Our male squad consists of eight athletes and one female coxswain (cox), who is responsible for steering the boat, giving commands on land and on water, and motivating us during each race. We are proud that our team is formed by students from five different nations: Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, every member has a different academic background and is at a different stage of their studies: we range from a first year in physics, to a freshly graduated doctor of chemistry.
On 7 June 2019, the ETH Zurich rowing team participated in the annual 106th AXA Primátorky regatta in Prague, finishing 2nd in the B-final. We celebrated in the Golden City during the next two days and discovered its beautiful historic center, secret places, and the overwhelming kindness of the Czech people.
In addition to the training at our local clubs, we meet around three times per week. Most trainings focus on longer and slower sessions, in which we try to move the boat as efficiently as possible. These almost meditative moments at sunrise on Lake Zurich form part of our morning routine before going to class or reaching the lab. When race day approaches, we include more sprints in our routine to give us confidence at race pace.
For our participation in the AXA Primátorky regatta, we arrived in Prague after a nine-hour bus ride at 5 am and got some sleep in our Airbnb. Once we were well-rested and had breakfast and a good lunch, we went to the local rowing club, which would provide us with a boat. We are grateful to ETH Zurich for covering those fees as well as the registration itself. We got our equipment ready, performed some warm-up routines and waited impatiently to go on the water. As many external conditions such as weather, current or temperature can have a considerable impact on the absolute time of a race, the organizers often have a more sophisticated system which helps them determine the winner. In our case, the competing boats were organized in three groups, which started separately. The overall winner would then be determined in three different finals. Most races range over a distance of 2000 m. However, at college level 1000 m is the most common distance. Comparable to running, this length can be viewed as mix between a flat-out sprint and an endurance race.
Our team started in the first heat. Once we heard the signal, we started with maximum intensity to bring the boat up to speed and then faded into a slower, but more sustainable race pace. We continued at this intensity over the next 400 m – at this point the legs already burned and continuing with the same power became increasingly difficult. However, we kept moving and following the instructions of our cox. With only 300 m to go, she called for the final sprint and we mobilized the last energy resources we could muster and finished third. We qualified for the B-final and after an hour of recovery on land, lined up at the starting line. After a good start, we were behind the top boat by less than one length. Over the second half of the course we shortened that distance inch by inch until we were head to head to the other boat on the final sprint. In the end, we got second by some inches and 0.1 of a second. The sum of our two races placed us third in the overall ranking of college teams – a result we are really proud of!
Once landed, we were welcomed by the mother of our Czech crew member with a delicious, home-made cake. Over the next two days, we recovered from the race while exploring Prague with its beautiful cafés and restaurants, squares and castles, and the neighboring mountain from where we enjoyed a beautiful view over the Golden City.
About the author
Felix Pultar is a third-year doctoral candidate at the D-CHAB of ETH Zurich focusing on the chemical synthesis of biologically relevant molecules. After completion of his undergraduate studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, he moved to Zurich and joined the ETH Zurich rowing team as well as the local club Belvoir RC Zürich.
Follow Felix on Instagram: @flavourflex