July 29, 2008
The First Week in Chuncheon
After some tough training this morning, I am now relaxing at my hotel. My room is on the seventh floor, with a view on the hills of Gangwon Province, South Korea.
We are staying at Ladena Hotel in Chuncheon City on a two-week preparation camp before leaving for China. Chuncheon is built around a large man-made lake. What used to be a river has been dammed at each end of the city, providing a picturesque stretch of water winding through the surrounding hills. Our hotel is on the outskirts of the city, next to the lake and about four miles from the boathouse.
The Dutch Olympic rowing delegation arrived here just over a week ago on 17 July. The six teams going to Beijing are the Men's Eight (with Meindert and myself), Men's Coxless Four, Men's Lightweight Four (with Marshall Godschalk from Northeastern University), Men's Single, Women's Eight and Women's Lightwieght Double. Twenty-nine rowers and twelve coaches/staff.
After qualifying in Poland just over a month ago, our crew took only a few days off to recover before hitting the water with our new objective: a medal. We started with a two-week intensive training camp in Maasdam, Holland, breaking technique down to the basics and re-evaluating individually how we approach the dynamics of our stroke. We made considerable progress and left for Korea well on track with our physiological and technical preparation. During the first week in Korea, we aimed at incorporating these individual components into the flow of the eight as a whole.
The Dutch Olympic committee chose this location because it will help us acclimatize to the humidity and heat of this part of Asia. We also get a chance to experience Asian culture and to learn to cope with media attention (local and foreign) and other distractions that are part of the Olympic experience. Arriving here early will helped us get over our jet-lag long before the start of our regatta.
It doesn't come easily! On rainy days (like pretty much most of last week), temperatures stay around 85°F, and then this week the sun has hit with a 105°F vengeance. Humidity is ALWAYS close to 100 percent. It is currently summer in Korea (same latitude as Florida), yet in our first week here, we had around three inches of rain, which caused considerable flooding. Last Thursday we were advised not to row because the dams had been opened to drain the lake. We arrived at the boathouse to look at the conditions ourselves and although there was quite a current and water levels were higher than normal, we decided to give practice a go. Halfway into the workout we heard the dam sirens sound a warning that they were opening more flood gates. Paying no heed to this warning we continued rowing, deciding to finish off a quality session.
It was not too long before we noticed the current was picking up fast, carrying more and more debris downstream. We were lucky to be close to shore at the time, and though there was no way to dock at the boathouse (the dock was completely underwater), we managed to find a bank not too steep and made a rough docking there - walking our boat back to the boat house.
After the training, deemed a success even though we had to scramble to safety in the end, we drove to the dam to admire the flow of water - very impressive. The hills surrounding Chuncheon, already saturated with days of rain, act as a massive funnel, sending massive amounts of water into the river.
Returning past the boathouse on the way home, the water level had risen several more meters.
Today, rain isn't the problem. Temperatures are close to 105°F and trying to keep cool is a major challenge; despite wearing a wet t-shirt on your head and constantly pouring cool water on yourself at each pause in the training, we are constantly wary of overheating and/or sunstroke. Sunscreens and wet towels worn as turbins are essential.
Arriving in Korea, we were greeted by a welcome party and taken to our hotel in a VIP bus. Chuncheon is decorated with massive banners reading "Welcome Dutch PreOlympic Training Camp in Chuncheon." Apparently the city built the boathouse specially for our use; a large and cool construction with easy chairs for relaxing between training sessions; a rowing course had been laid out in the middle of the lake. For those unfamiliar with rowing, a rowing course is set up with massive steel cables running underwater to which they attach buoys every 10 yards; The total length is 1.25 miles (2KM). It was washed away during the flooding - and re-laid two days later.
For coaching, the Koreans provided the team with a bunch of 145hp speed boats. Fantastic fun, but these speed machines were hardly ideal for coaching... Chuncheon has a massive water-ski culture, with more water-ski clubs dotting the lakeside than cafes in Amsterdam, so jet boats are in no short supply. However, most coaches quickly reverted to local fishing boats after getting through more than $1000 in fuel per day and frustrated at the vertical angle the boat takes on under the slow speeds.
We travel to the course in a mini-van designed with smaller people in mind. In New Zealand (where I was born and raised), people often complain about Asian drivers, but having been on the roads here I have to admit the Koreans are very well behaved!
Although few people speak English in Korea, the Koreans we encounter have been very friendly. We are continuously waved at during the drive to practice (might have something to do with the funny sight of 13 white, 215-lb, 6-6 guys crammed into a mini-van.) Koreans also seem to have an obsession with highrise homogeneous appartment blocks; whitewashed, clustered together around the city like termite hills and all numbered in massive blue markings, visible to all within a one-mile radius. South Korea has plenty of open space, and there are a lot of uninhabited hills. Yet, as the second-most densely populated country in the world, it has made very economical use of its ground space - a stark contrast to the Netherlands, which prides itself on (as the third-most densely poplulated country in the world) on its lack of any hills, high-rise buildings, and complete lack of ground/sea space for a single extra little house.
Stay tuned for my team introduction...
Thanks for reading...