my own goal

THE world lightweight single sculls champion, MBE, will not be at Henley this week. Now concentrating on double sculls, he will compete in next week's European Championships in Lucerne. Here he explains what and what not to do on the big occasion . . .
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The Independent Online
IN ANY sculling event there has to be a race plan. Preferably, there should be a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. The one you execute depends on where you happen to be at a certain stage in the race. If there is only one plan, you might have to be ready to improvise. Your mind and body are working all the time.

The 1986 world coxless fours final still accounts for probably the biggest mistake I have ever made in sculling. We had stolen a bit of space on our main rivals, which they didn't expect. Perhaps we didn't either. That was the moment for us to press home our advantage and put our foot on the pedal over the next few metres. But it wasn't the plan we had worked on.

To this day I think I should have shouted for us to throw the plan out and improvise. We did not; we stuck to our stroke pattern at that 1,000 metres mark and were passed. We had to settle for silver when it could have been gold.

Plans are not made over long, arduous hours of training for nothing, though. Departing from them cannot be undertaken lightly. At the 1993 world championships final in Roudnice everything was going pretty well as I approached the 1,700m mark. It was there, according to our plan, that I was going to accelerate to the line with 30 of the strongest strokes available.

In rowing it is natural to drift across the lane towards the person who you feel is the strongest challenger or is forcing the pace. In this case it was the Australian, Stephen Hawkin, the Olympic champion from the previous year, who was coming through on my left. I looked that way. I remember looking at the buoys and thinking for a split second 'I'm getting a bit close here'. Just when I was about to build up towards the finish I hit one. The blades came up at me. The others started to pass me. I was at a standstill; to all intents and purposes the race might have been over.

I got myself away from the buoys, pulled to the middle and then started again. I got to the 250m mark and put the race plan into effect. It worked, I was prepared for it and I won by more than a second. It is difficult to think of a bigger possible error in a final but I got over it because I stuck to what was agreed.

Others thought differently. They suggested that I won because of the mistake, that it set the adrenalin flowing and gave me no other option but to charge for the finish. I knew differently and when the world championships came round last year I was pretty keen to make a point. It worked and I retained the title by two lengths. Apart from the 1993 gold medal I also have the buoy as a memento.

It will be a wrench not to be at Henley this year. As Steven Redgrave says, it is the FA Cup Final of rowing. There is a wonderful sense of occasion and you really do like to be there if you are in this sport. After Atlanta I'd really like to go to Henley and and win the Diamond Sculls. That's my ultimate aim. Being a lightweight sculler I'll have to put on bulk. I'm 71.5 kilos and have been told I can probably fill out to 79 kilos. I'll still be giving everybody else a vast weight advantage but at least it will be 15 kilos instead of nearer 25. For the moment we are concentrating on Lucerne in a few days' time. It's always been a great place for me. I lost my father's gold ring there the first time I went, which was awful, and somebody said I had better replace it with a gold medal. I did and have been successful there ever since.