London 2012 expects: Annabel Vernon

**What initially attracted you to rowing?**

I wanted to try something completely new and happened to live not too far from a rowing club. From there I went up to Cambridge University, which of course has an obsession with the sport so I couldn’t fail but row. The thing that made me like rowing was its ethos of hard work and teamwork; the thing that made me love rowing was the people who do it.

**Is there a particular race that you will never forget, for better or worse?**

I think every experience has its moments that stand out in sharp definition and its bits that will always be blurred. There are brilliant moments that I will always remember and horrific moments that I will always remember – probably an equal number of both.

**Do you prefer rowing as a single sculler, or rowing in a crew boat?**

Each type has its own challenges and excitements; I don’t think it’s a case of enjoying one over the other, but more a case of relishing the good bits and the bad bits of either discipline.

**How did the training change when you moved from the U23 squad into the senior squad?**

It was more that I went from a programme structured around my degree at one of the top universities in the world, to a period of working part time, to a time of training being my only occupation. My life priorities changed along with my rowing priorities. You can only train at the level at which we do if you entirely structure the rest of your life and your relationships around supporting that training. You have to be utterly single-minded.

**What is your pre-race routine?**

I don’t really have a routine as the environment in which you race changes so much, whether it be your crewmates, whether it’s an international race or an internal trial, or how you feel about your performance. I have struggled with nerves throughout my career so my main priority on race day is to think myself into a position of being calm, confident and ready to go out and give everything I have – channelling the nerves without trying to ignore them. This kind of mental state can take years to train, but I can now get myself into the right mindset without too many problems.

**With high expectations for GB Rowing at the Olympics next year, how is the GB camp coping with this pressure?**

There is more pressure from within the team than without, and having been one of the world’s top rowing nations for some years now, the athletes have learnt to use the pressure positively. Coming into an event as the favourites or as the champions is very different to coming in as the underdogs, and I have no doubt that every athlete on the team will be as well prepared as any in the world to perform at the Olympics.

**How would you rate team GB’s chances of a triumph on Dorney Lake come the Olympics, and trying to better the silver medal you attained in Beijing?**

I’m sure we’ll be in the shape and form of our lives next year, and we’ll be trusting that that will be enough to win multiple golds throughout the team.

Y**ou unfortunately had a few setbacks recently, in failing to qualify for the World Championships to defend your gold medal, needing to win the small final to qualify for London 2012. Have these set-backs increased the resilience and the togetherness in your crew?**

We train as a squad all winter and are only selected into our crews in the spring, and I’m sure the result in 2011 will leave all our seats up for competition for new athletes coming in. Of course, 2011 was a difficult result to swallow at the time, but remember these are multiple medal winners; girls who are proven performers and we’re tough enough to weather both the ups and the downs in sport. My first coach always said to me to not become bitter at your failures nor to be carried away by your successes, because then you forget why you got involved in rowing to start with. I always try to remember this – I have always loved rowing because of the people who do it, and because of the daily process of little improvements you attempt to make. Whether I come first (as we did in 2010) or 7th (as we did in 2011), I still love and am proud of what I do.

**At the Battle of Ideas 2011, you stated you’d rather come last in the Olympics than first in the World Championships. Could you elaborate a little on this?**

Not really, without penning an essay! I think the key is to remember that the World Championships measure your ability as a rower, against all the other rowers. The Olympics are multi-sport, take place every four years, and are so steeped in history and emotion that they go beyond sport – being an Olympian means something special and unique as only 10,000 or so people can call themselves that every four years.

It’s hard for me to sum it up, and indeed before I went to Beijing I presumed that the Olympics were like the World Championships, but bigger. Once I went to the Games, I realised that they were entirely different. I got it. It’s hard to describe – but perhaps the fact it’s hard to describe hints at the reason it’s so special. And can I just point out that it being special is NOTHING to do with media coverage! The Olympics is a bizarre cocktail, but to the athletes who take part, it’s pretty awesome.

**Here at Warwick we have a very competitive rowing club with some high level athletes. What would be your advice to those wishing to succeed?**

Hmm, see above. Never forget what made you passionate about your sport – any sport – in the first place and always remain true to that. Both the highs and the lows can have meaning for you and you shouldn’t try to just endure even the really horrible sessions. Love all of it, highs and lows.


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