July 14, 2016
A long row to Rio for Cameron Girdlestone of the Aussie M4x
Written By Rosannah Snelson
Via skype from the Australian Institute of Sport’s European Training Centre in Gavriate, Italy, I caught up with Australian Rowing team member, Cameron Girdlestone. Competing at his first Olympic Games in August, the 28 year-old shared how the crew’s preparations for Rio are coming along, as well as how he maintains focus as the pressure builds.
“We may not be rock stars, but we sure get to travel to some amazing places”
Originally from Sydney, Girdlestone moved to the Reinhold Batschi National Training Centre in Canberra after selection in the team in February. Since May, he and the Australian team have been undertaking their international preparation in Gavriate, Italy.
“We may not be rock stars, but we sure get to travel to some amazing places. This year we’ve gone from Australia to Italy, Switzerland and Poland. In a few weeks we’ll be making our way to Rio de Janeiro.”
This year’s Australian Quad is made up of two Olympians, bronze medallists from the London Games, Karsten Forsterling and James McRae, and the two ‘young guns’ Alexander ‘Sasha’ Belonogoff and Girdlestone – crew mates from the Sydney University Boat Club.
“We’ve got a crew with a lot of strength and horse power”
Girdlestone tells me that this combination is their secret weapon. “We’ve got a crew with a lot of strength and horse power, and Karsten and James bring the experience of previous Olympic campaigns into the boat. We’ve all rowed together for a number of years, in different combinations, and know how each other works. It’s what we all bring individually that enables us to work so well together.”
The guys have already proved themselves ahead of Rio by beating the current World and Olympic champions at Rowing World Cups II and III in Switzerland and Poland. The Aussies took out gold at both regattas and claimed the title of World Cup Series Winner.
This isn’t going to Girdlestone’s head though. He’s relaxed, preferring to focus on each training session and tackling one day at a time.
“I am always 100% focused on the process and prefer to concentrate on what I want to get out of each session rather than looking too far ahead. For me, it’s all about the boat and making the boat go fast.”
So, what does it take to be an Olympic rower?
“I loved the emphasis on team work and was instantly drawn to the competitiveness of the sport.”
Girdlestone started rowing at the Kings School in Sydney’s Parramatta at the age of 14, “after getting out too many times in cricket.”
He tells me that he was hooked from the first stroke – “I loved the emphasis on team work and was instantly drawn to the competitiveness of the sport.” From those early days, the dream of sitting on the Olympic start line was born.
Girdlestone represented Australia for the first time in 2005 at the Junior World Championships and again in the Under 23 team in 2007. He made his first senior team in 2014 and his 2015 crew won a silver medal at the World Championships in France. This year, he hopes to turn that silver into gold.
“It goes without saying that the ‘Road to Rio’ is no Sunday afternoon joy ride.”
“Last year was an amazing experience. The memory of standing on the dais and watching the Aussie flag being hoisted will stay with me forever. But this time around I want to see the Australian flag in the middle and hear our national anthem play.
“However, as a crew we don’t focus on the outcome too much, we talk more about how we will execute our perfect performance on the day. Giving our best performance will provide us with the greatest chance of taking home gold.”
It goes without saying that the ‘Road to Rio’ is no Sunday afternoon joy ride. It’s more of a daily commute, requiring patience, perseverance and bucket loads of grit and sweat.
“We train every day – multiple times a day – both on and off the water. Even when we’re not rowing, we’re usually thinking about rowing.”
Rowing uses every major muscle group in the body so to be the best, the boys’ coach, John Driessen, has them on a program that combines endurance rows with race work, weights sessions and hours on the ergo.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have the occasional pizza and gelato night too.”
“Every bit of our training is focussed on speed. Initially it was all about getting quality kilometres under our belt but as the Rio start line draws closer, our focus has moved to race specific work. This involves training our anaerobic system and stretching our threshold ability so that come racing, we are able to find that extra little bit.”
In an average session Girdlestone will burn up to 2000 calories, so nutrition plays a critical role in ensuring that he can perform at his maximum through every work out.
“Nutrition is incredibly important in our preparations for Rio. We need to make sure that we are supplying our body with the right type of fuel and the right amount of fuel each day. Here in Italy we eat a balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates. This includes things like pasta, cereal and wholegrains, as well as chicken, salmon and red meat. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have the occasional pizza and gelato night too.
“Hydration is also vital to performance as we need to replenish the amount of fluid we can lose due to sweat loss in a session; this can be up to four litres.”
When they’re not training (or eating), the boys concentrate on getting adequate recovery on board. This involves a combination of stretching, using the foam roller, needling, deep tissue massages and putting the feet up.
“We trust each other and we look after each other.”
“We are so fortunate to have the highly skilled and specialised Rowing Australia support staff who travel with us. Barely a day goes by where I won’t have a physio, massage or needling appointment. Over the years I’ve learnt just how beneficial these sessions are to maintaining optimal performance.”
Australia boasts a successful Olympic rowing history dating back to Stockholm in 1912. Since then, the men and women in green and gold have won 32 medals across all the different boat categories.
No doubt Girdlestone and the boys will be looking to add another medal to the tally in just a few weeks on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Rio de Janeiro.
“At the end of the day, we are four guys that want to go fast and be on the same page for every stroke, every catch and every finish. We trust each other and we look after each other.”
We look forward to watching Cam, and the other athletes, fulfil their dreams in Rio.
You can follow Cameron Girdlestone’s ‘Road to Rio’ on his Instagram account: cam_girdlestone