Does culture matter in rowing?


I am standing alongside the Rhine in Basel at the Basel Head and experiencing that empty feeling all rowing coaches know that comes after the crews are

Basel Head Rowing Race

on the water and before the race start: relief that they are on the water and that your job is over for the moment, there may even be time for a coffee, worry about how the race will pan out, and the ever present mixture of hope for a good result and fear of a bad one.  As is my habit, my thoughts turn to the gloomy and I wonder how I can effect change for the better with the two eights that Belvoir RC have entrusted to me. Raf Wyatt has brought them a long way in the last month and now I have 2 months to take them further along the road.

After an enjoyable coffee my thoughts wander further along the path and I start to think about what different things I can offer to what Raf has already said and done and what the club’s regular coach, Camille Codoni, has taught his people. These thoughts lead on to what difference it makes that I am a Kiwi as opposed to Swiss, as Camille is.

About then my train of thought was abruptly broken by meeting Ian Wright.

Ian Wright Rowing Coach

Ian is another New Zealand coach whom I have known since 1982 when he was part of an U23 eight that was racing in Australia. Since then he has forged a career as a rower which included an Olympic bronze and in coaching that has brought two consecutive wins in the mens’ eight at the U23 World Champs.

Ian is in Switzerland to take up his new position as chief coach for the Swiss Federation. He is the last in an illustrious list of head coaches for the Swiss which has included, to my knowledge, only one local, and that was back in 1974 / 5, Melch Buergin, better known in the rowing world as an athlete and as long time boss at Staempfli. Since then they have had two other Kiwis, including the late, great Harry Mahon, an Aussie and several Englishmen. This raises the interesting question of why does Swiss Rowing not hire local talent? Do no Swiss want to do the job?, Are foreigners better? Does being an outsider with a different culture make it easier or more difficult to implement change?

This line of thought fitted nicely into my previous musings about what I can offer to my crews over the next few weeks. Can I use my Kiwi Culture as a positive influence? And what is it anyway? Can I facilitate an osmosis so some of the magic of Karapiro Lake Karapiro, home to NZ Rowing.

Lake Karapiro, NZ Rowing

that brought nine medals home from this year’s World Champs rubs off on Belvoir? Can the magic be transferred to Sarnen?

The Staempfli 24x at Sarnen.

As I stand, deep in thought, staring over the river the Swiss eight rows by. It is immediately obvious that Ian has had an effect already on his athletes – at rating 18 there is a clear pause at the finish, Ian’s technical trademark has shown up after a bare week’s coaching.

If Ian can make a substantial change like that in a week maybe I can have an effect in eight weeks!

Duncan Holland


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