Well, that’s it, it’s all over. My life as I’ve known it ever since I can remember has now changed forever and really, honestly, unlike others before me, there’s no coming back from this! (shoot me)
Ever since I can remember I have been pursuing something far out of my reach but something grand. Over my life of 32 years the targets have moved, the goals have been altered and the disciplines have changed but the constant was consistently there - to be the best I can be. I feel now after 32 years on this big blue planet I’ve reached that point in sport and much to my relief I’m satisfied, happy and content. There’s probably more I could do, certainly improvements to make and I’m in no way the best in the world at rowing, far from it, but I’ve reached my limit and this is as far as I’m prepared to go.
I’ve had a great innings and have been extraordinarily lucky along the way. When I discovered rowing at 17 I quickly knew I wanted to take it as far as I could, but the path was rocky with some huge gaping chasms of failure and disappointment along the way. I nearly gave it all up so many times, but it was the people around me and this little burning flame inside that kept me going. I’m so pleased I did because once I finally discovered the way to piece everything together my fortunes changed.
One of the aspects of rowing I love the most is the reliance on others. You have people relying on you but you must also rely on others and work together to get anywhere. In the last 16 years I’ve been so lucky to be in and around boats with some truly amazing people who at times have made my job very easy. I do want to write some thanks here and acknowledge serious influencers from my journey. This may take a while so bear with me, but it will be my only opportunity to do this, so it’s now or never...
Alex Cook (Cookie)
Alex is a good man through and through, the best of men. He’s a school mate who introduced me to rowing and first got me down to Evesham rowing club. I had no intention of starting rowing until Cookie turned up at school one day suggesting I give it a go. Brushing it off (I was a swimmer after all) I thought nothing more about it. But Cookie kept on at me about it, pestered me until I finally relented. He knew me well and was right, I loved it. Still a good mate, Cookie has always supported me and wished me well, I’ve always been blown away by that. If it wasn’t for him it’s doubtful I would have ever stepped in a boat, so in many ways I owe it all to him. I can’t pay him back in any other way than to say thanks mate!
My very first rowing coach from Evesham rowing club. Keith was a volunteer at the club and had been for many many years before me. He accepted me into the group, took me on, and showed such dedication and enthusiasm to us young rowers it became impossible to leave! His drive was infections and gave me the springboard to take rowing on seriously. I’ve never really thanked Keith properly for all that he did for me in those early days so I hope he reads these words and understands what I’m trying to say.
My very first weights coach from Evesham rowing club, but so much more than that. Dave is unbelievably knowledgable in all things physiology and training. His thirst for new trends and knowledge sees no end and for as long as I’ve known him he’s been reading up on the latest methods and techniques. His sensible approach not just to training and sport but to life as well makes Dave a very special person and infact a life mentor. I value his friendship very much but again like Keith haven’t shown him the thanks he deserves. A truly amazing man.
Mark was a history teacher at my school - Prince Henry’s High school in Evesham. A non-rowing state school that just happened to be close to the river Avon. One day a tall, lanky, dorky kid walked into his office and asked if he would teach him to single scull. That kid was me. After hearing Mark was a rowing coach at Bristol university I jumped at the opportunity to use his knowledge and needing more time on the water to get better, before school was the only chance. Mark kindly, amazingly agreed and so 5 days a week we met on the river bank in the dark to go out sculling. That combined with the evening sessions with Keith meant my progression was speedy and my entry to the GB junior trials possible. Mark and I continued working together for 6 more years within the British Rowing Start programme moving onwards and into the GB senior team together. In no way did I make his life easy over those years failing to reach my ‘potential’ at every opportunity! Mark stuck with me through all of that, he never indicated anything but total belief supporting and encouraging me through every failure. I wouldn’t have got to where I got to without his support. I owe him a great deal.
British Rowing and the GB Rowing Team
My aspirations early on were to become a part of the Great Britain Rowing team and to represent GB on the world stage in Rowing. This is simply impossible without the backing and support of this team in all it’s many forms. Over the 16 years I’ve been rowing, 12 in a GB vest there have been so many people from these organisations that have helped me and supported me through thick and thin. It was through the Start programme that I was brought on and given all the support I needed, I just had to figure out how to get across that line first! So to the coaches, management and support staff, and I truly wish I could name everyone, here’s a huge thank you for all the continued hard work. I’m out now, but the train keeps rolling, there are plenty more coming through!
Evesham rowing club on the banks of the river Avon was where I first started rowing, it’s where I call home and hopefully I will be able to visit from time to time. An amazing club where junior rowing is at it’s core, it’s where I came from and many more have and will.
Reading Rowing club - While at University I spent much of my time training from the club as it was the ‘Start’ centre that myself and Mark Earnshaw was based at. Those were my hard years, successes, failures, late nights, early mornings, tough training, studying and a little partying. Very difficult to fit it all in and it hurt, but Reading Rowing club will always be entrenched in my memory for that. Very supportive of me then and now which I appreciate immensely.
Reading University Boat Club - I’m very proud to have rowed for this club and to have been a part of it’s rich history. I remained a member for three years after leaving University because it felt right to represent them and pay them back for their encouragement and support. There’s a long line of GB internationals who have come through this club, I’m extremely pleased to be one.
Molesey Boat Club - I must mention this club because I spent a memorable summer training and racing in black down at Molesey. It was everything I hoped it would be, it was an education and the memories from that summer and that crew will last a very long time. I’ve recommended the club to others over the years, it’s where ‘the better Gregory’ (my brother) as they call him raced and it’s a club that is fantastic for the development and competition within British and International rowing. Proud to have been a member and to have made some fantastic friends there.
Leander Club - I have just ended my two year captaincy at Leander club which is something I’ve been very privileged to do. I can’t ever thank them enough for trusting me to hold that position and lead the athletes through the final years of an Olympiad. There’s no club like it in the country and for development and support of current and aspiring internationals it’s absolutely the place to be. Having been deeply involved especially in the last two years, it’s amazed me the efforts and time that goes into supporting the athletes and finding now and innovative ways to do this. I will be a supporter of the club for the rest of my life as they have supported me through my most crucial years in Rowing.
I’m proud to have represented these 5 clubs in my 16 years in the sport and look forward to now supporting them from a very different position - dry land.
Well where do I start. You could write a book about Jurgen and still not get anywhere close to what this man is really like. It was daunting turning up and rowing in front of Jurgen for the first time way back in 2004 but he quickly put me at ease. He has this clever way of making everyone feel equal even when quite clearly you are not; I certainly wasn’t when I first turned up! I’ve learnt so much from this great man who’s reputation will live forever more in the world of sport. It’s brought an enormous sense of pride calling Jurgen my coach for so long, perhaps that’s all part of his secret to success. Trust, belief and respect lies at the bottom of it all and I’ve always believed he’s trusted, believed in and respected me. How or why I don’t know but thankfully he has, and that’s a significant part of why I now have two Olympic gold medals on a shelf at home. In 2008 he threw me a life-line which stopped me from falling over the brink and walking away from rowing forever having never won a race. That was a turning point right there.
It’s been a privilege rowing under Jurgen’s eye, being tested and pushed to my limits and beyond, every day for many many years. Knowing he’s done the same to my heroes before me is something that has always driven me on. I’ll be sorry to leave this culture and regime where performance is everything but it’s time now to do it on my own. To Jurgen a huge thanks for the opportunities and guidance which has set me up well for future life. Now finally I can rest and have a weekend!
The Old(er) greats
We are so lucky in this country to have a long history of role models and sporting heroes all of whom have lead the way and mapped out a course for the generations to follow. A few names have really stood out for their kindness and support of me personally. These are all people who have gone out of their way to speak to me, encourage, help and be kind to me. They all continue to do so which means a huge amount.
Matthew Pinsent has been so generous with his time and advice. In a time of crisis he stepped up for me and a fellow crew mate, calmly passing on his wise words and sharing his experiences. He continues to do so and I continue to look up to him as an example of how to do many things.
James Cracknell has been good to me, in person and over commentary. In terms of moving away from sport and watching the new comers filling up what was once your seat must be a strange feeling. I hope I can be like these gentlemen because supportive and constructive words form these guys really does spur you on.
Steve Williams is someone I’ve been lucky enough to cross over with in our rowing careers. Watching his approach to training and racing was pretty interesting and I aspired to be a little like him. Quietly getting on with the hard graft, no fuss, no complaints. I didn’t come close but his kindness to me as a young whippersnapper stood out and I won’t ever forget it. He always gave me the time of day and in 2012 when I stepped into what was his seat at the previous Olympics with the same three guys in front of me, I found the pressure was on. He supported me with a few words here and there and I’ll never forget that. Steve my friend, thank you!
Tim Foster, cool as cool. The mystical rower who could move anyone across the water and across the line seemingly with ease. In a boat everyone wanted to be like him including me. He coached me for a while and always, always made me feel equal. He spoke to me like I was on his terms despite his fame and reputation. Every time I speak to this eccentric funny guy I enjoy the conversation and want to hear more.
All of these people are brilliant role models and ambassadors for our sport. If I can come close to being like any of these men in the future I’ll be happy.
Colleagues, mates, friends, partners, work horses and donkeys. Whatever you want to call them I’ve had them and I love them all. Tom Dyson (now head of GB Paralympic rowing), Colin Smith, Simon Fieldhouse (monkey), Sam Townsend, Matt Langridge, Alex Partridge, Ric Eggington, Tom James, Pete Reed, Andy Triggs-Hodge, Moe Sbihi, Constantine Louloudis, George Nash just to name a few of the hundreds of people I’ve been in a boat with through my time on water.
This to me is one of the best things about rowing, one of the beautiful things about our sport, I literally couldn’t do it without people like this. It’s what makes this game so much more fun, exciting, challenging and stressful but rewarding beyond belief. Bonds are formed in those long long hours out on the water 7 days a week, or in those dark dirty rooms on training camp when you start hallucinating because of the altitude/fatigue cocktail. Winning alone is good, winning together is magnificent. Only the 2, 4 or 9 of you in the crew know what you’ve been through to get across that line first, that long painful journey. You will never be able to explain to others even your most articulate effort won’t cut it. But inside you know and that’s the important thing. It’s something I have with all of those guys and many more and it’s something that I’ll never lose. I may not see any of these guys for 20 years, but when we do meet again we’ll still have that bond. To me that’s pretty special and something very cool. Thanks for pulling me along boys and getting me across the line first!
I had to learn to love racing. Even in the most recent years I struggled to enjoy it but got through knowing it was necessary - it was my job after all. Something that’s made it better though is getting to know those people I’ve been racing. It’s been a pleasure turning up at these international regattas the world over and seeing faces not seen for 6 months or more. A nod, a wave, a smile or a quick chat on the way to rig-up the boat has been a big part of it for me and something I’ve really looked forward to. There’s been this fantastic respect amongst my group of competitors some of whom I’ve been racing for 12 years! No matter the country, language is no barrier to friendship and respect and I’ve come to really value that. I have friends from many of the rowing nations and I hope they feel the same towards me as I do to them. We are after all the same sort of people doing the same sort of things day in day out to try to win the same race. Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose. On the water competitors, off the water friends. That’s how I like to see it. I’ll miss seeing these people some of whom I may never see again but I wish them all well in their futures and thank them for giving me some bloody tough races over the years!
I’ve absolutely loved the interaction that social media gives and I can tell you, when you’re in some far flung place around the globe, ready to race a World or Olympic final and you read a kind message from a stranger back home the reassurance and motivation that can give can be enormous. I’ve really only ever had supportive comments from people on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, I’ve always tried to reply and keep up with whats going on but sometimes that’s difficult. Iv’e tried to give an insight into my life on and off the water and through this I’ve made some really good friends. Thanks to everyone who has supported me in this way, it’s been great fun. Let’s keep talking!
I don’t want to get too bogged down in emotion here, but a turning point for me was whilst sitting in the grandstand out in Beijing during the Olympics in 2008. I was spare man for the team and just happened to be sat behind Mark Hunter’s mum, dad and brother and as Mark’s Olympic final drew closer my eyes were drawn to this family. They were hugging each other, holding each other, tears of pride were streaming down their faces. Mark and his partner Zac raced in front of us and crossed the line first. They had just become Olympic champions and Mark’s family sobbed heavily into the arms of each other. It was a show of emotion I’d never witnessed before and it shocked me. It shocked me because I’d never really thought about what this all meant to my family, what I’d put them through all these years. It also showed me what the Olympics really meant. I was witnessing something very special.
Four years later on August 4th 2012, moments before my first Olympic gold medal was to be hung around my neck I glanced up into the crowd above me. There directly in front of me was my mum, dad and brother hugging each other tightly with tears rolling down their faces. In fours years that moment had come right round in full circle and I was finally paying them back for all the pain and heartache I believed I’d put them through. It had all be worth it. My family’s support has never wavered. I’ve never ever been pushed or pulled in any direction, they have always had my back and been there if I’ve needed it, quietly in the background. I have the most supportive parents I could ever have wished for and now, as a parent myself I realise it’s not an easy job. Needless to say I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without my mum dad and brother, my successes are theirs.
Living with a rower isn’t easy but Emily has done it for the last 12 years. As everyone keeps telling me she deserves a medal but in truth she deserves way more than a medal. As do her parents who embraced me from the start and have been a source of enormous support in so many different ways. We wouldn’t be here without them that’s for sure!
I’ve been very lucky that Emily has stuck around and supported me and what I’ve been trying to do all these years. When Jasper our first son came along in 2009 we didn’t know how everything was going to work with the unusual, unpredictable job I did. Times were very stressful, but we stuck it out and came through much better for it. It has always been our intention to keep our lives moving on alongside rowing and not to let my sport hold us back and prevent us from doing what we wanted to do. This conscious decision hasn’t made our lives easy in many ways, but we have been very lucky to raise three happy, healthy little people despite all this. Having missed the births of the second two children I owe Emily some serious time now and that’s something I’m 100% prepared to do! My family is the priority. I love them and thank them for putting up with me on this pursuit of Olympic gold, now it’s finally done we can spend some more time together and pursue something exciting as a family. Times have certainly changed.
That’s all I can write now. There are of course many more influencers along the way and as you can see, I barely did anything! I’ve learnt that you need people to get to where you want to go. embracing help is no weakness and looking back I’ve had a whole mountain of help. To everyone mentioned here and more, thank you! I’m done.