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So Dwain Chambers and David Millar could be competing for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, despite being banned for doping offences. The Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) has decided that a lifetime ban by the British Olympic Association does not comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency code and is therefore unenforceable. This has caused a big kerfuffle in the sporting world, with clean sportsmen and women understandably feeling outraged that the good name of their sport could be tainted. Yet I can’t help thinking that it’s the right decision.

Of course, nobody wants to give the nod to doping offences, either directly or indirectly, and I can quite see why sports people who have always scrupulously competed without chemical assistance should be upset. But I can’t get away from the notion that everyone – including sports people – should be allowed to serve their time and then get on with their lives and careers. They made a mistake, they’ve paid the price, so now let’s see what they can do without the drugs. Test them and retest them and then let them compete properly, like they should have done in the first place.

This isn’t a popular point of view, so let’s hear what you’ve got to say about it. Should Dwain Chambers and David Millar be allowed back in the fold? Are the Olympics tainted if they compete? Should doping always lead to a lifetime ban or is everyone entitled to a second chance even if they’ve fallen prey to the temptation of taking drugs? Girl on the River has had her say: now it’s over to you.

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London 2012 Olympic Games: The Official Book, published by Carlton, £12.99, available from all good book shops and online

You may recall that a few weeks ago I told you that to celebrate the launch of the Official Book of the London 2012 Olympic Games, rowing legend and all round nice guy Sir Matthew Pinsent had (perhaps rashly) agreed to submit himself for questioning, and that members of the public (and that included you) were invited to send in their questions for him.

Now, with fewer than 100 days to go, the results are in. The best questions were put to Sir Matthew and I’m excited to say that one of mine was included; it’s the third question in, so listen out for it.

If you want to know whether the great man wears his medals around the house or fancies himself in another Olympic sport, you need to get watching. Here it is:

The book – as I reported before – is a good read, too, so don’t forget to order your copy online or look out for it in the shops.

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I blame Jürgen Grobler. Or possibly Team GB. Or whoever had the frankly inspired idea to announce the GB Olympic crews by means of a row-past (genius – the drama!) Anyway, whoever is to blame, the point is that I was excited and distracted and not in my right mind around 11 a.m. today. Which was precisely the moment that one of the girls in my rowing club emailed everyone to find out if we were interested in entering the Cardiff Half Marathon in October. That’s a running half marathon: 13 long miles of RUNNING. Not rowing: running.

So taken with the blow-by-blow team updates on Twitter was I that, without giving it due and sober consideration, I sent back an immediate reply. “I’m in!!” With that one email I sealed my fate and agreed to run in public for a distance far beyond my wildest imaginings (or nightmares).

What remains to be seen is how I will train for this monstrous event around my existing weekly commitments of three outings on the river and one bootcamp session which, given my tendency to fatigue, will leave me one running day to play with every week. And how I’ll cope with running on tarmac when I’m used to forgiving, mossy forest trails.

However daunted the new Olympic rowing squad are feeling about the prospect of the Olympics and the pressure to win, it’s nothing compared with the apprehension that has overcome me with the thought of all those miles between me and the finish. “New chapter”, tweeted Pete Reed this afternoon. I know what he means.

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London 2012 Olympic Games: The Official Book, published by Carlton, £12.99, available from all good book shops and online

Fans of Girl on the River might have noticed that so far I haven’t said much about the 2012 Olympics. I can’t deny that I was pretty disappointed not to get any tickets, and might even have been in a tiny bit of a huff. But, in true Girl form, I have bounced back and am now burning with Olympic Fever. So when I was asked to review the Official Olympic Book, I was pretty chuffed and all hard feelings were put to one side. The book – proper title – London 2012 Olympic Games THE OFFICIAL BOOK, is being launched on 18th April by our very own rowing hero and four times gold medal-winning Olympic champion, Sir Matthew Pinsent, and is accompanied by a genius Twitter campaign called #AskMatthewAnything.

Sir Matthew Pinsent - rowing royalty and Nice Man

In common with most of us, I have long been a fan of Pinsent’s. Quite apart from the awe and wonder with which I regard his rowing career, it seems that he is a thoroughly nice man. Far from swanking around enjoying his status as rowing royalty, he is an enthusiastic supporter of youth rowing and turns up to events with his sleeves rolled up, happy to muck in. A couple of years ago, at the Junior Sculling Head at Dorney Lake, he quietly helped Son on the River’s (distinctly novice and undistinguished) crew to lift their boat off the water; it was only afterwards that they realised who the friendly fellow with the strong arms was. That truly embodies that Olympic spirit.

Anyway, hero worship aside, back to the book. I had expected something big and glossy – a coffee-table, hard-cover number. Instead – rather like Pinsent himself – the book is (despite its distinctive gold cover)  surprisingly modest, not in content but in appearance. It’s only available in paperback and is smaller than A4 in size. Once on the inside, though, it is a fantastically fact-packed, nicely illustrated volume. It takes you through the history of the Olympics, introduces you to the 2012 venues and then proceeds, discipline by discipline, through all of the sports represented at the Olympic Games, noting quirky facts alongside tips about which athletes are the ones to watch.

Chez Girl on the River we spent an entertaining weekend breakfast time leafing through the book. Son on the River II helped to make it a fully multimedia experience with the help of YouTube, playing clips of great Olympic moments. There’s still plenty more to read and I shall now be that tiresome person who bores anyone who will listen with my new stash of Olympic factoids.

So where does #AskMatthewAnything come in? To celebrate the launch, you are invited to put any question you like – however random or crazy – to Matthew Pinsent. A selection of the questions will be chosen and put to Sir Matthew himself and his answers will appear on Twitter (and on here, I promise). To participate, tweet your question, accompanied by the hashtag #AskMatthewAnything, @carltonbooksPR and @girlontheriver. If you’re not on Twitter, put your question in the comment section below and I’ll pass it on on your behalf.

I’ve kicked off with my own question this afternoon. What is it? Ah, well to find out you’ll have to follow me first – @girlontheriver.

Go on, ask away.

London 2012 Olympic Games: The Official Book, published by Carlton, £12.99, available from all good book shops and online.

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There are a lot of non-rowers out there amongst my readers – and some pretty impressively fit ones, I’ll be the first to admit. Now, I’m guessing some of you runners and triathletes and body builders have had a go on the rowing machine in the gym every now and then (forgive me while I pause for the rowers to have a quiet snigger; our favourite sport, apart from rowing, is watching non-rowers on the erg). I’m also guessing you’re up for a challenge.

Well, now’s your chance to find out how good you really are at the erg. World Champion rowers Katherine Grainger and Olympic gold medallists Mark Hunter and Greg Searle are giving you an insight into just how hard the selection for the GB Rowing Team is by inviting you – yes, that’s you – to take your own trial on a rowing machine.

For the month of February the team is running The Nation on Trial initiative: the chance to take your own 2km trial, whilst also raising money for the event’s charity partner, The Stroke Association. 2km is the distance of the Olympic rowing course and is the standard length of race at the World and British Rowing Championships.

The 2k erg test is also possibly the hardest thing a rower ever has to do; and most rowers have to do them at regular intervals. They can, in some clubs, make the difference between getting a place in a boat and watching from the bank.

So, back to the challenge. Here’s how it works. Anyone of any ability aged 16 and over can register on the event website www.nationontrial.org and access expert training advice on how to use a rowing machine as well as hearing messages of encouragement from World Champions such as Grainger, Richard Chambers and Searle. You train and build up to rowing 2km as fast as you can on a rowing machine at a local gym or rowing club. You record your time as many times as you like on the event website between 1 and 29 February; this will show how you compare with friends and workmates as well as with the entry standard for the GB selection process.

Who knows? You might find you get a taste for it. You might decide to try out rowing on the water. You might even find you’re one of that rare breed of people (count me out) who actually enjoy the erg. Just one thing, though. Ergs don’t float.

 

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Good news, in an otherwise gloomy worldwide picture. We may be facing a global economic crisis, but it’s not stopping people from taking up a sport that’s always had a reputation for being elitist and expensive. British Rowing announced yesterday that its membership figures rose by a heartening 2,000 in 2011. Thanks to programmes like Explore Rowing (and less formal endeavours like the Learn to Row course that we ran at Monmouth RC last year, which brought in a brand new bunch of lovely new people to the club), rowing figures are on the up.

You don't need even need to look like this

It goes to show that rowing really is for everyone. You don’t have to talk like the Queen or have the bank balance of Bill Gates to join a rowing club and it’s way better value than most gym memberships. And with the Olympics just round the corner there’s even the Row for Gold programme to get you excited.

If you still haven’t tried it, maybe it’s time for a cheeky, last-minute New Year’s Resolution. Go on, you know you want to.

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I know it’s unlikely. Me, pint-sized, featherweight and spectacularly unsuccessful novice rower, firmly in the Masters *cough* category, rowing the Tideway with two of Britain’s finest U23 rowers. Has to be a joke, right?

Well, actually, no. Today I joined GB U23, Olympic hopefuls Ben Duggan and Nick Middleton in a mixed quad for a paddle out of London Rowing Club in Putney. You can look out for us at Henley next year (OK, now I’m joking).

It was all thanks to the good people at Oartec who were there to showcase a selection of their rowing machines (of which much more in my next post – together with photos, technie stuff and even a shameful confession on my part).

Ben and Nick, together with fellow Leander member Alan Sinclair, told us all about what it takes to cut it as an international rower (a whole lot of work, calorie counts to die for and an attitude to alcohol that would put the England rugby team to shame – and again, more of all of that in a later post, too). We got a chance to try out the ergs (actually fun when you have an international rower supervising it – must suggest that to our club captain…)

And then our boat arrived.

Admittedly, it wasn’t the finest or fastest craft in the world – a “virtually unsinkable” tubby rigged as a quad – but who’s complaining when you’ve got internationals at bow and stroke? Nick took the bow seat, fellow journalist Dominic Hart (sports ed at the Daily Mirror) was at 2, I sat at 3 and Ben at stroke.

Now then. Remember what I said in a previous post about everything melting down when you’re rowing in front of the clubhouse and wanting to impress people? Now imagine that the people you’re wanting to impress are not the club captain or even the mocking juniors, but the best rowers you’ve ever met and are ever likely to meet. Exactly.

Needless to say, the Little People got a fair amount of revenge in. Struggling with a sticky gate on stroke side that made feathering a challenge (yeah, yeah, blame the boat, why don’t you?), I certainly reinforced my novice status, catching several crabs and generally rowing my worst.

But it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. How many people get the chance to practise their sport with their sporting heroes in actual, real life? OK, so I may have rowed like a beginner, but I was rowing like a beginner with Britain’s best.

So a massive thank you to Oartec. A massive thank you to the Leander boys for being so patient and generally amazing. And despite their best efforts, a big yah-boo-sucks to the Little People.

GirlontheRiver 1,000,000: Little People: 0

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