Courtesy of Thames Valley Business Magazine March 2012
In a quiet corner of Caversham a squad of athletes of the GB Rowing Team are training to exhaustion just a mile outside Reading in the charge of the famous sporting alchemist and coach Jurgen Grobler. The squad has a reputation: it has achieved gold at every Olympic Games since 1984, Jurgen since ‘72. Great titans of the sport have come and gone in this squad and the current generation of followers have no lesser ambition.
There is one difference – this time the team selected will be able to mine gold from a quarry not much more than a training row from HQ, at Dorney Lake, near Eton, home of the rowing competition of the 2012 London Games. It is ‘home water’ writ large.
Home water has been an advantage before. Previous success to the tradition started by Sir Steve had last come (literally) down the road at Henley in 1948 and now the current athletes all have gold on their mind.
Pitmans SK clients Andrew Triggs Hodge MBE and Zac Purchase MBE have both already won Olympic Gold Medals but are not satisfied until they have repeated their feat in front of their fans.
In order to do this, they, like the rest of the squad, must compete in repeated and relentless trials to determine whether they are worthy of a seat in a competing boat they may have qualified themselves. Team GB may take a team of 47 out of 48 athletes, having ensured that each boat (save one) has already pre-qualified for the Olympic regatta.
This might seem like room enough for all the contenders but the heavyweight sweep rowing (as opposed to sculling which involves one oar in each hand) line-up has only 14 places, which will necessarily leave at least one world silver medallist on the bank. There are similar log jams among the women, lightweights and in the sculling squad: there is prodigious strength in depth.
“Everyone is fighting for those top seats” says Andrew.” Already there is furious racing going on.” He has however won every trial so far.
A trip to the River and Rowing Museum in Henley [also a Pitmans client] will trace why this is and will show more: that the Thames Valley, its River and institutions are at the heart of the sport from its source deep in the eighteenth century to its rise and now its (hopefully continued) flood. Baron de Coubertin (himself a sculler) drew the connection to the Olympic Games in drafting the Olympic Charter leaning heavily on the statutes of Henley Royal Regatta, which is over half a century its senior. This last Regatta hosted Olympic Games in 1908 and 1948 and many local oars shared in the gold rush. FISA, the world governing body [and a Pitmans SK client], organised World Championships at Eton Dorney in 2006.
Nowadays the source of the athletes has expanded in keeping with a successful, nationwide, professional sport with National Lottery support and commercial sponsors. While Oxford University, Leander Club and the Thames Valley’s great rowing schools still contribute athletes, other local institutions have provided several candidates such as Reading University and Molesey Boat Club high performance centres (among others round the country), thanks to British Rowing’s Start Programme sponsored by Siemens. Indeed a local Marlow boy became the greatest Olympian in Britain and possibly the world, Sir Steve Redgrave of Marlow Bottom.
Once these athletes have shown serious potential, they are cloistered within the Redgrave- Pinsent Rowing Lake and GB Rowing Team citadel, a modern, high performance facility hidden behind fences among the reeds at Caversham. They are now professional athletes. They train 3 times a day, on the water, in the gym and on rowing ergometers, which monitor every watt produced, in the obsessive care of the finest coaches and physiologists. This centre produces the best in the sport, which is crucial for the nation’s prestige, especially if it is the host of the Olympics.
While they are supported by the National Lottery Sports fund, the sums amount to subsistence allowances gratefully received. These men and women are motivated by gold rather than ’silver’. They have careers planned and are often studying. Triple silver medallist Katherine Grainger for example is studying elements of psychopathy in crime. These are serious, disciplined and driven people. She will be wanting gold this time.
Currently it is mooted as possible that the reigning World Champion four, might be broken up to allow 2 Olympic Gold Medallists aboard. It has happened before, such is the level of commitment to excellence and to ensuring gold for Britain being provided by this squad. It is an epic blow to those who are demoted, but most have the tenacity to carry on and produce gold from whichever boat they gain selection for. This too has happened before. Sir Steve Redgrave made history by winning 5 Olympic gold medals and on the undercard, the Eight, often seen as the blue riband event, were inspired to take gold too, for the first time since 1912. History may repeat itself this summer.
For some athletes repeated success makes them household names and Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell and Sir Steve have gained wider acknowledgment for their excellence and attracted endorsement deals and sponsors have benefitted from their association. Those mentioned above in the current squad do much for British Rowing’s sponsors and have attracted personal sponsors, such as Next, Omega, Allianz and locally Thames Water. Pitmans has advised on a number of such deals and in comparison with other sports in which we practice such as cricket, rugby and football, rowing represents great value for money and excellent role models both during the Olympics and afterwards.
Meanwhile the machines keep whirring and the boats pound up and down the lake awaiting the opportunity to grab gold. This is an unique opportunity to watch and support this golden sport in the valley which is the cradle of this sport among many other modern sports which grew here. World sport is coming to the Valley, in many ways its birthplace, join in!
The Thames was described by the Queen at the opening of the River and Rowing Museum as the golden thread running through the fabric of the nation’s history. A number of her subjects in Caversham are hoping to add to the gold in this her Jubilee year.
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