training camp impractical before the
World Rowing Championships.
However, Donaldson says the option of
altitude training is still very much alive.
"We have reviewed altitude training with
our physiologists and have an open mind
as to when and how we may use altitude
training as part of our preparation."
German single sculler Marcel Hacker training at altitude at St. Moritz, Switzerland. / Le skiffeur allemand Marcel Hacker
s’entraîne en altitude à St. Moritz, en Suisse.
Altitude training has been around
ever since the Mexico City
Olympics of 1968 pushed it into
the limelight. However, due to a
remarkable array of research
results and the secrecy that
sometimes surrounds improvement levels, there is very little
consensus on its use.
Altitude training follows the principle
that the thinner air density at higher
altitudes causes the body to develop
more haemoglobin - the red protein that
transports oxygen to the muscles through
the blood - and consequently increases
the athlete's ability to carry oxygen
around the body. Oxygen is vital for the
muscles to do aerobic work thus altitude
training is used predominantly by
endurance sports like rowing, cycling
and middle to long distance running.
To receive the benefit of altitude training
it is believed that athletes must train at a
minimum of 1,800 metres above sea
level and throughout the world training
centres have been established at these
For some coaches altitude training is an
integral part of their training programme.
For others it is never used.
Huge differences in how individual
athletes react to altitude training add to
the range of views. Some win medals
when they come back to race at sea level,
while others end up fatigued or ill. Also
the 'intensity-dampening effect of altitude'
means that less available oxygen makes
intense training more difficult and some
studies show that athletes come back
with reduced fitness.
Greece's head coach Gianni Postiglione
knows from experience that to work
effectively as a coach you have to fit in
with what suits locally. Although
Postiglione has used altitude training
when coaching in other countries, at
present in Greece he says "no."
"I think the altitude training can have a
positive effect on the performance of the
rowers if they have a good basic preparation." But Postiglione says he has not
been with the Greek programme long
enough and the athletes he coaches are
relatively new to training. "I have done a
control test with them and for this year
they are not in condition to perform in
the altitude environment."
Australia's High Performance Director
Noel Donaldson has set aside altitude
training for this year simply for logistical
reasons. Donaldson cites the expense of
going to altitude camps and this year
Australia is also experimenting with
early season European racing, competing
at the first rather than the third Rowing
World Cup. This makes an altitude
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The Olympic Training Centre at Zakopane,
Poland, has been used by the Polish team
for a number of years now. Although the
rowing is only at 600 metres above sea
level, the surrounding mountains climb
up to 2,000 metres. The Polish team
selected for the World Rowing Championships will spend two weeks in July at
Zakopane. Every day the team will go
into the mountains to do some type of
training but the coaches are careful to
guard details about the type of workout.
Head coach for Finland Veikko Sinisalo
says altitude training is not worth their
time or limited resources: "We feel that
we do not have enough information or
experience on high altitude training."
Meanwhile, the small South African
team under the guidance of German
coach Christian Felkel go to altitude
twice a year at their country's facilities
in Belfast, South Africa.
In the United States altitude training has
been used sporadically depending on the
planning of individual coaches. Former
national team sculling coach Igor Grinko
came out of the Soviet system of training
and believes that altitude training is
effective. Now coaching in China, Grinko
says the national team has not used
altitude training in the past but he will
try and use it in the future once he is
The large and established German
rowing system looks at altitude training
as part of the four-year Olympic cycle.
"I see it as a four-year process with
camps twice a year and going to three a
year just before Beijing," says Sport
Director Michael Mueller. The level of
monitoring is very high and as new
rowers are brought into the team Mueller
is aware that the reaction to altitude may
vary. "We have a lot of new people. They
need to get used to it," says Mueller.
To train at altitude or not, that is the