And after that late night, Sam pulled me up at 5am(!) to get into a car and be driven to Eton Dorney, via a Windsor park and ride, for some early morning Canoe Sprint action. I brought a pillow and slept most of the journey, and Sam had the excellent forethought to provide fresh croissants and coffee from a thermos.
Running on sugar and caffeine, we meandered the walkways to the Eton Dorney ticket booths, not without their own pink monoliths and Wenlock statues. Orange and purple uniformed volunteers welcomed us, “Good morning”, they smiled, and, as usual, we passed through the security gates into the park.
A few breakfast places and shops, a try it yourself rowing room, and one huge stand lining the manmade lake made up Eton Dorney. An hour or so early, we meandered, eating our breakfast, wrapping up warm. It was a particularly blustery day, that threatened to shower, a day for which we’d be sitting outside.
Sat down in our expensive finish-line seats, we watched the big screen and the fella with a microphone, as they explained each of the sports. Kayak’s racers sit in their boat, and use a paddle with two blades, steering using their feet. Canoe however sees athletes kneel up and use only a single bladed paddle, looking very uncomfortable. The single blade seemed for the most part to stick to one side, and the steering performed at the tail end of the stroke. Slower, more technically difficult and really strenuous. And obviously, in both, first across the line wins.
At 9:30am, the first two heats, Men’s Kayak Four 1000m, or K4 1000m. In the distance, down the lake to our right, the men lined up. The starter beep goes, and they’re off, accelerating in unison. At the moment we’re watching the screens to see what’s going on, as they get nearer and nearer. Soon they’re level with us, and the leaders are battling it out for first place. Slovakia and Hungary won their respective races and qualified automatically. The rest would race later in the day for the last few final places.
At 9:46am the Men’s C2 1000m (C = Canoe) heats. Much slower this time, as expected. Germany won their heat with a time of 3:34.435, and Azerbaijan theirs, 3:38.042. Angola were massively behind, finishing a long way back from the pack, but nonetheless the crowd cheered them on until they crossed the line.
At 10:07am, hurtling through these races now, the Women’s K1 500m heats. This set of races bothered us. In each race, bar the first, all six competitors would go through to the semi final, their positions in the heat deciding their lanes. This made the races a little lacklustre, except perhaps for the Iranian, the one racer out of 26 to be eliminated at this stage. Still, in heat four we cheered on our British hopeful Rebecca Cawthorn. Frantically waving our union jacks, and shouting “GO ON! GO ON!”, she won her heat to much applause.
Between races the compere kept us entertained, with the usual bongo cam, mexican wave rehearsals and variants and so on. Although the mexican wave doesn’t work so well when it just goes along in a straight line. You can’t see it approaching.
At 10:35am, the Women’s K2 500m. In this event Team GB were a last minute entry. We raced in the first heat. Again, we stood up, waved our flags, cheered and shouted, although this time to not so much avail, finishing fifth, but still qualifying for the semis.
With the heats out of the way we were on to the semis. First up, as before, at 11:01am, the Men’s K4 1000m semi. Australia won with a very fast 2:52.505 time. They went on to win the competition (we didn’t see that), but in the final actually went slower than this.
At 11:09am, the Men’s C2 1000m semi final. As usual, we arbitrarily picked our team to support, no team GB in any of the men’s races. Russia and China won these respectively. And the two runners up in each also went through to the final, Belarus, Romania, Czech Republic and Cuba. In the final, which we didn’t see, Germany went on to take gold.
Come 11:30am and we’re onto the Women’s K1 500m semis. 24 boats racing again, this time in the lanes they’d fought for, in three semi finals. In the third race we cheered on Rebecca Cawthorn again. A sea of red, blue and white appeared in the stands, and cheers followed Rebecca as she sped down the lake in her matching union jack styled kayak. She was narrowly second, by three tenths of a second, 1:52.542, but still comfortably qualifying for the final. Sadly in the final she didn’t medal, fighting it out with the Italian again, but only for 5th and 6th place.
And to the last races of the day, Women’s K2 500m. As expected, Team GB didn’t make it through the semis, finishing up seventh and long way back in the race. Still, it didn’t dampen our spirits and we cheered them on to the very end. Germany, China and Sweden won these semis, with Germany eventually taking gold in the final.
And to the end of our Canoe Sprint experience, just in time for some lunch. Knackered, we slowly walked back to the park and ride, rode the leather seated First bus back to the car, and drove home again. We kept 5live on, and listened to the Brownlee brothers take gold and Bronze in the triathlon. Too tired to stop and visit Windsor castle, and at home too tired to do much other than sleep. We slept, for most of the day.