What would it be like to be an ... Olympian?

We asked Scott Brennan – who
won the gold medal in the men's double sculls at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, with his teammate David Crawshay – about rowing and racing.

[ Archie thought it would be a great idea to contact an Olympian. We were very fortunate to not only contact an athlete who had competed, but one that had brought home gold ! ]

Scott Brennan, having arrived home with his Olympic Gold medal

How long does it take to row a race? (Sam)

Well Sammy a lot of that depends on the weather - if we are rowing into the wind (headwind) it can take a lot longer than if we were rowing with the wind (tailwind). Our race in Beijing took 6mins and 20sec into a headwind, but the world record (set by the Frenchmen who were also in our race in Beijing) is 6mins and 3sec and was set in 2003. They did that with a strong tailwind. 6 minutes doesn't sound like a long time, but trust me - it can feel like forever!

What do you eat before a race? (Morgan)

I like to only eat light, easily digested things before a race Morgan. Because rowing is a sport that is half sprinting and half endurance, the muscles get starved of oxygen. When this happens they produce something called lactic acid, which gives you that burning feeling in your legs if you try to run too fast for too long. The problem is if your muscles make enough of it, it can also irritate the nerves that go to your stomach and make you feel really sick! So if you eat too much before a race - you vomit!! GROSS!! That's why I like to eat a few Weetbix and a banana at least 3 hours before a hard race, so it has time to settle down and I don't end up seeing it again after I cross the finish line :)

Scott and David competing during the Mens Double sculls

Is it difficult to arrange transport when you are taking your boat out of Tasmania? (Simon)

That's a good question Simon, and yes it can be difficult sometimes. Luckily Tasmania is helped out by a shipping company who assist in transporting our boats around Australia. People have tried to fly them in the cargo holds of planes before - only to find out when they arrived that they suddenly had two short boats instead of one long one!! When we race overseas we hire the boats from the same boat company that we use at home in Australia. We use an Italian brand here and we hired their boats in China, so we were familiar with our equipment before the race.

How old were you when you started rowing? (Archie, Jessica, Paris G, Morgan and Sasha)

I was a bit older than you guys when I actually started rowing - 12 years old, but I was 9 when I first decided I wanted to win a gold medal at the Olympics in rowing - when I saw another Tasmanian, Steven Hawkins, win his rowing gold medal in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 - in exactly the same boat class as we raced in
Beijing! (Double scull)

Did you make your boat? (James)

No James, we didn't make it - I think it would have gone very slow if we did! A lot of technology has gone into designing new boats over the years, with new lightweight and strong materials like carbon-
fibre being used in special ways to make boats both strong (so that they don't bend or break when we pull on the oars) and specially shaped to cut through the water quickly and smoothly. These boats are made by experts in the business - and even they struggle to get it right all the time!

Did you lift lots of weight to be strong? (Sam)

I have lifted many weights Sam, but it is something we have always been VERY careful with. Most injuries with rowers tend to be done lifting weights. I first started when I was 14, and I've been lifting them every week for almost 12 years now! Luckily I find weights to be a really fun part of our training. The goal with lifting them in rowing isn't to look like The Terminator though. If we're too big we slow the boat down!! So we just try to be as strong as possible while still having good fitness and speed.

How many hours did you train each day just before the Olympics? (Erin)

Erin, because many people overseas, particularly in Europe, row for a job, this means that they can train all the time and get really, really good at it. Unfortunately for us that meant we had to do the same thing if we wanted to beat them. So we would spend on average 4 hours a day training, sometimes less, and sometimes more. I think the most we did in a day was 6 and a half hours. I was really tired by the end of that day. Hungry too!

Have you ever fallen out of your boat? (Archie and Adrian)

Ha ha! You guys had to ask didn't you! The first time I was in a boat by myself I fell out, and another time a few years later, when I thought I was really good, I broke something on my boat and went in for a swim! At least it was a nice day.

'Worn Out' or 'Woo Hoo' ?

How did you find the time to row and study? (Rebecca)

Unfortunately Rebecca it meant I didn't have a huge amount of free time. Often I wouldn't get to sleep as much as I wanted, or when I really wanted a rest I had to get off the couch and either study or go to training. But over the years I learned that I didn't really miss TV at all, and that if I got myself into a good mood then training and study could be fun - especially with other people. In the end I actually made a lot of friends doing both, and I got to meet a lot of interesting and energetic people in all sorts of areas of life. I don't know a lot about TV shows though!

Did you think you were likely to win a gold medal? There must have been a lot of competition! (Adrian)

There was a HEAP of competition Adrian! One of my heroes from when I was at school, a HUGE New Zealand man, was also in our race in Beijing as well! It felt very strange to be racing against someone I had looked up to for 8 years since I saw him win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. But we had won our heat and our semifinal quite easily in the lead up to the gold -medal race, so we knew that we had done all the training and practice we needed to be able to win on the day.

Less than 1 and a half seconds between 1st and 2nd place!

How did you feel before and when the race started? (Morgan)

I've never felt so nervous Morgan. People say I looked really calm before the race began, but there was a big storm of thoughts flying around in my brain on the start line! It's normal to be nervous, and scared, before a big event. That comes from the fact that so many years of training all come down to one single moment, and it's all over in a few minutes. Just one chance, and then you have to wait another four years to do it again! But there's nothing wrong with being scared by that, it's how you decide to deal with your fear that makes the difference. For me, once the race started, i just said to myself all I had to do was the perfect rowing stroke 240 times (roughly a normal number of strokes in a race) and nothing else mattered. So when I started to feel nervous, or in lots of pain, I just came back to that thought - the perfect stroke, over and over, and it stopped me from getting distracted. Before I knew it half the race was gone and we were a long way in front, so I could start to enjoy myself a bit more then!

What was better: winning the race or being awarded the gold medal? (Maia & Sasha)

Girls, nothing in my life has even come close to that moment when I heard the finshing sound go off as we crossed the line and I knew we had won the race. All the pressure, nerves, and exhaustion had finally finished, 13 years of training, racing, and striving - and we had done it! Hearing the national anthem play as they raised the Australian flag is the dream of any athlete, and it was a very emotional moment. Many of my family and friends were crying as we sang the anthem, but not me - I was having too much fun to cry! (even though I'm a terrible singer!) Being awarded a gold medal was great, and it's a very nice medal, but I like it mostly because every time I see it or hold it, it reminds me of that first moment when I crossed the line and all that effort had been worthwhile.

David and Scott, on the podium, having received their Gold Medals

Do you still row. If not, are there other sports you have since tried? (Simon)

I row very little now, as I spend a lot of time working in the hospital as a doctor. Sometimes I miss it, but mostly I'm really enjoying having a rest and putting my mind to a new challenge. Being a doctor is a little bit like rowing - I love my job but sometimes it can be challenging. I'll get back into rowing one day though - I'd like one more gold medal! I've played many sports over the years: Rugby, Cycling, Athletics, Karate, Taekwondo, Boxing, Running, and others, but I haven't been particularly good at any of them. I just think it's one of the best things we can do - get outside, be active, and meet heaps of really cool people doing it - regardless of whether we are coming first or last.

Thank you so much Scott! Your thoughts on all-things rowing really made us think how devoted you have to be to compete at the highest levels. Thanks again for your great responses.

Sasha drew a Gold Olympics Medal from Beijing. I think she might like one of her own from a future Olympics!