A Bexhill Rowing Club talent achieved a remarkable result in Hong Kong this week.
Mark Mitchell teamed up with former Olympic rower Tim Male to finish third in the Around the Island Race.
The top three crews all broke the previous course record for the 43km race around Hong Kong island, with Mitchell and Male pushed from second to third in the final sprint for the line.
Mitchell said: “Whilst it is painful losing a gold medal opportunity and coming away with bronze, giving away 20 years to these full time athletes and beating a Rio gold medallist along the way is something I’m now proud of.
“The race was the most brutal, inspiring, tiring and heartbreaking race we have ever done, and in the toughest conditions the event has ever seen.”
Mitchell was confident that, despite the weather, the record of three hours and 46 minutes would be broken. He was hoping for 3:40 and a podium finish.
Mitchell and Male were being listed as one of five possible crews to win. The others were two Spanish crews (with a world champion and Olympic rower), the combination of Peru and Monaco (a strong favourite) and the other British crew, including Rio gold medallist Scott Durrant.
Mitchell and Male quickly dropped to sixth place (even though they were rating at 34 strokes per minute) after taking what turned out to be the slower route at the start.
They soon settled to 27spm and at 6,000m overtook the Spanish B crew to go fifth. Mitchell and Male kept up the pressure for the next hour and at 16k quickly went past the other GB crew before pulling away with some hard rowing.
The long slog along the south of the island seemed to take forever, but the sea conditions at this point weren’t too bad. The rowers were drinking every five minutes using ‘camelbacks’ (a two-litre container on their backs with a long drinking tube).
Mitchell and Male were now up to third, but with the Spanish B crew (containing an Olympic athlete) closely tracking their every move.
About two-thirds of the way through the race they drew alongside and passed the Monaco/Peru crew to go second - and catching the world champions in first.
The Spanish B crew was tracking Mitchell and Male’s every move, though, and the final piece all the way up to the top of the island was against a 20mph headwind. It felt so heavy and Mitchell got cramp in his hamstrings, but pushed on through the pain.
Around the top of the island, the sea conditions worsened dramatically. The strong wind and tide meant the rowers were getting hit from every angle with some big waves and the wash from ferries and shipping boats.
Mitchell was rating 32spm (normal 2k racing pace) as he and Male seemed to pull away from the Spanish B crew, but the Spaniards put in one final huge push with 1k to go.
The Spanish B crew came alongside Mitchell and Male with 700m left. They went on to finish just ahead of them and 20 seconds behind the A crew from Spain. It was the closest finish in the event’s history after three hours and 33 minutes of rowing.
Afterwards all three crews were in so much pain and had to just lay on the pontoon next to each other, unable to move.