As with the vast majority of Great Britain squads across the summer sport programme, British rowers saw their international competition schedule completely decimated in 2020.
For many of the team who were finally able to compete again at the European Championships in Varese, Italy, last month, that event represented a first international outing in the best part of two years.
Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne was part of the women’s quadruple sculls crew which came away from Varese with a silver medal, and here, describes the emotions involved in returning to action after the long, enforced break.
“To finally race internationally after 20 months of isolated training was an incredible feeling.
“I knew I’d struggled with the lack of racing, but coming away from the event I was almost surprised by how much racing had renewed my love of the sport.
“It was also so rewarding to see strong performances across the team and to see how we’ve trained over the past year, and how we’ve dealt with COVID, paying off.
“The event was run incredibly well, and the amount of work put in by the organisers to ensure clear and effective COVID protocols were in place was evident.
“Whilst there were obvious differences between pre-COVID races and this event, it felt like a normal race, just with the addition of masks and social distancing. I felt this normality was something most athletes found comforting as we could race without our experience being too disrupted by complex COVID protocols.
“I actually found I appreciated the amount of space around the venue and the enforced separation of athletes as that gave us more headspace and allowed us to stay more internally focused as a crew.
“Small changes like having individual vans for each crew to travel to the course were great, especially as we couldn’t gather as a group at the course.
“Even though I felt comfortable with the new layout of the venue and a new approach to international racing, getting ready mentally and physically was a bit more of an adjustment. Not being side-by-side for so long, or even just experiencing pre-race nerves took a bit more time to get used to.
“The feelings I normally get around racing felt heightened, and it was strange gearing up for a race not knowing how we, or other crews, would perform.
“The main difference I felt was quite a fortunate one to experience. Standing on the podium was bizarre; not being able to shake hands with our opposition, presenting ourselves with our own medals and not being able to hug my crewmates was a change. However, the elbow-bump sufficed, all of this was only a small price to pay in return for racing!”