Philip Doyle took up rowing just four years ago while studying medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, where he rows with QUBBC. He was selected for the the Rowing Ireland Senior High Performance Team this year and competes at the 2018 World Rowing Championships in the heavyweight men’s double sculls with UCC athlete, Ronan Byrne. Here he shares his hopes and fears, insights and observations ahead of the World Rowing Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
The Good And The Bad of Being Unknown
As I rock up to the World Rowing Championships course in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on the first day of training to unload the boat and take our first stroke on the lake that will define us over the next two weeks, I realise that we are a rare commodity. Not myself alone, but together, my stroke man Ronan Byrne and I are largely unknown within the rowing community.
I competed in World Cup lll this year, and Ronan in the World U23’s, both in single sculls, but together we are something that should make the other competitors look twice.
At this level of the sport, which is arguably the highest level, the top boats know each other well. The ‘Ones to Watch’ have been announced by World Rowing, the big names have already faced-off this year at the European Championships, World Cup regattas and even Henley saw some battles.
The bigger, better known athletes know where they stand and can use previous performances to assess the probability of success, but we are nobodies. We have yet to step on to the world stage as a double.
We have proven that we have speed and talent as individuals, but rowing is about rhythm, power, technique and most of all cohesiveness. If raw power decided races, we would just use the rowing machines. We are unknown, we are untested, we are dangerous and until now we are undefeated.
Surely to be racing at the World Championships, we have the speed to win it. Or do we?
Being unknown can also force us to ask questions of our own speed and ability to compete. As I look around the boat park in Bulgaria and see men and women with the Olympic rings proudly tattooed for all to see and I spot faces I have followed on social media over the past few years, I ask myself the question, are we worth knowing to these proven, tested and higher profile athletes?
For the moment, we must have confidence in our training and preparation. We must believe that we are fast enough to be noticed, to be mentioned in a pre-race discussion by another crew, so that they say: “Watch out for the Irish!” But until our first race is over, we simply won’t know.
The Danger of Potential
As the competition grows closer and we test our speed, the word potential repeatedly comes up in conversation with coaches, friends and even I use it a few times myself.
We paddle down the course in Plovdiv and hit our target speed. We therefore prove that we have the potential to match the world’s best time for men’s heavyweight double sculls.
Potential is one of the most dangerous words in elite sport. Many resources have been expended on athletes who have had ‘great potential’.
Potential can also be dangerous because when an athlete doesn’t reach it, does it mean that they are incapable of doing so or that they need more time to achieve it? I have been told in the past that I have it, but I have not yet felt that I have achieved my full, complete potential.
I find myself surrounded by athletes at this competition with Olympic and World Championship medals and I wonder if they have reached their potential and what their views are about it. When they achieve a goal, does that mean they have been successful or that they have shown that they have more potential?
Today was a perfect example. We were told that we had the potential to achieve our fastest time over 1,000m during a race piece, because we should be fresh and there was a tail wind to help us down the course.
We failed to achieve our best ever time, but we were close. The wind gusted against us in the middle which slowed us down and we were in the waves of another boat.
So close to racing, do we see this as success because we were fast and cohesive? Or do we view it as failing to reach our potential of achieving our fastest time?
Coming up to racing tomorrow, we must be confident in our ability while maintaining humility, so that we can achieve success and not just strive to simply reach our potential.
Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne raced in heat 1 of the M2x at the 2018 World Rowing Championships at 9.45am on Sunday September 9th. His story continues…here.