Olympic rowing coaches have their own cycling Tour
Coaches and others ride bicycles next to boats competing in the rowing competition in Eton Dorney, near Windsor, England, at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, July 30, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Natacha Pisarenko
WINDSOR, England - Rowing at the London Olympics is really two sports in one.
While crews carve their way through the 2,000-metre course, a pack of coaches follows them on the a path alongside the water, doing everything from yelling encouragement to trying to take split times.
All while trying to stay on their bikes.
They're not always successful. Canadian coach Kenny Wu went down twice in the bushes Monday.
"I saw him go headfirst into the bushes," said Peter Cookson, Rowing Canada's high performance director, who was riding the course himself. "All I saw was his legs sort of flapping. I stopped and said 'Kenny are you OK?' Because I didn't want to miss the race, of course. He waved, said "I'm fine' and I kept going."
Most of the problems happen during the eights' races, because the boats are so fast.
During one race Tuesday, there were at least three dozen coaches and team officials on bikes racing down the side of the course. And Cookson says Canada might have five or six team officials riding alongside one of their crews.
Cookson is often one of them.
"It can be scary," he said. "The faster the boat, the scarier it is of course because you get into a peloton and people are watching the race and not really watching where they're going. There's a lot of wheels that touch ... Luckily, touch wood, I've never had an accident but I've seen quite a few people having them."
It's hard to believe the rowers in the boat can hear their coaches, especially at the Olympics when they come in front of grandstands filled to the brim with cheering fans.
But the coaches try.
"My voice is hoarse for a reason," said Cookson. "Sometimes they're too far away, they can't hear you," he conceded. "But the majority, they have a cue for what they're listening for."
A few years ago, the mad dash down the course on bikes wasn't allowed. But now it is, so coaches mount up and ride along.
At these Olympics, bikes are even provided for the coaches.
"They're actually built by BMW so they're quite nice bicycles," said Cookson, who rode three races Tuesday.
BMW is the official automotive partner for the London Games. Apparently they do two wheels too.
But Terry Paul, another of the Canadian coaches, brought his own bike to the Olympic regatta.
"I was right on their bow," he said Monday of his ride alongside the men's four of Will Dean of Kelowna, B.C., Anthony Jacob of Vancouver, Derek O'Farrell of Montreal and Michael Wilkinson of North Vancouver.
The four was in a lane away from the cycling path, so there wasn't much communication. But Paul said men's pair Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder said they heard him when they rowed.
Paul is a keen mountain biker who has incorporated road cycling into this rowers' fitness regimen this year. He even brought his road bike to England and exited the rowing venue Tuesday with wheel in hand.