By Jim on Monday, May 3, 2010
An introduction to Tony Schumacher:
Hi everyone, my name is Tony Schumacher and it is a pleasure to be involved with Jim Walker and MyKayakCoach.com. I owe Jim so much for his efforts in coaching me into the 2008 Australian Olympic Team to compete in the K4 1000m event at the Beijing Olympics. Jims’ commitment to his athletes, whether elite or beginner, is somewhat inspiring in itself.
My background in paddling stretches way back to the mid 90's when I started surf ski paddling with the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC). For years this was the only form of paddling I competed in and managed some great results starting with a 4th placing at the 1998 World Championships in New Zealand. From There I qualified for the Kellogg's Nutri-grain series where over a period of five seasons (5 rounds per season) I accumulated six wins, seven seconds and five third placings in the series.
During this time, I also accumulated numerous State, Australian and World Championships medals, in both individual and team events. Some of these individual results included 2 x Silver World Championships, 1 x gold, 3 x silver and 2 x bronze medals at State Championships and a silver medal at the Australian Championships.
It was these results that led me to the sport of sprint kayaking. I had developed the ambition of representing Australia in kayaking and hopefully making an Olympic Team. In 2004, I competed in my first season in sprint kayaking with pleasing results. After my first regatta in Melbourne I was selected into a train on squad to pick a K4 team for the up coming Olympic trials. At these trials I managed to win 5 out of the 7 selection races with different boat crew combinations and posted the fastest two times with these crews. Unfortunately for me, the selectors at the end of the trials decided that I was too inexperienced in kayaking to be put into the number one boat and they placed me in another boat for the 2004 Olympic trials. At the trials my crew finished 3rd.
Although I was disappointed with the outcome, this setback (not that I ever expected to make the 2004 Olympic Team) inspired me to want to make Beijing. In 2005 my kayaking raised to another level and at the 2005 Australian championships I won the K1 200m, K4 500m, K41000m and finished 3rd in the K1 500m. These results gained me selection into my first national team. At the 2005 World Championships in Croatia, I surprised myself by making the K1 200m final where I finished 8th, a feat that had only been achieved by two other Australians in that event.
Decision time! It was now time to decide how I was going to give myself the best chance of making the Olympics in 2008. I now knew that I had the potential to make it but how was I going to make it happen. I decided to have a lay year in 2006 to allow myself to recover both mentally and physically for the lead up to the Olympic trials in the coming years. I set my goals to make the 2007 Australian team. This is when I teamed up with Jim Walker and his squad on the Cooks River - Jimsquad. The added intensity and a positive approach to training and it paid dividends and I had a great season on the kayaks winning my first K1 1000m race at a national GP and having many other great results. Unfortunately, however I missed qualifying for the 2007 team. This was shattering to me and I had to work hard to pick myself up and motivate myself again in order to launch at the Olympic trials the following year.
This is where Jim was once again a fantastic influence and motivator!
My form in the Olympic trial year was the best of my career and I was now extremely confident of making the team. I won the first national GP race in the K1 500m and then backed the win up with another victory at the NSW championships against competition including Ken Wallace and New Zealander Steve Ferguson (these athletes ended up coming 1st and 5th respectively at the Beijing Olympics!).
Then with only 2 weeks to go to the first trial, and still undefeated in the K1 500m, I attended the second National GP event. During my warm up I had a spasm around a disc in my back causing me to withdraw from the event. I now only had two weeks to get my back better and get prepared for the first selection trial. This first trial ended with mixed results for me. The most important goal however at this trial was to win the K4 1000m race to gain maximum selection points. My team including David Smith, Luke Michael and Clint Robinson easily won this race trial. For me this race really stamped our team as being a great team. Luke had an infected hand, Clint was nursing a large laceration on his hand and I of course was still suffering from my back injury and still we managed to win.
The next goal was to qualify Australia another spot in the Olympics through the Oceania qualification process. Here I had to race Troy Burbridge from New Zealand with the winner qualifying their respective country another spot into the Olympics. I was trying to lift Australia from 5 qualified spots to 6. Again I won this race and it appeared I was getting by with my injured back. Unfortunately I was later advised that the race result did not count because New Zealand had lodged a protest against the condition of the course (weed) and the protest was upheld. I would now have to re race Troy on another date.
I then lined up in the K1 1000m race and was disqualified incorrectly for breaking. The starter claimed I broke however I have video footage proving that I was the only paddler on the line not to move even after everyone had paddled off. I lodged a protest however the committee reviewing my protest refused to look at the footage and merely stated that it was starters decision and his decision cannot be changed. What a joke!
Next up was the second and final Olympic Selection trial. I was in a great position to qualify with the previous win in the K4 1000m race and it was now up to me to get the results in the individual races. My form however was now no longer that good after still suffering effects from the back injury four weeks earlier.
My heat in the K1 1000m was a disaster and I only made it in to the semi as the fastest loser. My Olympic campaign was almost over I had just over 90 minutes to find something. Warming up for the semi I kept telling myself 'you've done the training now just force yourself to go hard'. I remember taking off, my technique (which I pride myself on) was gone, I had no feel of the water but what I had was a lot of fitness. I got to the 500m mark and had a look across and saw that I was still in the race. From here it is all a bit of a blur and I just put my head down, paddled as hard (ugly but hard) as I could and hoped for the best. The relief I had when I crossed the line and realised I had made the final was something I will never forget. I was now almost in the team!
I ended up finishing 8th in the final but more importantly I picked up nine valuable points with my preferred 500m races coming up.
Although my 500's weren't the best races I have ever had, they were good enough for me to finish 4th in that race and place me 5th in the points for qualification. According to selection criteria I had now qualified for the Olympic Team. This was not to be! The selectors when they announced the team excluded me and placed Clint Robinson (a legend in the sport) in to the team above me using their power of selectors discretion. They told me that in order for me to gain selection, I now had to re race Troy Burbridge of New Zealand the following day and gain Australia that 6th qualified spot. If I won then I was in the team. Needless to say, my sleep that night was not the best. Remembering that I had already won this race before and I thought I had already done enough to qualify on points.
The race with Troy was an eerie situation. It was just the two of us on the course. There was no cheering aloud by coaches and there was only a handful of family and other team members watching. Winner goes to the Olympics, loser goes home and ponders what might have been. Long story short, I won the race and made the team – I guess you could say my qualification process was a complete emotional roller coaster.
The Olympic experience was unbelievable, starting with selection, team camps, World Cup races and finally being in the Olympic Village and competing in the Olympics. All the guys gelled really well and everyone reached levels of fitness and speed that we had not previously expected. I was selected to compete in the K4 1000m again with Dave Smith and Clint Robinson but this time Tate Smith replaced Luke Michael in the team. We were a very good team and our efforts in training were rewarded with silver and bronze medals at the World Cups in Poland and Germany finishing behind winners Belarus. Confidence was high and we were now ready for the Olympics!
But something happened at the Olympics and the team that sat beautifully in the K4 was now struggling for rhythm and comfort. A number of things have been spoken about as to what went wrong with our crew but at the end of the day there is no conclusive reason for our poor performance. All I can say is that the result was nothing short of devastating. Its one thing competing at the Olympics but it is another thing not achieving your true potential and I can tell you it hurts!
I now concentrate my paddling on a new and exciting brand of racing - Ocean Ski Racing. Ocean ski racing is the new fastest growing sport on the water and I am very fortunate to be a part of it. I have a fantastic sponsor in 'Think Kayaks' who send me to World Cup races around the world competing against the very best ocean paddlers. My first World cup race was about 6 weeks ago in San Francisco where I finished in 8th place behind some very experienced and talented ocean ski paddlers.
This sport is so different to what I am used to. Firstly, it is in the ocean where you have to learn to use the ocean to your advantage and not just use your own natural speed or endurance unlike in flatwater sprint kayaking. Secondly, the World Cup races average about 28km in length (or about 2hrs) where I have previously concentrated on events that last less the 4 minutes. This in itself is a massive challenge for me.
My next big World Cup is coming up next weekend in Hong Kong and then 10 days later in Dubai. These two races are going to be huge and will really let me know how I am going. The best paddlers in the world are all listed to start and it is going to be a great test. I have no doubt though with my Think Kayak under my bum I am on the very best craft available on the market and I can perform well.
I will keep you posted on my racing and training progress with regular updates on MyKayakCoach.com.
Yours in Paddling,