It’s all over, we crossed the line in the lead to become Olympic champions on 4 August 2012. I was the first person across that line, which is the stuff of dreams. To cross the line first in an Olympic final is what I have been dreaming, working, aiming and focusing towards for the last eight years; specifically in this boat type for the last four years, so to actually fulfil your dreams is something incredibly special. It was relief, however, that was the overriding feeling in that emotional cauldron. It wasn’t until I was over the line that I realised just how much pressure there had been on us individually and as a crew. I had built a defence over the months leading up to the games where any negative thoughts about the result, any comments from external media or individuals were shot down and turned into something positive or simply blocked out. This was a challenge, especially in the days after the semi-final where we had beaten Australia to win, but only just, in the closing few hundred metres. That was a close call but was a make-or-break race for us. We really needed to psychologically dent their confidence by beating them but this also involved crossing the line and looking as though it had taken nothing out of us – as if it was easy. I think I could have got an Oscar on that day. I was hurting really badly, I needed to collapse like never before but we had agreed to sit up, move round to the warm-down lake and paddle off as if it had been a stroll in the park. The Aussies followed us round and I’m sure were doing exactly the same, but looking at their body language you could tell they were hurting and disappointed to have been beaten. I waited until we were a good distance away from them and vomited.
The pressure was on and I could feel it, but I was doing a good job at controlling it. I was racing with three other guys who had been successful in the same boat class four years earlier in Beijing. They were all going for their second gold (greedy!) and although it was never mentioned, I knew that if we were to come anywhere but first a disproportionate amount of blame would have been placed on my head. Possibly not voiced, but certainly thought. We had to win. Secondly, coach Jurgen has won a gold medal at every single Olympic games he has entered a crew in since 1972, 10 golds already to his name and going for number 11. We had to win. Thirdly, the coxless four is the flagship boat of the men’s team, we were the last boat to compete and none of the other crews had won gold in the previous days. There were two excellent bronze medals from the eight and Alan Campbell in the single but no gold, so all eyes were on us. We had to win. Finally, I simply had to win for everyone who has supported me over the 13 years since I first stepped in a boat, for all the years I have neglected my friends, missed their birthdays, holidays, get togethers and weddings. For the time I spent on the river instead of doing my degree, for the weeks and months I have been out of the country away from my family, my girlfriend and in the last three years my son Jasper. I had to win for them all. This made me nervous.
The morning of the final was tense; the hour before was horrendous. We were sitting, lying, pacing in this tiny temporary room built for the athletes at the back of the regatta course, trying desperately to stay relaxed and calm but, really, it was impossible. There isn’t much I wouldn’t have done to be given the chance to disappear right there and never come back. It was almost funny how horrible I was feeling but I don’t think I could stop grinning. I wanted it to be over immediately. Strangely I remember enjoying the feeling, this was a culmination of such a stupidly long, tough path with years and years of pain, heartache, despair and yet it was all going to boil down to a six-minute race. The whole situation was just ridiculous! The rain outside was torrential and I will never forget looking up to the glass door and seeing one of the Australian guys run past outside, shoulders hunched looking miserable. At that moment I thought yes, great, we are used to this. We are out on the water training through the winter for hours and hours in freezing wind, snow, hail, rain, home water – our conditions, our day!
The start line was eerily quiet; I have clear memories of what was going on and how I was feeling. We were stepping into the unknown, I was hating every second of it, yet I loved every second. Sitting there waiting to start, I had an out of body feeling as if I was watching what was going on but not really there. I remember saying to myself “oh god, here we go” as the buzzer went and everything was automatic after that.
The race was as perfect as we could ever have dreamed, we were ahead within the first 100 meters, which we have never done before, and we opened up on the field after that. With 500 metres to go and 30,000 people cheering us on, there was no way we were going to lose that race, the noise was just incredible, and no doubt helped us to cross that line ahead.
The experience was incredible, the memories will last forever, and now I can finally take a break and relax for the first time I can ever remember.