Coming from behind in a race 

25 years have now passed since British brothers Greg and Jonny Searle, coxed by Garry Herbert, raised the heart rate of whole nations in the final of the men’s coxed pair at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Despite the passing of time, this epic race still gives me goosebumps. I know exactly what happens, I know who wins gold, I know who wins silver, yet, somehow, I remain incredulous watching that last 250 metres.

For me, this race is inspiring because it screams ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! It ain’t over till it’s over!

To watch this clip of the race, just click on the text ‘Watch on YouTube’ when the IOC message appears (they won’t allow me to embed the video here):

Especially in the single (without a Garry Herbert to tell me what’s going on), I have found it hard to keep my intensity up after everyone has drifted out of my peripheral vision, and the race becomes a lonely slog.

With a little experience I have come to realise that if I can hear any splashing, grunting or clunking behind me, then I am still absolutely in the race. And if I can start to claw back at all, this in itself gives me a psychological lift that seems to mask some of the pain and instils the belief that I can claw back even more. Moving through another boat is a buzz, even at novice level.

But the crew leading the Searles were no slouches—the Italian Abbagnale brothers were defending Olympic champions (1984 and 1988) and 7-time world champions. The Searles already had a reputation for fast finishes and perhaps the Italians were dying a little, but both crews are throwing everything at it.

If I take the winners’ perspective, this race affirms that it is possible to not only come from behind and win, but to come from way behind with very little water remaining.

Even when all seems lost, perhaps especially when all seems lost, as corny as it sounds, we need to believe we can win—all the way to the line.

Here, Greg Searle explains the crucial call that cox Garry Herbert made (“If not now, when? If not you, who? How much do you want this?”):

But what if we imagine the Abbagnales’ perspective? Getting ahead early and keeping as much distance as possible between you and the fast finishers seems like a great strategy. I wonder whether, with 500 metres to go, they allowed themselves to believe for a second that they had it in the bag.  Being such champions, I suspect they thought: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! It ain’t over till it’s over!

Well, here are the stoic Abbagnale brothers explaining how they coped with defeat:

“It’s part of sport. One must accept both winning and losing. It’s a sign of maturity, knowing how to measure yourself in the face of victory and defeat.” — Giuseppe Abbagnale

The feature photo for this post is from Greg Searle’s tweet about the crew’s 25-year rerow at Banyoles earlier this month:

5 thoughts on “Coming from behind in a race 

  1. For another great come from behind classic, have a look at the 2012 LM4- A Final. South Africa in 4th, more than a length down with 500m to go, coome through to win. First 3 boats covered by about less than a second at the line.

    As a master, I’ve had to dig deep to win from behind. Last year in Copenhagen, my second 1x race of the regatta, rough water at the start gave me a fresh air stroke on one side and saw me lose a full length immediately out the blocks. Mentally I simply told myself, that I had 980m or so to the line and all I needed to do was hunt them down 1 by 1. As it turned out, I had manged to row through the field by 350 to go and won by 5 seconds. Easily the hardest race of my life.

    You have to believe in your training and yourself. Leave nothing out there. If you’ve done that and still not won, then the other guy was better on the day. There will be other days..


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