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Against the Olympians

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Everyone who plays a sport dreams, at some point, of going up against the best of the best. Play hockey? You’ve played in the Dream-NHL. Play soccer? You’ve been in the Dream-World Cup. Tennis? Dream-Wimbledon. You get the picture. But what if it wasn’t a dream? What if you actually got to test yourself against the very best. Not in one of those fantasy camps, but against the honest-to-God best, in real competition.

For two lucky rowers from New Brunswick, this is no fantasy. From October 16th to October 19th Michael Craig and Rob Alexander will race against the literal best. Of the 20 entries in their event, the double scull, 12 feature at least one Olympian. Welcome to the Head of the Charles, a 45-year old event held in Boston/Cambridge, where a select few have a shot of victory, and the rest only hope to keep pace.

“Of course its going to be intimidating,” says Craig, ” but with the sport of rowing its very relaxed and the Olympians will basically just be walking around, they’ll just be normal people. They have to carry their own boats, they have to wash their own boats and they don’t get paid to do what they do. Most of them live in poverty so that they’re able to train full time.”

While the Olympians will be normal people on the ground, in the water it will be a different story. Craig acknowledges that concessions have to be made.

“The important part is to set realistic goals. I mean, its safe to say we’re not going to win. One of the goals we’ll have, for example, if we finish within five percent of the winning time then we will have a guaranteed entry for next years event. And that’s pretty much how we’re looking at it.”

The man in charge of getting Craig and his partner Alexander in shape for the race is Pat Cody. He knows what it takes to compete in the Charles, boasting second and third place finishes at the event. He also knows that there is a different atmosphere, an extra something at the Charles.

“For those with lots of experience it is almost a spiritual event; a celebration of all that is good in the sport. A beautiful course, seeing old friends, watching hundreds of thousands of people who have never seen a rowing race shut down city streets to watch the event.”

Cody says the biggest thing for his athletes going in is to be comfortable, to develop “boat sense”, as he calls it. In the end success is based on preparation, knowing the boat, the course, and themselves well enough to know how far each can be pushed.

“We must feel prepared and comfortable with the course before arriving,” Cody stressed, “because everything about the event is overwhelming – I want them to feel calm when they hit the water.”

For three days in October, two New Brunwick rowers will vie with the world’s best down five kilometres of river in Boston. For Cody, who knows what to expect, and for Craig and Alexander, who do not, it will be one of those things we call “an experience.”

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Written by Colin Hodd

April 16, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Posted in Print

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