Seb Benzecry

Club: CUBC

Height: 190cm

School: St Paul’s School

International rowing record: Junior Worlds 2016 (GB Junior 8+ – bronze)

Year you first started rowing: 2011

How have you coped this year?

It has been a difficult year for all of us, but the strong team dynamic has helped us push through the uncertain times. We’re a very close and motivated group, and we have a clear set of goals. Personally, being in a house with five other CUBC members has been huge for me; we held each other accountable during lockdown, making sure we were all committed to doing the mileage and making gains during our time off the water.

Could you build a strong team culture while training virtually?

In some ways, adversity helps build culture, and having to train virtually, independent of one another, helped us ideologically come together. We made sure that we were all on the same page from the outset of the lockdowns: our time apart could make or break our season, so it was absolutely crucial to commit 100% to the virtual training. Members of the team were great at organising virtual social activities that helped us continue to be a close-knit team.

Were the isolated ergs better or worse than expected?

It was definitely better. The fact that we had a house full of rowers helped a lot to motivate us to train hard, and the time that I spent rowing in the USA during my undergraduate degree had already conditioned me for a winter ‘erg season’, so I felt like I could take it in my stride.

What was your lockdown training set up?

We have a small garden where we set up three ergs abreast, so it really didn’t feel too different from erging in the gym. We set up a plastic tarpaulin overhead to shield us from the elements – it rained a lot this winter – and when we had circuits or S&C (strength and conditioning), we packed the ergs into the shed and used the space together.

How do you cope with race day nerves?

I make sure I have a bit of downtime during the day to listen to music or watch TV and take my mind off the race for a bit. It helps me to stay relaxed, which helps my performance on the water. When the time comes, I warm up pretty hard so I’m already sweating – it’s a physical boost in terms of making sure your muscles are really primed, but for me it also takes some of the mental pressure off.

The biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been making the technical changes while being away from the boats for such a big part of the season. The Boat Race is so reliant on efficiency and cohesion, so obviously the less time spent in the boat, the more difficult it is to embed the technical details necessary to maximise boat speed. We’ve committed ourselves well to keeping on top of mobility while away from the boats and we’ve been pushing ourselves hard coming out of lockdown to make big changes that will ultimately help us on race day.

The toughest session?

The hour of power free rate is a killer. The first 10 minutes are pretty chill, just spinning at rate 28/29 but by 30 minutes you’re really feeling it. The last 20 minutes aren’t pretty. Rob (Baker) gave us a big focus on moving at a high rate on the erg for an extended period of time. It has definitely helped everyone feel comfortable at rate, but it was a challenge on the long erg pieces.

The best day, so far?

There have been some great days, but for me, Trial VIIIs was the most enjoyable. Our boat had struggled a bit in the leadup to the race, often finding ourselves losing out to the other boat by some pretty tight margins. In the actual race, we got out really aggressively and found a 3/4 length lead by the 1k, and then it was a dogfight for the next 4k all the way into the line. To take the win was fantastic, but to have such a close piece was a real boost for the whole squad.

Only the Blue Boat races on the 4th April 2021: What’s it like splitting the squad?

It was difficult to cut down almost half the team coming out of the lockdown. Some really hard decisions had to be made, and unfortunately some great guys weren’t able to return to the water, which I know was hard to take. The silver lining is the possibility of rowing together again after the Boat Race, but it was a painful situation. For those of us on the water, it has inspired us to perform – not just for ourselves, but for those who can’t be here with us.

Is it strange to train without the reserve eight?

One definitely feels the lack of the other boat alongside. Having another boat is always great for keeping you honest and on top of your game. Rowing alone can create a vacuum but having speed coaches and telemetry for speed and power output makes sure everyone is still switched on. The worst part of training without Goldie is the fact that the team feels so small now, and ultimately, we miss the other guys!

How did it feel getting back on the water?

It felt great to be back out on the water, and for the first few days we were treated to some amazing conditions. We got back into the groove very quickly, and the rowing has improved significantly from session to session.

Why do you want to beat Oxford?

I want to beat Oxford, but I would phrase it more that I want to win for my teammates. The dedication that we’ve all put into this season – the countless kilometres on the erg, the early mornings, the high-pressure seat races, the difficult decisions, the tough restrictions – has been extraordinary, and, much more than having a specific vendetta against Oxford, I want us to perform at our peak, to do ourselves proud, and I know that it will be good enough to win.