State rowing prowess a testament to effort

THE rain began falling about 2am, five hours before most normal alarm clocks fire up but just a couple before those belonging to this happy, hardy band.

By the time they emerged from cars in the grey, pre-dawn gloom, the rain had become a persistent presence.

But aside from a couple of good-humoured grizzles, it was barely mentioned.

They knew that as Tasmanian weather goes, this was relatively mild. Wind is considered a bigger hazard than rain. And at least the temperature gauge had a positive reading.

Some even had sunglasses optimistically placed atop rowing caps.

It's 5.15am and in the entrance hall to Tamar Rowing Club, bodies are being stretched into life.

Rolls of foam and wooden poles are put to ingenious uses to free up unco-operative muscles that would rather be in dry, warm beds than wet, cold boats.

A similar scenario is going on half a kilometre away around Home Point at North Esk, Launceston's other highly- productive rowing establishment.

Ditto down South, where boats from assorted clubs gather at long-established meeting points on the Derwent or the Huon to share in collective discomfort but also discovery.

The next time the question is posed why Tasmania excels at rowing, why nearly half of the state's London Olympians came from that one sport, this is the answer.

It is the combination of the training landscape with the willingness to exploit it. The willingness to get out of bed when that alarm clock sounds rather than turn it off and roll over like us normal mortals would.

Joining the Launceston group on this particular morning is perhaps the most credentialled of Tasmania's countless well- credentialled rowers, a member not only of that record contingent of London Olympians but of the four Games preceding it.

Anthony Edwards made his Olympic debut in 1996 before some of the rowers he now coaches were born.

He owns two silver medals and a bronze from his campaigns in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London plus a complete set of medals from his 11 world championship regattas.

Now a 40-year-old father-of-two living in Molesworth, the Ballarat-born lightweight's last competitive row was a frustrating fourth-place finish at Eton Dorney 15 months ago. Since then he has officially retired and, through roles with Rowing Tasmania and now the Tasmanian Institute of Sport, dedicated himself to unearthing and fine-tuning the state's next generation of rowers.

While his charges brave the unwelcoming weather in the same flimsy rowing suits he sported for two decades, Edwards is now dressed more like a Sydney-to- Hobart sailor than a Tamar River rower.

But protected from the elements by a Stormy inflatable raincoat and waterproof gloves, he is able to dispense advice gleaned from half a lifetime involved in international competition.

"Legs only", "Hold the glide", "Press through the hips", "Connect at the catch" he orders through a megaphone voicing its own displeasure with the rain through occasional feedback.

It is a language understood by coach and athlete but foreign to outsiders.

Rainwater cascades off the peak of his TIS baseball cap as Edwards remains focused on the stern of each boat - the most reliable pointer, he says, to its efficient progress.

His well-trained eye picks up minor flaws invisible to a layman.

"It's often about rowing smarter rather than just rowing harder," Edwards explains.

"I like to think I can challenge them, push them physically and also think about how a boat moves.

"There are three elements to being a good rower - physical, mental and technical. If you score highly in all three, you're probably going to be a success."

The only concession made to the weather is when the group opts to keep shuttling between the Grammar bend and Home Point rather than plough on into the choppy waters downriver towards the customary turnaround point near Tamar Island.

Even with this adjustment, the training session still racks up an impressive 18 kilometres.

As daylight (as opposed to any semblance of sunlight) begins to kick in, a group of pelicans emerging from the Tailrace and some black swans that left it ludicrously late to avoid a single scull were virtually the only other visible signs of life.

Six days a week, while Launceston sleeps, its rowers train.

From about 7.30am, they begin drifting off to assorted other lives, most seeking solace in coffee. Some head to university studies, others to day jobs, many slotting in alongside colleagues ignorant of their three-hour shift already completed.

Rowing is not the most lucrative of sports. Few rowers are millionaires. Most, out of necessity, have day jobs.

When Lindisfarne's Scott Brennan simultaneously trained for, and won, an Olympic gold medal while also qualifying as a doctor, it was a monumental achievement.

Better paid sports could learn plenty from rowing.

Millionaire Test cricketers like Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill who sooked about having to attend coach John Buchanan's pre-Ashes boot camp in 2006 would benefit from some time in the Tamar rain.

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