Destroying your mates' Rio dreams is a brutal affair

Alex is a five-time world champion rower who won Olympic gold in the coxless fours at London 2012. He will be writing a monthly column for Sport in the run-up to Rio 2016, giving a unique insight into the preparations and pressures faced by our Olympic athletes.

Alex is a five-time world champion rower who won Olympic gold in the coxless fours at London 2012. He will be writing a monthly column for Sport in the run-up to Rio 2016, giving a unique insight into the preparations and pressures faced by our Olympic athletes.

Final selection trials, something we as rowers go through every year, are fast approaching . They are the Marmite of our season: some rowers love it, some hate it. I have always been the latter – and this year it’s so much worse.

That’s because it’s an Olympic year. We’re 140 days from the biggest event of our lives, the pinnacle of our sporting careers. There, we will fight it out, gladiatorstyle, on the warm, murky waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, under the watchful eye of Christ the Redeemer. Shaded by the long, cool shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain, we will be pitted against our sworn enemies (absolutely anyone from another country) and hold ourselves in the flames of burning agony just to cross that watery line a bow ball ahead. Even 0.0-something will do it, but ahead we must be.

Right now, however, none of this actually matters. I won’t even be there if I don’t get these next few weeks right. I’m not up against the enemy, either – I’m up against my mates, my colleagues, people I see seven days a week, 350 days of the year. I’ve spent more time with some of these men than I have with my three kids. I want to see them do well, but I must beat them.

Physically, it’s tough. But everything we do is. Not a day goes by during which I don’t at some point feel the need to stop. But it’s not an option to stop, so I don’t. None of us do. Yet the hardest part isn’t physical, it’s mental: coming to terms with this job, to take from my friends a place in a boat they want to be in. Lifelong dreams will be destroyed. Some will never experience an Olympic Games, never feel that medal hung around their necks. The pursuit of Olympic glory will not be realised and this life of physical and mental anguish will seemingly be for nothing. That’s the game we play, the rules we live by, and accepting what happens one way or another is part of that. As a team – and a damn good one we are too – I support those around me. If I’m beaten, I can deal with that and be happy for them.

For now, I have to do everything I can to give myself the best opportunity of getting in the boat with the best chance of gold in Rio. For six months of the year, that’s my task, proving myself to head coach Jurgen Grobler. The following six months is spent moulding individuals together and honing skills so we can take on the world.

It’s a tough old game. There’s no breathing space, but I love what I do. And, for the chance to stand on that medal podium in Rio, whether you like Marmite or not, you’ll eat the whole jar.

Read this column and more: http://sport-magazine.co.uk/features/alex-gregory

Posted on May 1, 2016 .