By Nick Gandy
As rowers make their way down the home stretch in the six lanes of the 2000-meter championship course at Nathan Benderson Park at the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships, a glance to the western shore of the water finds a row of bicycles making their way down the sidewalk in time with the boats.
At first thought, one might think, that’s an interesting way for fans to follow the races and get some exercise at the same time.
It’s not necessarily the case.
There may be a few out at the park for that purpose, but most of the riders are members of the coaching staff observing the athlete’s performance to provide feedback for future races.
The west bank of the competition course has a paved path just above the water line, parallel to the course, a “coaches path.” There’s an upper paved path for recreational use, but the one by the water is especially for coaches following their crews.
Great Britain’s head coach, Peter Sheppard, and three other coaches were making such observations of a ‘B’ Final lightweight pairs women’s race featuring Fiona Chestnut and Chloe Knight.
“You’re mostly looking for speed,” said Sheppard, with a chuckle. “Most coaches will get out and ride along when they can. They can observe what the athletes are doing and have some two-way feedback after the race.”
Others on bikes can be heard offering encouragement as the boats glide toward the finish line.
Stephen Wolf, from Melbourne, Australia, calls himself a nervous parent. His son, Alexander Wolf, is a member of the Australian men’s eight team in the ‘A’ Final on Sunday.
“I can’t sit still in the stands, so I rented a bike and I go alongside the teams,” said Wolf, who estimates he rode back and forth on the paved path 10 times on Saturday over the 1.25-mile course. “I do this at a lot of races. It give you a chance to see the race unfold and watch the tactics of the teams in the water.”
With the Australian team being in Lane 1, the closest to the western bank and sidewalk, Wolf hopes the team will be motivated by his shouts of encouragement while sporting the green and gold colors of the team on his bike.
The opposite site of the course from the beach and grandstand also features plenty of green space and benches where Cindy and Grant Hendry, of Bradenton, could be found sitting and enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine. They were waiting for a friend’s daughter on the New Zealand team, Charlotte Spenze, to compete in a women’s four race.
“We’re only here for one race,” Cindy Hendry said. “So we decided this was the spot for us.”
The sprawling 600-acre park provides rowing enthusiasts plenty of viewpoints to experience the many events held at Nathan Benderson Park, the region’s premier sports venue.