Rowing: Haigh's Olympic drive enhanced by injury

By Kris Shannon

Women's pair Rebecca Scown (L) and Juliette Haigh (R) out on the water. Photo / Christine Cornege.
Women's pair Rebecca Scown (L) and Juliette Haigh (R) out on the water. Photo / Christine Cornege.

She might not have thought it at the time, but spending a prolonged period out injured seems to have worked out well for rower Juliette Haigh.

This time last year, Haigh, one half of the world championship women's pair, was on the comeback trail from a painful prolapsed disc in her back which kept her on the sidelines for the first half of 2011.

Along with Rebecca Scown, she was hoping to recover sufficiently to finish in the top eight at the world championships in Slovenia and qualify the pair for the Olympics.

Not only did Haigh recover in time, but she and Scown blitzed the field in Bled to defend their world championship crown and well and truly book their ticket to London.

The pair tackle their first international race of the Olympic year at a World Cup regatta in Lucerne this weekend and Haigh said her enforced absence only increased her desire to stand atop the dais in London.

"I'm pretty determined and motivated - always have been - to go to the Olympics and to win a gold medal," Haigh said. "But I was literally on the couch - I was at a point where I couldn't do much at all, and it became an obsession.

"Until you have something taken away from you, or the thought that it's taken away from you, you don't know how much you want it.

"Getting back in the boat, I really appreciated having the opportunity to try to win an Olympic medal. I felt so lucky that my body responded to the rehabilitation and I could get back into rowing and get back on track. I was more motivated than ever."

Along with a steady diet of reading and television, Haigh had some rehabilitation exercises to maintain her sanity, but there was one thing she avoided.

"At the worst points, I couldn't watch rowing. It just didn't feel right. I was in pain, and it felt too far away from where I was at that point."

But she couldn't keep away from the sport for long and was soon "itching to get back out there", something her partner in the boat appreciated.

"Juliette and I have a shared goal, so to have one person away from working on that shared goal is quite hard," Scown said. "I had to spend a lot of time training by myself and I think I work best when I get to work with someone else."

There's another reason Haigh and Scown needed to maximise their time together. Because they race in what Scown called the "ultimate team boat", the pair have to finetune their movements to ensure they are as synchronised as possible.

"The pair boat, because we have one oar each, we rely on working well with the other person. We have to be so in sync with our timing to make sure we go straight and we have got to each hold our side of the boat - otherwise you go in circles.

"We've done it so many times and we know it so well that we don't have to talk about it."

Ensuring that synchronisation is as close to perfect as possible is the main task on the agenda this weekend in Switzerland. While many of their opponents hold an advantage having raced in the first World Cup in Belgrade, the world champion pair are not overly concerned with results.

"I think we're always racing to win but, before that, we want to get all the little things right and all the things we've been building on - get it all right before the Olympics," Haigh said.

- APNZ

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