Olympic round three of five set for Bath this weekend

The biggest batch of testing of potential future GB Olympians  ever conducted in this country – featuring over 2000 people – is approaching its half-way stage, with the third of five testing rounds due to take place at the University of Bath this Saturday, 11 August.
Testing takes place through the Amateur Rowing Association’s (ARA’s) World Class Start Scheme, sponsored by Siemens and funded through UK Sport with the support of the National Lottery.

Paul Stannard, Performance Development Coach for GB Rowing who is based at the University of Bath, is looking forward to the testing this weekend which will see 180 people tested for physical and other attributes after they signed up through publicity generated by a "sporting giants" national campaign earlier this year.

"The scheme is a fantastic opportunity to identify the Olympians of the future. It’s wonderful that the University of Bath can host such an occasion and we’re looking forward to seeing what talent the region has to offer."

The scheme made a promising start in Nottingham two weekends ago (28 July), where the first group, of 250 young people – all of whom aspire to represent their country in 2012 – were put through their paces to see if they had what it takes to be an Olympic rower.

The ARA’s World Class Start Scheme is looking to identify new talent for the future. To qualify for this set of testing, applicants have to be over 1.90m (6’3") for men and 1.80m (6’0") for women. Height is generally an advantage for rowing because long ‘levers’ are required to generate power.

One such Giant who turned up to the Nottingham testing centre was 18-year-old James Manvers, who is 193 cm tall.

"It’s nice to be around other tall people", he commented. "Normally there are only a few people my height. But there are loads of them here!"

The testing involves assessing each applicant’s capacity for endurance and mental toughness.

"The tests are challenging", said James, of his experience. "It’s an eye-opener to see what you need to do, what the best have to do, to get to the top."

Jack, 18, from Ipswich, also turned up. He is 196 cm tall.

“Today has been good. It’s hard work. I didn’t know what to except from it and I came here with an open mind. But I’ve given it my all today. It would be nice to go through but I haven’t got my hopes up.”

The second testing centre was held last Saturday (4 August) in Manchester. Hosted by Agecroft Rowing Club with kind assistance from the Holiday Inn at the Salford Quays, the day took place exactly five years before the rowing finals in London 2012.

The excitement was palpable inside the gym, where athletes and their anxious parents awaited a chance to shine.

Wayne Ainsworth, 21, from Preston, was one applicant. At 203 cm tall, Wayne has to order shoes especially from America.

"I thought there was no way I’d get through the application process", he commented. "I was a British motor-cross Champion in 2003 but I had to leave that sport because I had too many injuries. But now I have a serious amount of respect for anyone who does rowing. It was daunting, but I’ve done the best I can."

Another athlete who is trying rowing after success in other sports is 17-year-old Kaye Dekker. She is 186 cm tall.

"I used to play netball and I played with the England devleopment squad when I was 14. I’ve played for Merseyside since I was 11. The tests were tiring. It was exciting when we got here but then it hits you how hard it is to do rowing. It’s been good fun though."

Kaye’s brother, Arie, is 23 and 207.5 cm tall. He also tested for the scheme. He agreed with his younger sister: "It’s exciting being here. The tests were hard but I enjoyed them".

All applicants, sporty or not, will have to wait to see if their scores are good enough for elite-level rowing.

Stephen Hitchen, Chairman of Agecroft Rowing Club, was proud to be involved: "It’s been really great to host such a fantastic scheme", he said.

EIS Talent ID Coordinator, Natalie Dunman was also pleased with how Saturday went: “The Manchester event went really well, with a visible step up in the competitiveness of the athletes taking part. The competition is definitely “hotting up” as each week goes by.”

This weekend the testing will take place in Bath, before moving on to Gateshead (25 Aug) and concluding in Bisham Abbey, near Marlow (1-2 September).

Over 500 people have been tested so far for rowing as part of the Sporting Giants scheme.

"If the early indications of the standard of athletes are accurate", said Peter Shakespear, who manages the ARA’s World Class Start scheme, of the potential new recruits, "this could be the most powerful single identification tool any country has ever seen to recruit outstanding rowers".

Successful individuals will then enter the next phase of the World Class Start programme after a three month trial. They will be linked to a top club or performance centre closest to their home and will attend regular training sessions at the lottery-funded national training centre at Caversham, near Reading.

Many of the people who have come to the centre to be tested have decided to continue rowing regardless of whether or not they are selected for the Sporting Giants scheme.

Janet Belk, 25, 182 cm tall, from Kendall (Gt. Manchester) was a county hockey player until recently. She turned up to Agecroft R.C. on Saturday.

"I’ve enjoyed today. I might well take up rowing even if I don’t make it onto the scheme. I think I might have found my calling!”

"If we find 15-20 rowers from this scheme for future GB squads this will be a success story", said GB Performance Director David Tanner.  "We have already proven through rowing’s World Class Start Scheme that, by reaching out to non-traditional sources of rowers through state schools in cities, and testing in large numbers that we can have an impact. This new development will give us a significant boost as a sport and has only been made possible by the ever-growing impact of the 2012 Games".

"GB Rowing is also conscious that rowing is now a Paralympic sport and it is also strongly involved in the current British Paralympic Association plans to develop new talent resources for 2012", he added. "Several potential new rowers are already coming into adaptive rowing and will boost our squad size and, hopefully, medal potential in this area".

Chelsea Warr, UK Sport’s Head of Talent was excited by the prospect of the testing sessions ahead:

"UK Sport along with the English Institute of Sport has already seen through the Handball ‘auditions’, the impressive calibre of our Sporting Giant applicants. We are incredibly excited that we’ve got a pool of 2,000 athletes to test for Rowing short-listed from the original 3,800 applicants. We are confident that in partnership with the ARA Rowing World Class Start Scheme, we will unearth some impressive talent – many of whom will be oblivious to
how good they could potentially be in the future.

"This is a fantastic example of the power of hosting the Games in 2012 can bring together all the key agencies and their various expertise  – in this case British Rowing, UK Sport and the EIS – to drive the quest for medals. 2012 will change lives and could affect the destiny of a number of
young athletes walking through the doors of the Sporting Giants assessment centres in the coming weeks."