by Jérémie Azou (translated by Gillian Shaw) source text
I could hardly have imagined finishing the year so fantastically! This weekend, the French Rowing Championships marks the end of what has been the best season of my career. And each medal has its own tale to tell!
The medal I won the day before yesterday has its own particular flavour; That of sharing and friendship with my crew- and club-mate Julien Gazaix. He has been there training with me day in and day out, for the past two years. His physical and moral support was essential when aiming for the Olympics. Finishing with this title with him, in the 2x, was the best finale possible.
Photo credit: FFSA (Lionel Piquard)
We had to wait until Friday before the Championships to have our first outing. It was impossible to meet sooner to prepare the boat – with our agendas we just couldn’t fit it in. Thankfully, these few kilometres were enough for us to feel confident once again.
Every race has its own importance. After all, to go fast, feeling relaxed and having fun isn’t enough. Every race is an opportunity to set benchmarks, to refine our tactics and to improve. Adaptability was our motto.
Following our coach’s advice, the purpose of the semi-final was not necessarily to win, but to secure qualification. A risky gamble, since we finished second to last behind Toulouse: if the weather turned, we would have been placed in a lane on the ‘wrong’ side, with tricky conditions. Only the element of surprise would allow us to win the final, but we had to try! On Sunday, despite the wind and the waves, the organising committee maintained the original lane placing. The dice had been rolled. It was now up to us to make the most of the opportunity. During the land warm up, the race strategy was obvious for Julien and me: make as few mistakes as possible and don’t go off too hard, because it was going to be a long race! The plan was clear and simple, until the coach shared his point of view: “guys, go off hard and try as hard as you can in the first 1000 metres because if you let them take you, it will be harder come back at them…”. I thought this race strategy was a bit crazy. Especially since I really like to attack in the third 500 metres. So I was rather doubtful. But the confidence that comes with so many years of training together buoyed me.
The warm up on the water was challenging but essential to give us a last technical practice. Before going to the start we exchanged a few words: “we’ll try to stay with the group, and not be left too far behind, so we avoid making mistakes. That will be the best way of keeping the boat running on the top of the water. And so what if we look like we have shortened up, the really important thing is to keep the rhythm!”
Once on the start, we waited for ages. The water was very rough and the wind made it almost impossible to get straight. The umpire, out of annoyance or pity, decided to start us quickly…
As soon as the lights changed, all I thought about was technique. In my head I repeated continually “no mistakes, just no mistakes…”. There were only a few small slipups here and there – nothing like our competitors. Every stroke we took a little bit more of a lead. Our lead grew progressively larger and then stayed the same, from the middle of the race. The crews chasing us started to catch us up but it was already too late. We had put ourselves well out of reach for any comeback. We just had to keep going until the end and avoid any major mistakes. Once we crossed the finish line we were overcome with joy. What a weekend, I am still struggling to get back to normal!