Benedict Tufnell

Boat Races Build-up: “There is a different aura, a different smell in the air, you can see it in the athlete’s eyes…”

by Benedict Tufnell

Oxford University Men’s stroke Vassilis Ragoussis prepares both mentally and physically for his biggest race, The Cancer Research UK 2017 Boat Races, this Sunday. 

How much of the training is mental rather than physical?

The nature of our training means that there is a huge emphasis on mental toughness. Spending hours and hours a day on the ergo or water is very monotonous, having that ability to keep pushing yourself when you’re tired is key. The physical aspect of training is obviously very tiring and has a huge effect on your body and how you feel, but the mental aspect to keep composed and keep ‘on it’ everyday is perhaps even more important. Every day involves the constant search for the perfect stroke, and this requires a lot of motivation and mental strength.

Vassilis Ragoussis wearing purpose-made Hunter Field boots, developed for the Oxford and Cambridge teams.

How important is the team and working together as part of that team?

The team is very important; of course, much of the training can seem very individual, whether it be on the ergo or weights, we measure ourselves on objective individual times. However, in the boat we must all work together to form one cohesive unit, where one individual is not worth more than any other, the individual parts come together to form a machine.

What keeps you motivated through the long months of training?

The guys on the team. Some mornings when you wake up at 5.40am, you are tired and your body aches, it’s the fact you know the rest of your friends on the team are going to be there in the gym with you. Having those bonds and friendships makes it a lot easier for me to train on the dark winter months.

What do you love about the sport?

I love the competitiveness and the teamwork needed. I also love it when the boat sings, what strive to feel in the boat is this ‘zen’, when the boat and athlete are in perfect harmony, in a perfect rhythm.

What inspires you?

The guy in front of me and the guy behind me. This year I have been fortunate enough to row with guys that have been to the Olympics and some are World Champions. Having that type of pedigree around you just pushes you to the next level.

Some mornings when you wake up at 5.40am, you are tired and your body aches, the fact you know the rest of your friends on the team are going to be there in the gym with you makes it a lot easier to train on the dark winter months.

What does being a member of the team mean to you?

A huge amount, getting the opportunity to row on such an incredible and prestigious team is an absolute honour. I know it’s a cliché but this has been a dream come true, and it’s not over yet.

What does winning mean to you?

At the end of the day, it all comes down to winning. You either win the race or lose, and our success is measured off that. So, winning means absolutely everything to me.

What do you do the day before/the morning of a race?

The day before I try to spend most of the day relaxing and stretching. On race day there is a different aura, a different smell in the air, you can see it in the athlete’s eyes. It is important to try stay as relaxed as possible. Stress or excess tension can cause a decrease in the ability to perform at your best.

How much does the unpredictability of the Tideway, the course itself, impact on your preparation?

We train a lot on the Tideway at different points of the year and know the extremes that Mother Nature can throw at us. On race day, we will be ready for anything.

Are the ever-increasing crowds something you notice during the race? How do they affect your performance?

It’s something you notice at first, you can never prepare for it. Everyone deals with it differently, for me I try to enjoy the nerves as much as possible and know that the nerves mean that I am ready to race.

Hunter Field returns as official partner to the Cancer Research UK Boat Races, to be held 2 April 2017. Hunter Field provides boots for the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge crews that not only see them though the gruelling winter training regimes but also serve to protect them from the Tideway, the section of the River Thames in London on which the races take place.

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