Sunday, 16 September 2012

Home Sweet Home

Home sweet home

Wow what a journey.

After over 40,000km air travel, about 25 bus trips, 19 nights, 15 aeroplane meals, 11 flights, 9 airports, 8 cities, 3 races, 2 lakes and 1 A Final we have all arrived back in the homeland. 

I was the last to return to my house as I couldn't get a flight back to where I live until today. The last flight home was lovely. There were only about 20 people on the whole plane and the flight was so short it felt like we were descending just shortly after being at top altitude. And a bonus, I also received an ANZAC biscuit on the flight, a nice taste of home.

I am writing now from my flat in Dunedin and I have never been so happy to return to New Zealand. I'm not sure quite what it is about home that makes me so stoked to be back. Maybe it is because everyone here can speak English or or the friendly strangers that smile in the street. Or maybe it is because of the beautiful mountains, green grass and fresh air that we have missed after being in concrete jungles for some time. A few things I am looking forward to here are real milk, green lettuce (as opposed to white lettuce) vogels&marmite and being able to drink tap water.

Our time away was really incredible. We were very lucky to have many unique experiences while away. Racing at World University Championships was probably the best highlight of our rowing careers so far.

We trained as hard as we could at home and gave it a good shot up there on the world standard level. We knew we would be racing top crews from around the world. 

We woke up on race day feeling nervous and excited. For all of us this was the most important race in rowing so far. We went for a pre-row first thing in the morning an then checked over our boat making sure every nut, washer and bolt was firmly in place. We then put the boat away and went up to the locker rooms for second breakfast and to put on our uniforms. Once we were ready it was about an hour wait until we could get back on the water to warm up for racing so we sat inside listening to our iPods and going over the race plan in our heads. 

Once the wait time was over, we got back on the water and did our normal pre-race warm up including some speedy bursts and practicing our starting sequence. Then we headed for the starting blocks. Once we were in it was about a five minute count-down until the starting officials lined up the bows of our boats then did the roll call and start "Ireland, Poland, Russia (which he seemed to say with extra emphasis), Netherlands, Ukraine, New Zealand…... Attention....... (a few seconds that felt like forever passed) GO!" Within the space of half a second, the traffic light changed from red to green, our boat holder let go and we were off. We had an excellent start and went straight into our race plan. Russia pulled away in the first 500m and the rest of the crews were within a boat length of each other. We stayed focused on our boat and when coming through the 1000m we did our piece of 30 on the legs and pulled up on Ukraine, from there Russia, Poland and the Netherlands were ahead and it was a battle for 4th place. We moved up and had a fast last 500m but the Ukraine got us on the line. We placed 5th by half a boat length to Ukraine and had about a length ahead of Ireland who came in 6th.

We raced some fast crews that day and were upset that our efforts didn't win us a medal. I think we all found it pretty hard coming 5th. We spent a lot of energy to get to Russia, and to come away with 5th was really hard for me and the girls. However, we learnt a lot and 5th won't make us quit, it will make just train even harder for next time. In hindsight we gave it a really good shot and who knows where the next journey will take us. 

I think everyone on the trip learned a lot about a lot. 
Rowing, racing, traveling, team work, organization and the vastness of the world, especially Russia. 

After racing the team slowly went their separate ways. All of the athletes headed to Moscow for a night or two and the coaches headed back to Auckland. While in Moscow we stayed at a very cheap backpackers hostel in the city called TNT. It was a very cheap hostel and seemed very strange when we arrived as it was nestled inside an old apartment building. The hostel had no signs outside, just a whole lot of scaffolding and construction equipment. I followed the address given to me while the others waited outside. I went up some stairs into the apartment block and knocked on a door with no signs on it except for the number 6. It looked like what I thought was a bedroom in the apartment building. The door opened and a woman named Olga invited me in. To my surprise, there was a hostel inside and she showed me to our 8 bunk dorm which looked out onto the wall of another apartment building. 

Olga and the staff at TNT were very helpful. They spoke English and gave us great advice for what to see and do while in Moscow. Olga, well the other Olga (there were two!) seemed very grateful when I left them my New Zealand flag. A small token of our appreciation for their help. 

While there in Moscow we did some sight seeing and visited the famous Kremlin and Red Square. The girls and I went up a large bell tower and got a beautiful view of the city while the boys went to the armory museum, where I'm sure they had a great time looking at guns and the like... Boy stuff...

We also managed to take a trip on the metro, a huge complex of underground trains that network the entire city. Trains arrive every two minutes and only cost about 25RUB or 1NZD per trip. We also went out to a market just out of the city that sold many Russian souvenirs including items from the Russian civil war and many of the typical Russian Matryoshka dolls. The market place was surrounded by castle like buildings giving it a Disneyland-like appearance.

We also dined out a few places including метро (Subway) which like most places in Russia had beer on tap. Also we went to a restaurant called Елки Палки "Yolki Palki" where we ate traditional Russian meals and Matt Glenn ordered a jug of beer which looked to be about a litre! Sarah and Esthie tried some Russian cherry dumplings too which they said were delicious.

After Moscow Luke and Laura headed back to NZ while Matt and the Lightweight double headed to Europe. The girls from the four and I also headed off and managed a stopover in Dubai. There we were lucky enough to stay one night at Shane O'Brian's (fellow West End Rowing Club member and Olympic Champion rower). He lives in a housing area of about 600 houses which have pools on every street.

An extra bonus of the trip was staying our second night at Atlantis The Palm Hotel. The hotel is famous for being the 'eighth wonder of the world' and the hotel was an experience in itself. We managed to get a super-cheap deal of and we loved the irony of being poor students in such an extravagant place with a whole lot of rich people!
The hotel had within it 7 restaurants, a mall, 3 cafes, a 65,000 fish aquarium and Aquaventure - a hydroslide waterpark with the famous 'leap of faith' slide which goes through a see-through tunnel in the 50ft shark tank. That was a great 24hrs and then we began the long journey home, a taxi, three flights and a car trip from the airport.

So what now? Well I would like to say that we are already out training again but unfortunately the focus at the moment is unpacking, resting our bodies from peaking in Russia and catching up on a LOT of university study including two weeks of missed classes. Our coaches have advised us to take some time off rowing training, which is hard for us because we already miss being out on the water. However, in order to recover properly we have to rest up for another week or so and then cross-train and slowly get back into intense training for the summer season.

Now that we are home in New Zealand we would again like to thank every person who supported us on our journey of being selected, training and racing in the New Zealand Rowing University team. Thank you to all of those who messaged us, read our blog, sponsored us, wished us luck and gave us advice. There is no way we could have raced without your help. We really mean that. Thank you again and we look forward to the next challenge, whatever that may be.

Kirstie, Sarah, Esthie and Kirsty.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Thank you

The girls had a good race on Sunday, they placed a very close 5th in the A final just after Ukraine. 5th was not as good as they had hoped for but they had a really solid race and were please with the race plan.

They are headed to Moscow and Dubai for a bit of sightseeing on the way home and are looking forward to a wee break before training commences again for the next feat.

All of them would like to take this opportunity to thank you and everyone who has supported them in anyway. They are extremely grateful and there is no way that they could have made it to Russia without all of your support.

Thanks again
Kirstie, Kirsty, Sarah and Esthie

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Final

Just a quick update! The girls raced in the Repechage today and have qualified to compete in the A Final tomorrow morning at 10:30am Local time (6:30pm NZT)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Day One of Racing

I am writing from our room in the athlete village. It is 8:30pm here and nearly time for bed. Racing commenced today with heats for us and all of the NZL crews. It was good to get our first race out of the way, a tail cross-wind proved tricky racing conditions but we felt as if we handled them well and made the most of it. There is certainly some tough competition here at World University Rowing Champs but we were happy with our race and we are excited to race for a spot in the A final tomorrow against Ukraine, Poland, Ireland and Norway.

Apart from our race we had a pretty uneventful day. We managed to get a lot of study done and went for a nice stroll as a crew this afternoon. Always a good relaxing wind down from racing.

The other crews also did well. Laura Tester (LW1x) has qualified for the A final and the other crews will racing for spots in their respective A finals tomorrow in Semi's and Repechages.

Live results can be found on the World Rowing Website :)

Photos From the Opening Ceremony

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Latest Update

The Main Building in Kazan

Well we have had a relatively productive day today. We were first told by the organisers here that we could only row between 10am and 11am. A one hour window for all of the rowers at this event to all go down to the lake in. That sounded like a pretty ridiculous rule to our coaches, and by the sounds of things, all of the other coaches at this event too. They must have realised that finding boats, rigging, setting up, training and just getting to and from the lake takes wee a bit more than 60min! So they extended training time to the entire day. What a relief!

Anyway, we managed to get out to the lake this morning on the 8:30am bus to go out for a training row. We planned to do a few laps of the course and some speed work, and to get settled in to our new boat. Which I must say is amazing. A brand new Filippi four worth around $37,000NZD and a brand new set of oars to which a very nice to row with. We must have looked like kids on Christmas when we unwrapped the boat and riggers from their cellophane and bubble-wrap yesterday.

Brand New Filippi!!

When we got out on the water we were yelled at by some of the officials, we paddled down the course in the lane we were told to when at the start line, and then at the 1000m marker we were told to move again. "Ok" we said, taking the best option, not to argue in English (pretty pointless when only Russian is understood by most). We rowed down and then grilled again when we came in to change some boat settings and pushed off. The regatta officials thought we put our boat in the water on the "out" pontoon rather than the "in". After trying to explain that we were adjusting our boat (and looking like we were playing charades) they let us paddle off again. 

By the time were were done with our row it was back on the bus and home for lunch. While on the bus we were filled in on something we had been trying to figure out recently. Google blogs tells you how many views the blog has had and from which countries its been viewed from. When we started this blog we never thought it would go global but it seems to have headed that way. With views from all over the world it was interesting to see that almost a third of the views were from the Netherlands. We were almost concerned as to who was reading it. However, when we got on the bus today, some dutch rowers sat behind us and asked if we were the famous Kiwi's they had read about. Turns out some one had found it and posted it their Facebook and they had been reading our blog!

In the afternoon we went out for another paddle. We had a really good row practicing our race plan and getting excited for Friday. While we were out, the Dutch rowers that we met went for a quick swim. At the end of the warm-up bay there is an old pontoon ramp, where an old launching section used to be (which Kirsty says should be removed, or that the Russians should have warned everyone about) and they rowed straight into it at full speed. Kirsty saw them post-crash sitting in one of the officials boats along with the entire bow end of the boat. There goes a few tens of thousands of dollars and a brand new Stampfli boat! The stroke seat was wearing an Australian rowsuit at the time of the crash and we joked with him about pretending that they were an Australian crew. Following that it was quite ironic that one of the officials came up to us and asked us if it was our boat that was crashed, we said no and them overheard them talking to another official and thinking it was an Australian crew. 

The Damage...

To be fair though, the Australians, and most of the other countries we have come into contact with have been very welcoming and friendly. One of the great parts of racing here is meeting athletes from all over the world, it really is a unique part of the experience. Meeting people from other backgrounds and lifestyles who spend most of their day doing the exact same thing as us. Rowing. 

Well its only two sleeps now until our first race and with that in mind, it is off to bed and ready for our last training day tomorrow. 

The Athlete Dining Hall

And to all the people from all over reading our blog, leave us a comment, we will be happy to reply!
Kirstie, Sarah, Kirsty and Esthie.

 Four out training this morning

 The hardest decision of the day... What to wear?!

 Kirsty, Mascot, Kirstie

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Arriving in Kazan

Sunday 2nd September

Well we had our last training in St. Petersburg (rather rainy, see below) and we have finally arrived in Kazan. The flights here were relatively short; Two 1 hr 1/2 flights but travel time was about  8h30m travel due to airport waits, traffic jams, bus trips and a long wait in the accreditation offices at our venue. Kazan is about 2,000kms South East of St. Petersburg and it is here that we will race against the other countries at the World University Rowing Championships. 

We were welcomed straight off the plane by the Kazan Rowing 2012 Officials who had flags and signs and were waiting for us on the tarmac. They were transportation officials and they spoke English! What's pleasant surprise! They also organised our baggage for us while we waited in the VIP lounge. The venue where we are staying looks pretty awesome so far, it is at a huge tennis complex and our regatta is a part of three warm-up events for the Universiade here next year. Universiade is the event that hosts all the University Games in one location and it occurs every second year. Kazan will be the host country in 2013. The other warm up sports here are shooting and canoe sprinting. 

We went up to the dining hall which was great, a buffet dinner including huge salads and a nice selection of meats and rice dishes. Dessert was particularly interesting, we took what was labelled as a 'triangle' assuming it to be an apple pastry or the like. It was filled with onion and mushroom, not quite as we expected but very nice all the same. The free bottled drinks and endless tea and coffee are a bonus too. We drink a lot of tea! They will help us to stay hydrated through out the week. One of the best parts in the athlete dining hall is seeing all the other athletes from all over the world here too. France, Italy, Sweden and Kazakhstan were a few we saw while we were at dinner tonight.
After dinner we were asked to board a bus that would be taking us to our rooms, we waited on the bus for about twenty minutes for our assistant Kirill to take us. Once on the bus we drove for about 30 seconds and arrived at the village. We couldn't believe they drove us such a short distance! Esthie mentioned "look I can still see the tennis ball!", in regard to the very large display on the front of the tennis centre where we just drove from. We were literally about 100m away.
I asked Kirill, our helper how he learned to speak English. He said English was a specialised subjectt at his school. Kirill's school has 1,000 co-ed students and its name is "School Number 18". How strange! - I asked him if he was student number #958 and he laughed. 

Well, it's nearly 10:00pm now so it's off to bed and up in the morning for a paddle on the lake. It will be good to get our boats set up and to test the waters here in Kazan. With only four sleeps until our first race we are very excited and very proud to be representing New Zealand on the other side of the world. 

 Rain Storm!
 St Petersburg Airport
 Aeroflot - Russian Air to Moscow and Kazan
Arrival in Kazan

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Training and Sightseeing.

Thursday 30th August - Saint Petersburg

Since arriving here in St Petersburg for our training camp before heading over to
Kazan for the regatta it feels like we have seen many great things. Today we went out sightseeing. We were very lucky to be shown around the best parts of the city by a host Maria, who spoke English very well and had a great knowledge of the history of the Saint Petersburg. 

There are numerous parks, monuments, museums, palaces and rivers. The whole city is comprised of small islands and is connect by canals and rivers. Maria said its known as the 'Russian Venice'.

We first saw the Palace Square and what is called the Alexander Column, a 600 tonne monument made of a single piece of granite. It is huge and it stands without any foundations because it is held in place by the sheer weight of itself. It is the tallest monument of its kind in the world and was brought here by sea all the way from Finland. They had to design a special barge to ship it here and then erected it without and cranes. Imagine dropping that on your big toe...

We then went to Saint Isaacs Cathedral. A marvelous building that was built with 100kg of gold on the exterior and another 300kg on the interior. It looks beautiful when the sun shines on it. Which must not be very often, Maria said that St. Petersburg only gets about 30 days per year of cloudless sunshine. We seem to have been lucky enough to get a few of those 30!

Another site that we got to see were some beautiful parks and rivers. There we noticed a lot of wedding parties taking pictures and I saw that many of the brides looked quite young. Maria told me that women here who are unmarried by 25 are almost out fresh of luck for finding a husband. She explained that the war and revolution caused a 10 million man lack in Russia and that most girls are married by 18 or 19. Sounds like us kiwi girls better hurry up!

Whilst driving from place to place we saw a lot of young soldiers who Maria said were completing their military service. In Russia it is compulsory for every 18yr old man to serve the country in the army for at least one year before they progress to university or the workforce. 

Another stunning building that we got to see was called the Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood. A church planted right on the spot where the Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by a group of revolutionaries who threw a bomb at his royal carriage. The church to me looks like it was made out of candy by Willy Wonka. 

Here are a few more of the city sights:

Saturday 1st September - Saint Petersburg

I am writing from in my room here at the rowing club, it is 5am and I can't get back to sleep so it looks like I've adjusted well to the time zone which is 8hrs behind NZ. The others seem to have adjusted well too.

We have had no Internet here for the past couple of days, but it has been repaired and we are finally back in touch. It is a strange feeling not being able to keep up with the world as all the news and radio is in Russian!

Yesterday we went for a walk to the nearest shop which was just over a km away. There are almost no shops out here so we have been wondering where all the four million  people buy their food from! Dairies and corner stores seem to be non existent in this part of town. Also, we are fully catered for here at the English Rowing Club so there isn't much need to go out. We have been presented with all kinds of Russian cuisine including the traditional soup 'borche' which is made from beetroot, and all kinds of other stews, rice dishes, salads and cakes. Even so, were all curious to see what the food is like at the store. So we set out by foot hoping to find a supermarket, but where we ended up was more like a Russian version of Nosh or Farro; a flash delicatessen with many goods imported from around the world including gourmet chocolate, fresh produce and a beautiful bakery with Russian pancakes known as 'blini'.

We bought a few snacks and when we went to pay with our credit cards the cashier asked us for proof of ID or "documetu". We didn't really understand very well but sheepishly handed our credit cards and ID and hoped for the best.

Maria our tour guide from Thursday said that English is compulsory to learn at school. However, It seems that English speaking Russians are very rare. Either that, or they just choose not to speak in English very often. On our walk home from the shop a man ran up to us and asked us something in Russian, I thought he might have been asking for a lighter or directions but having no idea what he was saying I yelled "английски", pronounced as "angliski", which is the Russian word for English and he gave up on his questions and stormed off. 'Stupid tourists' he was probably thinking!

Gestures and expressions are proving very helpful for communication, especially yesterday at the boat club where I must have looked like I was playing charades while trying to ask security for keys to the boat shed door!

In terms of training, we are staying at a rowing club but are training elsewhere at a huge complex a few kms up the river. For training we bike over to the training centre where there is a 1km course on what appears to be a purpose built reservoir for rowing, canoeing, kayaking and even coastal rowing. It is well sheltered here and the water has been glassy for every single row!

The training centre is full of life with all classes of boats going in and out all through the day. It has also a bike path down the side of the lake which attracts many rollerbladers and makes a great spot for our coach Lauren to follow us up and down the course on her bike.

Training has been going very well. We are enjoying the Filipi boat that we are training in here. The boat is set up with steering in the bow seat, so Kirsty T has a new job now which is the foot steering and Sarah gets to focus on setting a good pace and rhythm.

Biking to Training

The Regatta Centre

Training Lake at Sunrise

Training Row

Biker gang on the way home

On our first day of training here we just did some light trainings to help us get moving again (after 40hrs travel time) and get a feel for the water. Now we are into doing speed work and working on fine tuning our race plan.

Well it's 5:45 now and time to get up soon for first breakfast and a cycle down to the regatta  centre for 1km race pieces. We also plan to visit the Winter Palace today so I had better get up and get ready. I will give another update soon.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment for any of the team.

Kirstie J