race. The line-up was:

  1. Malecky from Melnik (1977)
  2. Doubek from Brno (1974)
  3. Roosendaal from Brno (1972)
  4. Lacko from Roudnice (1972)
  5. Brezina from Litomerice (1969)

Before us, there were 10 heats of boys (14 years) doubles, starting at the 1000m just as we, so after warming up and a few practice starts, the Masters rowers could wait in the shadow under the highway viaduct.

Michal Doubek was telling me that I would win, but I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t know the other guys (and I didn’t check them), and with Masters rowers you can’t really tell from the looks. A huge guy who pulls 6:30 on the erg can be slower than me, a lightweight guy pulling 6:56.

The river was wide enough for five boats, but there were no buoys marking the lanes, just one line of buoys to separate the racing from the boats rowing towards the start. The course is almost straight, with a very slight turn around the 500m line.

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The course. Fairly straight but still not easy to steer with 5 boats next to each other.

We were started off. My start wasn’t slow but I do faster starts in my own boat. It takes more strokes to get the Wintech going. Malecky was a length in front of me, and I was in second position. I prolonged the high rate start to try and come next to him, which I managed to do, but I paid a high price. About 20 strokes in I realized this pace was not sustainable, so I lowered the rate a bit and Malecky rowed away from me.

At the 500m mark I was just one length ahead of Brezina. As I started turning to row the final straight line to the finish, Brezina started to catch up with me, but he didn’t turn. The umpire was shouting at him, and at one point I also shouted “left”. Then he slowly started to turn, but he had already pushed me out of my lane. Rowing in a quite nice club boat, I didn’t want to risk, so I preferred taking the wider turn over risking a clash. In the final 250m we were rowing next to each other, but he managed to push his bow ball over the finish line before me. Of course I didn’t protest. This is a small regatta. A Masters single race. No reason to be overly serious. Also, I did receive apologies immediately after the race.

It was also interesting to see that the winner, Malecky, started in lane 1 and finished in lane 6.

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Warming up and race

Warming up and race

So a third place. My measured time was 3:44. The river was almost standing still after the dry summer, so I guess that a stream corrected pace would be somewhere between 1:52 and 1:55 average 500m pace. Not good. Not bad. Probably according to expectations after 2 heavy weeks of training with a focus on head racing, no tapering, and an energy draining Saturday spent in a hot zoological garden. There were also a few beers on Friday and Saturday evening.

I just checked the results of the Masters Nationals, and Malecky was 9 seconds faster than I, rowing in the B field. Brezina didn’t start in the single. It’s an interesting fact about Masters rowing. Even when you win, you know there are probably dozens of faster scullers out there, who just couldn’t participate because of other priorities. It’s as much about showing up as it is about rowing fast.

So our son Dominik was the only family member taking some medals back to Brno. He steered the 14 year old boys 4x+ to a win and he won the boys 12 year old 2x with his partner Stepan. Among his trophy was the picture below and a rowing cap signed by Synek:

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The Synek handing out medals. How inspirational is that?

I love small regattas. A relaxed atmosphere. Lots of racing going on. This is were future Olympians learn to race and get addicted to rowing.

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