by Mike Nicholson.
Question: First of all, a brief Q & A; it's the Olympic year Mike, how do you see the medal hunt this August at Copacabana, Rio?
Answer: Well definitely the Women's Scull, Men's 4 and Quad are well positioned in the ball park so it's promising. Along with the Kiwis, Australia has great Olympic experience.
Q: You've produced two feature length documentaries on the 8 and the Scull, what have you learnt about the Elite end of things?
A: In a word, 'longevity'. It's funny to think that when I started filming them in 2006, ten years later so many of them are still going and seemingly getting stronger like Karsten and Kim.
Q: What was your best Olympics to film?
A: Definitely Sydney 2000. I had filmed Seoul and Atlanta [and later Beijing and London], just for the rowing, but for Sydney, since it was Australia hosting the games, I decided to spend 3 weeks and try and film everything. I stayed at a friends place in Manly and took the ferry each day back and forth to Circular Quay and went to various locations from there, so I felt like I was doing the whole 'Sydney experience'.
Q: So your film, 'Olympiad Abstracto', filmed on 16 mil negative Kodachrome stock, didn't have much rowing in it, did it?
A: Well it had enough, definitely proportionally more than any other sport other than athletics. And, with thanks to a certain quick thinking Mercantile coxswain, I managed to navigate myself to the seat alongside the Redgrave family [who I sat next to at Seoul] at the finish line and film Sir Steve win his 5th consecutive Olympic gold medal and scale the fence to embrace his parents and his son. So that was great.
Q: What about the Australian team?
A: Well I was planning to spend the entire afternoon and evening filming all of them sitting around, boating, training and the whole rowing scene, since I was in the competitors enclosure, but I didn't have a Media Pass, you see, and I was sprung and evicted soon after Sir Steve won.
Q: You would have thought they would have said 'go for it, this is history, you're a film-maker and been involved in rowing since you were 10 years old.'
A: That's what I would have thought. But I dusted myself off and took the train back to Sydney and went to other locations and continued filming.
Q: So last year MUBC accepted nearly 200 of your rowing films onto the MUBC website under 'History', is that right? MUBC History
A: Nearly. It took over two years to get them to do it, I mean they are all films on MUBC crews and regattas that my father, Harvey Nicholson and I shot dating back to 1955, including my 2 documentaries and assorted other regattas and events. Probably over 30 films since 2006 alone.
Q: You say 'nearly', do I sense a resentment in your tone here?
A: Not really, but Betty, Eric and Fred [names changed to protect their identity - Ed.] would only put the films [most of Dads] up to and including 1974, 'The Quest for Gold'. All the rest, and this includes all the wonderful Mubc films on the women's successes, up to the present day, they took two years to put up and it wasn't until I said I'ld take them to the Melbourne University Disputes Panel that they suddenly put most of them up overnight. But now l find they have refused to put up the second half of the Sydney Olympic film because it is of the Beach Volley Ball at Bondi and the fantastic athletics and closing fireworks I filmed from Lady Macquaries Chair and they say its got nothing to do with rowing.
Q: But surely the interface between Athletics and Rowing must be at its peak now especially since Kim Brennan was a top athlete who took up rowing and is now Australia's only current World Champion?
A: Well that's what I would have thought. And the time lapse sequences of the public transport system during the Olympics looks fantastic and was really efficient. Anyway, the whole experience of filming and editing the Sydney Olympics was great for me and other than the Official Olympic film, I think I'm the only person who bothered to make a film on it.
Q: Where can we see it in its entirety?
A: On my website, www.mikenicholson.com and click on 'Olympiad Abstracto' on the front page.
Q: So what is this article you've written about?
A: Well other than being involved in rowing since I was 10 years old, I have made all these various films since 2006 and so I have had a good look at the whole picture and come up with some ideas and decided to explain them in detail.
Q: Did you mention you had won 2 gold medals last year at Shimane Prefecture in the All Japan Masters and published a book on the 1969 MUBC team that competed in the All Japan Rowing Championships?
A: No I didn't. But you did, so thanks.
One of the biggest hurdles facing Australian Rowing is that once the school student reaches Year 12 he or she feels their rowing career is part of the 'school experience' and once school finishes so does rowing.
How can more students be encouraged to continue rowing after leaving school at a club level?
There needs to be two mains goals; a personalised social media link between the Elite Australian Rower and the School student and the competitive regatta gaps need to be filled in. So humour and the 'green ideal' is probably the best way here in that order, this is what appeals to the youth of today.
From my viewpoint I'm writing this as a Victorian. Where do I start? Well let's start at the end.
After the Head of the River, or the National Rowing Championships the school student has finished for the 'summer season'. Strangely the first problem arises here [and I realise juggling these sort of things is no different to Federal versus State politics]. Rowing Australia and various APS schools don't seem to negotiate the two biggest events in Australian rowing [outside the Victorian Head of the Schoolgirls Regatta, which is the largest] on separate weekends this year, 2016. So many schools that would normally happily go on the excursion to Penrith for the Nationals and rub shoulders and watch the Elite rowers don't have this opportunity.
Surely Victoria [and all the other states] can easily organise their Head of the River dates so they take place the weekend after the Nationals. This means for so many school crews around Australia they have an ideal 'lead up' to their Head of the Rivers [or Lakes]. This scheduling of the big regattas so they don't clash is very important and must be a top priority from now on especially since President Rob Scott has pointed out how much money private schools put into rowing, about ten times the amount Rowing Australia does.
And for that matter, why should NSW have the Nationals each year at Penrith? [And I realise there are very good reasons for this]. There are so many really excellent courses around the Australia. This means if a school sends a 1st and 2nd crew and quads, single scullers etc, they get the excursion to a different place each year for the Nationals. If Lake Barrington was good enough for the 1990 World Championships, surely it must be good enough for the Nationals? And then of course there is Champion Lakes in Perth. Part of the challenge of rowing is getting to remote parts of Australia. Like exploring rivers, this should be seen as a vital part of the adventure, and regatta locations are a perfect excuse for school students to visit places they may never see.
But we are starting at the end here. In Melbourne the school rower crosses the finish line of the Head of the River, in whatever division, and then that is it. The next organised competition is not until two months later when the Winter Sculling Series begins, and this is essentially used by the older sculling community anyway. Although schools are building their number of entries.
So why not support an 'Autumn Sculling Series' on the Yarra [and on the Barwon River for that matter]? It would be a handicap system and include single, double and quadruple sculls over 2000 metres. Let's place this in the context of a school that has finished after the Head of the River.
The rowing Master invites anyone who is interested to compete the following weekend in the Autumn Sculling Series. I'll choose a school at random, let's say Caulfield Grammar. Their 2nd crew has had an enjoyable summer season and half of them are interested and form a quad scull. For arguments sake there is only 3 and they are allowed to include one of the school girls in the quad, so the quads can be mixed.
These school kids are the fittest they will ever be. Probably more fit than any other sport. They are at their peak. The following Saturday they climb into a quad scull at 8 am, paddle up to the start, getting their combination together, and are told by the Starter that they 'go' at 40 seconds. They have some old guys in the quads ahead of them, and starting after them would be, for example, a Melbourne Grammar quad scull, champing at the bit to knock off Scotch.
We're not too precious here. Crews have to give way to passing crews and the spaces between the various quads is quite broad to avoid the bottle neck at the finish line. The same can be said for the following races, the double sculls [also mixed if need be] and then the single sculls. The places are seeded for convenience.
In Melbourne, the autumn 'Indian Summer' is by far the best time of the year on the Yarra [and around Australia]. It usually has mild weather and still sunny days. So only a week after the Head of the River, the school rower has the opportunity to race again but without the Head of the River pressure, and with a different combination, AND with like minded school kids who want to continue rowing and sculling. Their training goes to maybe just once or twice a week [their superb fitness continues for at least a fortnight] and the emphasis is on enjoyment and little or no pressure.
This Autumn Sculling Series would go for about 7 or 8 weeks and would end the weekend before the Winter Sculling Series begins. The Victorian Sculling Association has told me they do not want to run it, which is a pity since they run a very good show throughout winter. So why can't Rowing Victoria run it? If it's $20 per sculler there would be easily enough money to pay officials, starters etc and a Commentator to sit on top of the finishing box with a microphone and one loud speaker, which is enough, and a photographer scouting around taking as many photographs as possible [more about that later].
Composite quad sculls could be formed. So four students from, say, Xavier, MGS, Scotch and Melbourne High who fancy themselves as a combination, could be linked up and the same with the girls. Many of them know each other from the summer season anyway and have raced against each other and socialised already. Now they can scull together in the same boat.
In all the states, in the weeks after the Nationals, then Head of the Rivers/Lakes, there could be handicap races between various composite school quads. It doesn't need to be a full on regatta, maybe a regular show-down for a few weeks that the state rowing bodies can report on.
At the end of the Autumn Sculling Series the school students who won the most races get a gold medal, 2nd a silver, 3rd a bronze and a medal for competing. So plenty of medals handed out. And what we have here is a positive reinforcement for school rowers who continue to compete after the majority have stopped at the end of the summer season. And then on top of this we have the 'Oarsmen Medals'.
What is an 'Oarsome Medal'? We've started at the end to explain the Autumn Sculling Series, so let's start at the beginning.
There needs to be a link between the Elite rower and the school kid. The Oarsmen Foursome are the most successful crew in Australian rowing history and have the highest profile. They are all still alive and kicking and in fact are barely into middle age.
Let's look at the rower and sculler we are wanting to continue rowing after leaving school. The are two types; the one who has potential to go all the way for Australia and win a gold medal, and then there is the one who we want to keep on rowing at a club level, and build this level, and to keep fit and have fun.
In writing this article there is no reason why we shouldn't assume that Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria, their administrations, are not unlike competing crews or teams. After all their job is to do what they have said they want to do and that is keep the school student rowing after he or she leaves school. So why shouldn't they be competing against each other to see who can do the best? I've only used these two because I'm from Victoria. NSW and all the other states can be in this race too, or have their own ideas, but the whole lot would funnel their efforts into the 'Oarsome Plan'.
So how does the 'Oarsmen Plan' work?
Let's imagine a school rower [and just using a random school] that goes to Caulfield Grammar and rows in the 3 seat of the 4th 8. He or she is about 16 years old. Both Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria have sent out an important email to all the schools in Australia requesting that their school students sign up to getting 'an Oarsmen Message' by email [and Face Book and Twitter and any other of the social media outlets].
Once a week that student gets a personalised email from 'Oarsome'. It is addressed just to him or her [no long list of recipients on the CC column] and is a breezy informative 'hullo how are you' type email and it's titled, 'An Oarsmen message to you'. It can be sent out by both Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria. It is completely focused on the goals of what we want to achieve but it is also couched in the language that the school kid likes. So humour is top of the list. Each 'Oarsome message' comes from either a current Elite Australian rower or from the Oarsome Foursome themselves, on special occasions, or other famous rowers.
So let's take a random rower as an example like Josh Booth. The school student opens his or her email and it says 'an Oarsome Message from Josh', and reads like, 'Hi John [a random name], it's Josh Booth here, how is your training going? The other day I was down on the Yarra for training with the King's Cup crew and I was 15 minutes early and I was chatting to a Carey rower who asked me 'what does place and push mean?' so I said, look it's simple, you don't need to whack your blade in at the catch like you're hitting a cricket ball, the idea is to merely place the blade in the water at the catch and push with your legs… sounds simple, but that is it.' [Josh would put this in his own words].
The email would include a casual pic of Josh [not a passport type photo] and a pic of him in a boat, maybe winning the King's Cup last year, and a You Tube video of some sort of him rowing, and a funny You Tube video. There are hundreds of these around from all over the world, like the one of the lady catching a crab and falling overboard in a comical way. So each personalised email to the school student would be like a little package of interesting stuff; tight, informative and humorous.
But in making the link between the Elite rower and the student, the school kid needs to know that Josh was once a school rower himself. So Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria would send out a questionnaire to all the Australian Elite rowers, the Oarsmen Foursome, and others who would be involved in sending a personalised email.
The questionnaire would ask the Elite rower his or her memories of school rowing; an interesting event, something funny that happened, something inspiring a school coach said, a particular race, a disappointing result, a success, and something interesting that happened on the water when training. The best of these could be included in the email. This means the school rower is made aware that the Elite rower is exactly the same as him or her when he was at a school age.
A good example would be Mike McKay. Now Mike would trot out his story about the Head of the River where his Xavier 1st crew came last. He walked away wondering what was the point of it all. But Mike dusted himself off and continued rowing and won two Olympic Gold Medals. These are the type of former school students we should be connecting with and from anywhere in Australia; the individual who is keen but not successful because the crew hasn't got enough depth.
Since there are only 52 weeks in a year [and we would want this to be an ongoing Oarsome Message all year round] most of the Elite rowers would only be involved in one email familiarising themselves with the school rowers each per year. The actual Oarsome Foursome, or Kim Brennan, or other high profile rower and scullers might be involved a couple of times. Their 'special' emails would go out in the lead up to a big event [even though they may be prepared weeks in advance by Rowing Australia or Rowing Victoria].
Kim Brennan's email would obviously be significant for two reasons. Firstly she is current World Champion, but secondly Kim didn't even row when she was at school. She was an athlete who made the transition and we should keep this in mind as a great source of talent.
So the 'Oarsmen Message' would be completely separate from the emails Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria send out about administrative matters and so on. It would be completely aimed at the goal of linking the Elite rower to the school rower and encourage him or her to keep going.
So what then is an 'Oarsmen Medal'. Well, on top of the 'Oarsmen Messages' coaches and schools would be invited to nominate school rowers and scullers that they think deserve an 'Oarsome Medal'.
It could be for anything. Maybe some rower dives over board to swim over to help a sculler who has tipped over, or the kid in the 3 seat of the Caulfield quad scull who was always the first to turn up and last to leave after cleaning the boat and was that 'ideal' rower a coach always wants, or a rower who wasn't particularly good at rowing but coached other school kids really well, or this kid really stood out above the rest on the ergometer, or that kid who clearly wants to continue rowing when he or she leaves school, or the kid who does in fact row all year round, or the coxswain who made an inspiring call one day.
So these medals would simply be posted out to the school kid at any time of the year. It is a way of encouraging the individual who may not be in a good crew. And it doesn't need to be a medal. It could be a ceramic mug with 'You Have Been Awarded an Oarsmen Mug!' the student can have tea or coffee in each morning.
So what does the photograph have to do with the positive reinforcement of the school rower?
As part of the whole package of encouraging the school rower to continue rowing after leaving school, the memories of the crew experience is important. Students should be encouraged to take photos and videos of their crews. There is always at least one member of every crew who likes to be the crew 'historian' and compile a diary or book or film on the crews training, or racing, or an excursion to a regatta. It can all be achieved online and this is the habitat of the school student today. Selfies are good. Getting parents and friends to take photos is to be encouraged.
A separate 'Oarsome website' would be set up and present the best school photographs and Youtube videos from around Australia. This would have its own identity and Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria would send out regular links to it. The Oarsome website would blend in messages from various clubs that school students can join when they leave school; what they offer, costs, coaching available and their social scene.
Students, coaches and parents could submit photos, videos and writings to the Oarsome website with the names of the crew and which school all year round. Oarsome Awards would be presented to the best contributions. It wouldn't be a site to show results, although occasionally it could be, but would primarily be a site showcasing photos and videos.
So what is a great example of a film clip at the Elite level that should be seen by school rowers and scullers?
Question: Hold your horses here Mike. If I may interrupt your interesting article here, haven't you said enough?
Answer: Nope, plenty more to be said.
Q: But I sense you're moving into unchartered waters here…
A: Like what?
Q: Well isn't it true that a few of your rowing films on Youtube have been blocked world-wide on music copyright issues?
A: Oh that! Well yes this is true.
Q: Can you explain it briefly?
A: Okay. Well I make a film and I use one of my favourite songs or tunes, whether it's rock'n'roll or classical music, or something else that fits in with the film. The film is uploaded to Youtube and might sit there for a few years and then suddenly when I look at it, instead of seeing the enjoyable and inspiring film, I get a notice, 'This video contains content from UMG_MK, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds. [You can Google UMG_MK]. So this record company that owns The Beatles music has suddenly decided it wants money.
Q: So what's wrong with that? Surely that have that right?
A: Surely they do. But I own the 'vision'. So with other films I have made and used copyright music, Youtube merely 'mute' that song. The rest of the film is left in tact; narration, interviews, ambience, etc. And you never know which record company will do this. Most of them want their music to be used because it introduces it to a new market, and small advertisements are included so the company gets revenue anyway.
Q: So why don't you email Youtube and tell them?
A: Well I have. But Youtube, owned now by Google, is mammoth. Either you are answered by an electronic message or when you establish contact with an actual person they don't care.
Q: Even if the film is of some fantastic rower and you use a bit of The Beatles, and they gave you permission in the first place, then UMG_MK tell Youtube to just block the whole thing GLOBALLY?
A: Yes, it's amazing. Where is 'All You Need is Love' when you need it?
Q: Wow. Okay, so let's get back to the article; what is a great example of a film clip at the Elite level that should be seen by school rowers and scullers?
You can go no further than the film I made of the Men's Pair winning the Gold Medal at the Beijing Olympics. This works at a lot of levels. First of all we see Duncan Free and Drew Ginn win the Olympic Gold Medal. At any moment Drews back may give way ending in catastrophe [and he had surgery soon after]. But there is much more to it.
At the starting block we have no other than the USA Pair made up of the Winklevoss twins. These guys were responsible for actually starting Face Book remember right at the beginning as a dating service for Harvard University students. They got in Mark Zuckerberg to help out and he ran with it and created the biggest social media tool in modern history. So not only did the Winklevoss twins do this but they lined up with the Australians at the start of the final of the Olympic Men's Pair.
The soundtrack I used was 'Duncan', which is a fantastic song by Slim Dusty about a desire to have a beer with Duncan, 'l'd like to have a beer with Duncan, coz Duncan's my mate', and 'We drink in moderation and never ever get really drunk'. These lyrics and wonderful Country and Western melody back shots of the Australians in the crowd, all decked out in Aussie colours, screaming and yelling encouragement as we see shots of the pair taking the lead and winning along with the very good commentary by Nick Green. The clip finishes with Drew describing the last part of the race as, 'there wasn't much left in the tank, but there's a lot of love there', with Duncan Free laughing.
Where this film clip is important is it encourages people to drink in moderation. It is the lifestyle of the Elite rower. But can this been seen on Youtube? No, it has been blocked by the International Olympic Committee. Why is this you may ask?
I shot the film myself of the Australian supporters in the Olympic crowd and the last part of the race. I got permission from Channel 7 to use some shots of the race. The race shows the Winklevoss twins who invented Face Book. Australia wins the Gold Medal. Why wouldn't Rowing Australia jump up and down about this and contact John Coates and ask him to get it unblocked? John Coates has huge influence within the IOC and he's always been a mover and shaker in the rowing world. The clip is part of my feature length documentary, '8+'. This film was featured on the front page of the USA website 'ROW2K' for three years, but Rowing Australia won't show it yet the whole film is designed to encourage school rowers and scullers to continue rowing.
And then there is another shortcoming I have experienced in my desire to achieve the goal of school rowers continuing the sport when they leave school.
Alice McNamara won the Eureka Building stair case climb for the 5th consecutive time in 2015. She is an accomplished two times World Champion in the Women's Lightweight Quadruple Scull. In my documentary, in ten parts, 'School for Sculling', I filmed her win in 2012. The same guy also won his fifth consecutive Eureka staircase climb, he's in it too, but he's not a rower. School For Sculling - Part 5: Stepping Lightly
The ten minute film also shows Alice competing in the Nationals at Champion Lakes Perth in 2012, both in the scull and Queens Cup 8, and her winning the Gold medal in Munich. And for good measure we see her win the Empire Building stair case climb in New York. This is amazing stuff.
So when she won again last year I sent the Youtube link to Rowing Australia so they can proudly present this film in their next newsletter. Instead I was informed that they would announce she won but it was just a written sentence; no need to show the link, no need to give a visual positive reinforcement to female rowers and scullers around Australia about what can be achieved. Rowing Victoria wouldn't show it either. It is a professionally edited film in High Definition. The sound track is also great music.
Since both Rowing Australia and Rowing Victoria have as their specific aims to encourage school students to continue rowing when they have left school, why would they not want to show a perfect example of a person who has done exactly this and succeeded so well?
How determined are they to solve the shortage of rowers continuing the sport of rowing and sculling after they leave school?
Q: Plus Alice is now a Doctor.
A: Yes, she crams a lot into a day.
Q: And then there's your 'Greening Yarra Bridges' campaign… the students of today are very big on saving the planet don't you think? Greening Yarra Bridges
A: Just look at the amount of birdlife on Lake Burley Griffin, Champion Lakes and Penrith Lakes? The Yarra has little birdlife by comparison. And half the bridges are very ugly and could easily be beautified and most of them could easily accommodate birdlife habitats in their narrow unused arches. Greening Yarra Bridges Song
Q: So not enough ducks or swans on the Yarra River? Next you'll want to freeze over parts of it and encourage penguins.
A: That's not a bad idea. Imagine if Kings Street Bridge was transformed into some sort of ice shelf you could paddle through with penguins waddling around?
Q: Cyclists, pedestrians and tourists would love that. And I guess if every rowing club in Australia had solar panels installed, would they get a discount if one company did it?
A: Well it pays all their power bills after, now they say, about five years. Then the entire rowing community would be encouraged to have their houses solar panelled by this same firm.
Q: So you're suggesting Rowing Australia could take the lead on this one; saving rowing clubs money in the long term? And this could spread to other sporting clubs do you think?
A: Well why shouldn't the MCG have the entire roof covered in solar panels? After a few years it would mean the light towers and internal lighting and heating and air-con would all be free. Then there's the Tennis Centre and Collingwood Football Club; all there in Melbourne's central sporting precinct, completely powered by solar panels, and these sporting bodies can afford to do it straight away.
Q: So if we strip away all your fanciful rubbish about solar panels; elite rowers connecting with school students; RA and RV not showing your films; no regattas on the Yarra when the conditions are the best; more Tweety pie flapping birds on some muddy river; basically we have a silly idea about awesome ceramic mugs being sent to some unsuspecting kid? What if the kid drops it and it breaks? Why not a cheap plastic one that bounces instead?
A: Well, I guess so… but Aussie school kids aren't generally that clumsy and anyway the Australian rowing community want quality.
Q: Come on Mike, do you honestly think the Australian rowing fraternity are interested in some silly three minute film showing an Aussie pair defeating the founders of Face Book in the Peoples Republic of China with the supporters all dressed in what looks like green and yellow fancy dress costumes?
A: Well, I thought the Winklevoss twins were quite good, and Duncan and Drew winning the gold, for that matter.
HUONVILLE Australian Gold Medal M4X and MLW4 training
Written by Mike Nicholson, January, 2016.