I had athletes telling me that it was better than the Olympics.
The organisers and local volunteers are to be commended for putting on such a fabulous event. In the wake of hurricane Irma up 2500 volunteers built the most amazing village for the event. The athletes had everything they wanted! It was all laid out in such thoughtful manner that the athletes did not have to walk big distance in the sweltering heat.
For the spectators it was incredible. There were so many trade stands, selling everything from burgers, to cryo-recovery blankets to regatta memorabilia. The organizers provided such a good spectator experience with big screens, engaging commentary, plenty of post racing events. There things for the kids to do, places to eat and drink. Even arriving first thing in the morning there was a calypso soloist singing Boney M songs and waving everybody in. It put a smile on everybody’s face before they even got to the course.
The quality of the event for all involved was truly world class, they have certainly set the bar high for future World Rowing Championships. My only concern is, did it break even. It must be said, there were a lot of sponsors, and I think most of the trade stands did quite well. These events need to be financially sustainable.
The racing was spectacular. Once again the ‘easier’ post Olympics year, was far from that. Crews covering the 2000m at stroke rates of 40+ were obvious to see, and they were at the front of the field. Young athletes really making a name for themselves. Women’s single did not have an Olympic single scull medalist in the final, first time since 1998 when Ekaterina Karsten had a year out. The medals are so widely spread across the events, 26 countries getting a medal. A healthy state of affairs for our sport. It is plain to see that the large countries with mature systems and money still have to fight to get on the Podium. Italy were fantastic, it has been along time since they have been top of the medal table.
Lots of people took the opportunity to travel to Sarasota on holiday and ‘squeezed’ in the World Rowing Championship. Over 50 family members from New Zealand flew over. Lots of athletes were planning on staying on for a bit to see Mickey Mouse in Disney World, and travel in the US. Some athletes who are a bit late for their next college semester, will be heading straight back to lectures. The Women’s pair had two university crews in it, with two longhorns from University of Texas as the Serbian crew, and two blues from Cambridge University boat club in the British pair.
It seemed that a lot of US college students had been given a few days off to come and watch the racing in their home country. It was even said that the support the Serbian Women’s pair got from their team mates was bigger than any Serbian crew has ever had.
Events like these are such a fabulous reflection about what is good in our sport. People from all around the world, of varying ability’s all competing against each other. Life long friends made in rowing, catch up watch some racing and go out afterwards for dinner and more. They talk about how good they used be, but are secretly grateful that they don’t have to race against those athletes out there.
Apart from some rain clouds, the only shadow hanging over the event was the conversations around the lightweight men’s four. To see the number of entries crash like they have since their removal from the Olympic Schedule was tragic. The overarching feeling is that the lightweights will not be part of the Olympic programme for much longer.
With our sport being so healthy and competition so fierce, is being handcuffed to the Olympics really the best thing for our sport. Since lightweights joined the Olympics our World Championships schedule has lost M4+, M2+, LW4-, LM8+ and now if the LM4- is 6 entries or less again it will be out of our World Championship programme. The money that being an Olympic sport brings has made it possible for people to make a living out of coaching and administrating, athletes can row for multiple Olympiads with a certain amount to financial security, in some countries. For sure if we drop out of the Olympics the sport will be financially worse off, there will be less people paid to coach. But we will always have a World Championships, people would work and train twice a day and win gold medals.
I do not have the answers to these questions, but we do need to have the debate and try to understand what we really want for our sport going forward. Those people leading the sport are its custodians. A responsibly I know they take very seriously.
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