Benjamin Pritchard: Silver medallist almost missed European Rowing Championships

Benjamin Pritchard says he almost had to miss the European Championships where he won a silver medal.

The 29-year-old finished second in the PR1 men’s single sculls in Varese, Italy, on Sunday despite struggling to recover from Covid-19 and back issues.

Defending Paralympic, World and European Champion Roman Polianskyi won the gold medal ahead of the Welshman.

“It was touch and go, we didn’t know if I was competing until a week before,” Pritchard told BBC Sport Wales.

“I’ve been dealing with a back niggle and tests around my Covid recovery, because I’m struggling to bounce back from certain aspects of my training.

“The decision for me to fly was only made on Monday afternoon.”

Pritchard was diagnosed with Covid-19 just before Christmas and although he only suffered mild symptoms, it is still having an impact on his recovery time.

“I was sat in Ann’s [Dr Redgrave, British Rowing chief medical officer] office last weekend crying because I’d lost all confidence in my body,” said Pritchard.

“I’d had an operation, had Covid and I never felt I was getting back, I was always chasing fitness, I wasn’t ever on top of it.

“I’m struggling with fatigue elements of recovery, I can perform when I need to but it takes five, six, seven days to come back from that.

“That’s something we were trying to look at before the European Championships, we didn’t know whether racing three times in four days would be a good decision, but luckily I only had to race twice because I made it straight through to the final.

“It’ll be interesting to see how I recover from that final effort, because in the heats I managed to stay within myself, but it was only when the final came did I have to unload everything.”

The decision to attend the tournament came after the Welshman spoke with his coaching team and decided confidence would come through racing.

Pritchard also had an arm operation back in November to add to his setbacks.

“I noticed that I was just losing grip in my arms every now and again, getting pins and needles,” added Pritchard.

“It isn’t great and it’s quite a common injury for para-athletes to have because we push ourselves around all the time and then we row, so our forearms get overworked.

“I basically had an overuse injury in my forearms which required them to be operated on.”

Dreams of Tokyo summer

Benjamin Pritchard was paralysed from the waist down following a cycling crash in 2016 and took up rowing later that year
Benjamin Pritchard was paralysed from the waist down following a cycling crash in 2016 and took up rowing later that year

Pritchard still needs to secure his spot on the plane to Tokyo, having already qualified his boat class in 2019.

“The first thing is I need to get selected, I’ve got to focus on that and work on putting myself forward for the selectors, that’s where all my focus has to go,” said Pritchard.

“It’s pretty exciting, scary and daunting when you look at your training block now and at the end of it, hopefully, will be Tokyo.”

The Paralympic games are just 134 days away, there will be no travelling fans due to the pandemic.

“Initially I was completely devastated, it would be lovely for my mum my dad and everyone who’s supported me to be there,” added Pritchard.

“But actually having gone to the European Championships this weekend and seeing the flurry of support I’ve had from back home, probably some people that didn’t watch rowing before actually tuned in.

“My phone didn’t stop for all of yesterday (Sunday) and this morning and that’s reassured me that while it would be great to have my family there, I’m going to get so much support from everyone virtually anyway.”

There was another Welsh success at the Championships, with Victoria Thornley also getting a silver medal in the women’s single scull.

BBC News