AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the glowing yellow sun inches up over the line of trees in the distance and reflects off the glassy waters of Lady Bird Lake, a group of Olympic hopefuls emerge at the Austin Rowing Club, poised and ready to take on a new day of training.
They reach up and hoist their boats off the side of the boathouse wall, balance them on one shoulder, and carry them to the dock where they flip them over and carefully place them in the water. The rowers from the Chinese national rowing team are more than 7,000 miles from home, and have one goal in mind: make it to the summer Olympics in Tokyo.
More than 60 members arrived in Austin, Texas in December for a physicality camp to see who has what it takes to compete for their country on the biggest stage.
“It’s already very freezing in Beijing, China so we can’t have any on-water training sessions,” said Quan Xu, team manager and vice president of the Chinese Rowing Association through a translator. “That’s why we want to come here. The temperature is very mild, and this is a beautiful river.”
Austin Rowing Club Executive Director Kevin Reinis said the team found out about the facility through the longtime University of Texas at Austin strength and conditioning coach Sandy Abney. She was hired by the Chinese Olympic Committee last year to serve as Deputy Director of High Performance for Team China.
Sir Steve Redgrave from Britain has also made several trips to Austin to help Team China, and was there the day we stopped by. He remains the most successful men’s rower in Olympic history, after winning five gold medals at five consecutive Olympic games.
“We pick out the best athletes, try to put them together, send them on training camps like this and hopefully they get to a level they can qualify and compete for medals at the Olympics,” said Redgrave, the Performance Director for the Chinese rowing team.
In China, the sport of rowing is still in its infancy stage. Redgrave said there’s been a recent push to make it more popular through established clubs, school programs and competition at the university level.
During this visit, Chinese coaches want their athletes to experience the American rowing culture first-hand and learn that success on the water depends on their physical training on land.
The team has been doing strength and conditioning work at Texas State University just down the road in San Marcos and working with faculty researchers from the university’s Department of Health and Human Performance. In January, they also migrated north to Waco, Texas to train on the Brazos River near Baylor University.
The Chinese team will choose its Olympic team in May. Redgrave said those who make the cut will have one more key factor in common: passion.
“The old saying is you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” said Redgrave. “You can do all the training, you can do all the hard work — that only gets you to a certain level. You have to have that will to win, you have to have determination, and that comes from the hunger, the enjoyment and the sheer work that has to go into that.”