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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mahe Drysdale sinks Rob Waddell in rowing showdown

So, as of today, Mahe Drysdale is off to Beijing representing New Zealand in the single scull rowing after an emphatic third race against former world champion, Rob Waddell.

Waddell, the bigger and stronger athlete of the two, looked like he might take the third of the three race series; but all that changed when the gun went with Drysdale clearing out to win by several lengths over a tiring Waddell.

Why and how did Drysdale manage to pull such a big performance out of the bag in the 3rd race against his bigger opponent? I think it was all in the conditioning and all sports could well take note of the lessons inherent in this thrashing.

The late Arthur Lydiard once said this to his athletes:

"You will come to your peak slower than many others and you will be running last when they are running first. But when it is really important to be running first, you will be passing them."

And this is what his athletes did time and time again. As his athletes worked their way through the heats and semis, they steadily worked their way to the front of the field, athletes like Snell, Walker and paddlers like Ferguson and MacDonald.

They were all superbly aerobically conditioned through years and years of base training.

I met Mahe Drysdale at the Halberg Awards just over a week ago. His appearance is that of a tall, lean highly conditioned endurance athlete, conditioined in the calssic Lydiard style.

For Waddell to make such a spectacular comeback in so little time after several years of working as a bulked up strength athlete on Team NZ's Americas Cup yachting team, his endurance base must have been minimal, since it takes years to properly develop. Waddell must have relied mostly on his strength and most of his rowing conditioning must have been high intensity interval training to bring him to peak for the NZ rowing nationals. Incidentally, this kind of training is making a huge comeback after various studies showed that this type of training produces the fastest results. This is misguided.

Of course, all athletic training is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic - interval and distance work. What we are really taking about is the relative emphasis and structure of the training. Its not really one type of training versus another. All Lydiard trained athletes did heaps of intervals; but only after several weeks of base aerobic fitness that builds to a seasonal peak. This process of building is steadily worked on over an 8-10 year period.

While high intensity interval training on a minimal aerobic base may produce spectacular results, this is at a cost during competition that is spread over several days or weeks. A highly aerobic conditioned athlete, like Drysdale recovers much quicker, like almost overnight, as compared to his interval trained opponent. The less aerobically trained athlete will waken more acidic, with tight muscles and less muscle glycogen to play with compared to his opponent.

The athlete who initially appeared to be the stronger and fitter will croak in the finals. I think this is what happened in the rowing today between these two awesome athletes.

For more about the Lydiard training system, here are my presentation handout notes for my lecture/workshop: "Train to Win".

I will comment about Waddell's reported irregular heartbeat in another article shortly. While it was undoubtedly a factor in his poor performance today, I think it is a symptom of things going on, rather than a cause. There is a very important and critical distinction between symptoms and cause when dealing with such matters. Resorting to surgical solutions right away may be premature and exceedingly risky.

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