What initially made you want to row?
At school we had the option of either playing cricket or rowing. I was a woeful cricketer and so rowing was the obvious choice. We got to row to an island where we could buy chocolate, ice cream and crisps and sit in the sun before wheezing our way back down the river. It was my idea of heaven!
So far how intense has training for the London Olympics been, and how does it compare to how you would train for The Boat Race?
The training load has gone up substantially. The training at Oxford is based on a similar template but is scaled down to allow time for academic commitments. The national team has about 17 training sessions in a normal week, compared to 12 at Oxford. Winter training consists of a lot of mileage, and so the challenge is to make it through steering clear of illness and injury as far as possible.
You have had an impressive year; do you think you have done enough to secure a seat in one of the top GB boats going to Dorney Lake in 2012?
I think I have put myself in a strong position to contend for a seat in the team. Each boat in the heavyweight men’s team is a strong contender for a gold medal, and at this stage, my aim is to make the team, regardless of which boat I find myself in.
“When dealing with pressure, it’s sometimes worth
remembering that “it’s just rowing”
If you were selected it would be your first Olympic Games, do you feel ready for the challenge and how would you cope with the pressure?
Racing the Boat Race in front of a quarter of a million people and a TV audience in the tens of millions is certainly good preparation! I still have a lot of work to put in, but come August I think I will be ready physically and mentally to compete against the best in the world. When dealing with pressure, it’s often very easy to over-complicate things and it’s sometimes worth remembering that “it’s just rowing”. In other words, it’s a tough, gruelling sport and it means a great deal to compete at the Olympics, but regardless of the venue or the event it’s the same thing that I’ve been doing day in day out.
As a Londoner, what would it mean for you have an opportunity to compete in the London 2012 Games?
I feel extremely fortunate that my first opportunity to compete at an Olympics coincides with the home games. The course where the rowing is set to happen was where I first learnt to row, although I imagine it will have quite a different feel to it playing host to the Olympic regatta, compared to a group of teenagers capsizing in old wooden boats! There seems to be a buzz in London and around the country leading up to the games, and sports like rowing in which GB excel, have never been so high profile so this is a fantastic time to start competing at this level.
“At school we got to row to an island where we could buy chocolate,
ice cream and crisps and sit in the sun before wheezing our way
back down the river. It was my idea of heaven!”
Because of your abilities as a rower, people have been comparing you to four times Olympic Rowing Champion, Sir Matthew Pinsent. Is there a pressure there to live up to people’s expectations of you?
Not especially, the only people whose expectations I have really been aware of are my coaches’, whether it was at school, university or in the national team, because they’re the ones who guide me through training, know about the sport and see what I should be capable of. Comparisons to Sir Matthew are perhaps easy to make because we were educated at the same places and both started in the national team at a young age, but it won’t get me anywhere to think about winning four Olympic gold medals before I’ve even made the team!
How did it feel to win the ‘BBC Rising Star Award’ back in 2009?
The award topped off what had already been a great year. I was very gratified and quite surprised that the BBC panel had noticed my results on the water.
“I don’t think motivation can be fuelled
by a few words of wisdom”
Are there any words of advice that have kept you motivated?
I’m afraid I’m not really one for inspirational quotations or snappy sound bites. I don’t think motivation can be fuelled by a few words of wisdom, at least not through a whole year of training, let alone through the four year Olympic cycle which most athletes go through. If you want to succeed enough, then you’ll have the motivation.
As you study classics, which Greek God would you be and why?
I suppose I would choose Poseidon, God of the Sea. With control over the water, I could win whatever race I wanted!
Finally, who is your Olympic IDOL?
Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent are inspirational Olympic figures and iconic in the sport of rowing and Olympic sport in general. However, my childhood sporting hero (though not an Olympian) was Brian O’Driscoll, captain of the Irish rugby team. My mother is Irish so I always supported them. He is a fantastic competitor, a stalwart leader and an unfailingly good sportsman.
Interview: Fay A