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Are you Race-Ready? Everything you should know before the Starter says 'GO'
October 23, 2020
Sandy Killen

A. Backing it in – "Back it Down"

1. STS – spoon to the stern. With the spoons facing the bow, the blade is at 20° negative pitch. This makes it very ineffective "backing it down" against a strong tailwind and/ or against river current. When backing it down with the spoons to the Stern: the rower or sculler at the finish position with the blade squared rotate their grip as if the blade was feathered. Then back it down, with either arms and back or on the slide, pushing away to almost to catch position; then rotate the wrist is it they were squaring the blade turning the spoon over so that it makes a 20° angle of attack to the water surface and then returning to the finish position as blade skims on top of the surface. This is usually accomplished by either the stern pair or bow pair of an eight or four.

2. Keeling it up – handle at the knee. Those are not actively "backing it down" should turn their blades over so that the spoons are facing down at 20° angle of attack to facilitate the boat moving to the stern and at the same time steadying the keel of the boat with the handle against their knee or between their thigh and torso.

3. Locked on – keeping it pointed

a. Scull the sweep oar. Sculling the bow around. This is over utilize to keep the boat pointed. It's used almost exclusively so that a full stroke is not taken pulling the boat away from it being held. Ideally, this should be used in a strong crosswind when the boat is pointed more than 20 or 30° off of the direction of the lane.

b. Touching it up from the catch position. Touching it up at the Catch position. This is accomplished by going out to the Catch position using arms almost exclusively, possible back with 2-3 inches of slide, to keeping the boat pointed.

c. Bow pair look lively. The Bow Pair should be given instruction to keep the bow pointed and not necessarily wait for commands from the Coxswain.

B. Start

1. Floating – hold at the finish of last stroke taken for alignment.

a. Pointing the Bow- "Odd/Even" (1&8 2&7) with a standard rig on an Eight. 1 to touch it as 8 backs it; 2 to touch it as 7 as backs it. HOLD at the finish of last stroke. By HOLDING at the last stroke taken is to facilitate changing position and/ or direction will not imparting speed to the boat. The Referee Aligning should tell the crews to HOLD as they come even.

2. Stake boats – come through & lock on (A – Backing It In)

3. Start platform – back it in (A – Backing It In)

C. How much time before the "GO" signal

1. The Start – The Starter announces the name of each crew & the word "Attention." This should take probably 15 to 20 seconds, during that period of time the crews need to be coached to actively keep the boat pointed. In most cases, they now set the blades at the announcement of the first crew being named. During these 15 to 20 seconds it is possible to do at least 7 to 8 "touch up strokes." Using "sculling the bow around" they would lucky if they get in one or two before returning the oar, and that in itself is a loss of time. It's imperative once the crew is locked on that the bow pair actively keep the boat pointed.

2. Quick Start: it is most imperative that they keep the boat pointed with the possibility of a Quick Start being announced.

Competitors on the line (actively touching it up) need to do so through most of the presentation of their names. That is not being coached in this country; competitors need to be coached to continue their pointing throughout most of the presentation of their names, particularly since we do not recognize hands anymore at the Start.

Are You Race-Ready?

The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the following: "Coaches, on a fair-weather day, at the end of a workout, are your crews able to bring the boat into the dock without your assistance?"

Anecdote 1): While being the Judge at the start or the 2006 FISA international regatta in Luzerne, the Aligner gave me a thumbs-up indicating alignment as the bows of the boats were bouncing around within 10 cm (4 inches) of each other. I turned the white light on, indicating alignment to the Starter. He actively continued to align as the crews were announced. By the announcement of the fifth out of six competitors, the crews had stopped "touching it up." By the word "attention" all bows were aligned. The Aligner continued fine tuning through the "GO" signal.

Anecdote 2): At the 2016 European championships in Brandenburg Germany, under horrific conditions at the start, none of the crews were "sculling the bow around." They were all going out to catch position "to touch it up." In the men's Eight race they were touching up through the word "attention." The Bow in the men's straight four, nearest the camera, took 2 strokes between the word "attention and the "GO" signal.

Here are a couple examples:

Men's Eight (M8+) - Final, European Rowing Championships 2016 - Brandenburg (GER)

In this race they are "touching it up" Right up through the word "Attention" on this quick start. Plus, on the Windward side they are backing it down; Belarus with the spoons to Stern, Germany spoons to the bow. With spoons to the bow there is -20° pitch. After I start, the commentators mention that everybody had the blades in the water on the GO command.

Men's Four (M4-) - Final - European Rowing Championships 2016 - Brandenburg (GER)

In this race the Starter represents all the crews on the starting line; you can see the Denmark, nearest the camera, is touching it up even after the word "Attention." Nobody sits there dead- still during the presentation of the names like some of crews we see at many regattas.

Sandy Killen won several US National and Canadian Henley championships from 1963-1975, a US team member from 1973-75, a US team coach in 1976 and 1978, a coach at all levels from high school to clubs and masters for decades, a five-term Judge/Referee Committee member from 1981-91, a USRowing judge/referee since 1980, and a FISA umpire since 1992. Up to the present time, Killen is the only US FISA Umpire who has also been on national teams as a competitor and coach.

Things can get wild at the start, keep your cool and be ready
Things can get wild at the start, keep your cool and be ready

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