As fall and winter sports programs pack their bags for break, the Chinese Olympic Rowing team settles into San Marcos.
The National Rowing Team of China landed in San Marcos Nov. 20 and have made the Texas State Recreation Center their pit stop in a series of destinations en route to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Although Texas State may seem like an unlikely location for the team, the setup was made by the team’s Deputy Director of High Performance Sandy Abney, a Texas State alumna herself.
Chinese Rowing Association Vice President Quan Xu said the team was interested in San Marcos and Texas as a whole because of the up-to-date training facilities and welcoming staff.
“Before we came here, Sandy briefed us of the facilities, human resources and equipment we would have access to in Texas and that’s why we were attracted,” Xu said via an English translator. “It was very appealing to us.”
However, the team hasn’t embarked on their world travel entirely by choice. At their training base in Beijing, rowing is nearly impossible due to subfreezing temperatures, and in some cases, completely frozen-over lakes.
Xu said that winter in Texas is warm enough for them to train both inside and outside, an opportunity they do not have in China.
“The temperature here is very warm (and) very suitable for training not only in the gym but also on the water,” Xu said. “Right now it is freezing in Beijing, with temperatures below zero degrees Celsius, so no rowing.”
With practicalities aside, Xu said that Texas State was appealing for its beauty and reputation as well.
“Of course, we have heard online about this university,” Xu said. “It’s a very good university, so that’s why we chose to come here and visit this beautiful city.”
Training for the Olympics is a yearlong ordeal, with a 12-month training camp before the 2020 Games.
In order to reach their goal of taking most of the 14 gold medals available to rowing, the team must be adaptable to different environments and facilities while maintaining a strict regimen, according to Xu.
“We need to have a very-structured and well-organized program,” Xu said. “That’s why we need to make use of different training camps around the world.”
The team will head up Interstate 35 on Dec. 20 to continue their travel, rowing on the water at the Austin Rowing Club before heading back to Beijing and eventually landing in Portugal.
The team, which consists of one men’s crew and one women’s crew, will focus on strength and conditioning at Texas State and will not row on the iconic San Marcos River.
“The focus of this training camp is about improving our physicality,” Xu said. “It’s more about strength and conditioning and also about improving their performance, so most of the time we train in the Rec Center or in the weightlifting gym but we will have two water training sessions in Austin.”
Xu said that their time in Europe will be focused on the World Cups prior to the Olympics, an event that will prepare them for competition on a bigger stage this summer.
“Soon we will begin to train in European countries like Portugal and other countries to prepare for the World Cups before we go onto the Olympic Games,” Xu said. “We need to see what we can do in the World Cups to improve our competitiveness and our capability.”
Despite their intensive training schedule, the team made an appearance at the Texas State vs. Jackson State men’s basketball game Nov. 18, attending their first United States basketball game under the lights of Strahan Arena. Texas State defeated Jackson State 73-58, and the rowing team witnessed junior forward Isiah Small’s career-high of 20 points in the win.
Xu said before they were in San Marcos, the athletes were excited to watch basketball in action and enjoyed their experience.
“We’ve heard so much about it back in China as one of the top five sports in the United States, so you have a really solid foundation for the sport,” Xu said. “The atmosphere was good, very interactive and it was a very high-level performance. We have a very busy schedule, so unfortunately we don’t have time to watch other events.”
Although they were ready to visit San Marcos, there have been some significant drawbacks to traveling halfway around the world, Xu said.
“Before we came here we were already very excited because we heard so much about it, so when we got here we kind of wanted to explore the place,” Xu said. “Physically speaking, though, the athletes have found it difficult to adjust to this place and because of jetlag a lot of athletes were not quite themselves when we first got here.”
Despite initial drawbacks, the team has been impressed with the facilities and Xu said U.S. colleges are ahead when it comes to athletic programs.
“We were very impressed by the gym, the football club and also the weightlifting because all of the facilities are quite well-equipped and very well organized,” Xu said. “It is quite obvious that the universities in the United States, in terms of sports facilities, are far ahead of those back in China, so we’re very appreciative of everything here.”
Xu said that every stop in their training camp — including Texas State —will help them reach their goals at the Games.
“To stand on the podium in Tokyo will be in part because of the training camp we had here,” Xu said.
The team most recently won their first rowing gold medal in history on the women’s side in Beijing in 2008 and have hired British five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave in hopes of a 2020 Olympic glory.
The Chinese Olympic Rowing Team will leave San Marcos Dec. 20 before competing in the World Rowing Cup in Sabaudia, Italy April 10-12 and finishing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games beginning July 24, 2020.