Tokyo 2021 Olympics - Olympic Struggles
Updated: Jul 30
As a GB supporter, it's been quite heartbreaking watching lots of the Olympic Rowing regatta, so many agonisingly close fourth places make for a lot of disappointment and soul searching from athletes and their coaches. However, what's even more disappointing has been some of the media coverage, which is so misleading and looks at these races in a snapshot format without really understanding the true nature of earning an Olympic vest and racing an Olympic final.
Those who are actually in the know, and understand the sport from top to bottom are actually speculating on what good shape we are in. To have that many athletes performing in the middle of the pack in Olympic finals really does bode well for the future. Yes we came just under the medals in many events, but many of these athletes will learn the hardest of hard lessons in Tokyo. They will heal, process, reflect and come back stronger and more resilient for future racing, and Paris really is on the horizon. Added to that, our U23 team that sit under this Olympic team have performed out of their skins over the last few years. Not to mention the calibre of the Olympic spares, and the team members that didn’t make it on the plane, for various reasons. There will be many fresh faces that will be nipping at the heals of the current team, pushing the standard up and I for one can't wait to see what the next short Olympiad holds.
There has been a lot of talk about a fall in standards due to a shake up in the coaching structure within the GB set up in the last year or so. But if you look at the results over the last Olympiad, as a team we have not won any gold medals at World Championships in Olympic class boats. Yes we have won World Cups and Europeans, but these are not events where all the rowing nations turn up, the best snapshot of how things are going each year is the Olympic classes at the Worlds. Our best results throughout the last 5 years have been two silver medals in Sarasota in 2017 in the men's quad and the women's single. The men's quad have duly delivered a silver medal in Tokyo and as I'm writing this, Vicky Thornley contests her Olympic final in the single tomorrow. And the results over the last 5 years have spanned the old coaching structure and the new. So for those in the know who have done their research, perhaps the Tokyo results are not really a surprise and nothing to do with 'the Jurgen factor', but more about a very new young team who need a bit more time to rise to their full potential. The men's quad (pictured above) that medalled on Wednesday was HALF the boat from Rio, where they came 5th and learned valuable lessons to use in Tokyo, very few other boats had that luxury.
There's also been a huge focus on mistakes, and comments that this sort of thing doesn't happen in Olympic finals and that athletes are 'amateur' in their skill level. Total and utter bunkum! This is the second Olympics running where we have had crazy conditions in the rowing and both have produced capsizes, crabs and steering problems. In Rio and in London our men's pairs had steering issues, in fact in London, our pair crossed into the NZ lane and won their bronze from there. They were just lucky that the Kiwis were far enough ahead that it didn't matter. I know pairs are arguably a bit harder to steer than a four, but it's still a sweep boat steered with a steering foot – same concept. To draw attention to these mistakes and somehow belittle what these athletes have achieved and their brave ambition in their races is a low blow.
And lastly, that brings me to the media coverage overall. It's such a shame that newspapers lead with negative drama and are not celebrating the positives that can be taken from this. Some of the commentary and post race coverage has been exceptional, but I have also found some of the post race interviews excruciating and the inference of the questioning unpleasant. I hope that these journalists and pundits turn their steely gaze on their own performances. If you are there as an interviewer, a pundit or a commentator please ensure that you do your research so that you are as factually correct as possible. Find out how to say people's and country's names correctly and can we stop with commentators talking over the top of each other and jostling to see who can speak the loudest. I think maybe some of these 'experts' could do with a performance boost too. Hopefully they will do what our wonderful athletes will and reflect on how good they have been, learn from their mistakes and use every experience, good and bad to turn them into better, stronger people.
And lastly, for those who think our rowing athletes are a disappointment, perhaps think on this quote from Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics. In my view, our team are the best of humanity and deserve our pride and respect in spades.
“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part; the important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.”