Thursday, 23 May 2019

Thornley on road to recovery

WHEN Leander captain Vicky Thornley announced she was pulling out of the World Championships, which start on Sunday in Bulgaria, the news sent shock waves around the tight-knit world of rowing, writes Robert Treharne Jones.

Yet the news explained why the Olympic silver medallist had under-performed throughout the season, including Henley, where she lost her semi-final to the Australian, Madeleine Edmunds.

More importantly, her story shows how overtraining can affect all those who strive to achieve at the highest level, no matter how experienced they might already be.

“It really started in February, when I didn’t go to camp in Seville, and I’ve never been that ill before — it was a virus going round, which knocked me for six, and that developed into a chest infection,” she explained.

Having recovered, she was back in training and attempting to make up for lost time.

“I’m not the kind of athlete who does the training to race — I love the training, pushing the envelope and seeing how far I can go, I look forward to a big training block and attacking it” she added.

All too soon came the first World Cup in Belgrade, where she finished a disappointing fifth in the final.

“I went to Belgrade tired, went out for a warm up and my legs felt burning and horrible. Each round was hard, and in the final I ruined myself” she said.

A chronic hip injury began to flare up, but success in elite sport relies on overcoming the pain at every level, so she carried on, and three weeks later came the next World Cup in Austria.

I felt better going into Linz but I still wasn’t firing on all cylinders, even though I finished fourth. I thought ‘I’m not right, I shouldn’t be racing Henley” she added.

The crowd wanted to see her race, she wanted to race, and the draw of Henley proved too much

“I’d been struggling all year, I had my hip, and I had a bit of a cold, but I didn’t want to look weak, with people saying I’m chickening out” she added.

“It doesn’t matter what other people think, but I’ve got to learn not to worry about what everyone says. It should only matter what I think and what’s good for our project” she admitted.

Following that low point the Leander captain had three days off for short holiday in Portugal , with her partner, Rick Egington. But she felt no better on her return and reported to Anne Redgrave, the team doctor. A week’s rest produced no change, and neither did a second week.

“After three weeks off, I thought the season was over - I already knew the Europeans was off, it was my lowest day. Up until then I was positive I could come back” she added.

The GB training programme is physically exhausting but structured to allow recovery between blocks, and performance should then increase. Overtraining occurs when the athlete can no longer recover properly from that load, but launches straight into the next block, assuming that the fatigue is simply the result of the programme.

The cure is rest – complete physical rest for at least two months, which exercise-aholic Vicky admits will be tough. But with two years left to Tokyo 2020 she can learn from the experience as she continues her lifetime ambition of Olympic gold.

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