The double Olympic gold medallist rower says "You just try to relax and focus on what you've got to do".
Find something you enjoy
I played lots of sport when I was young. I was lucky enough to go to a school in Kingston that had lots of facilities. The town also had a river going through it. I tried all different sports, but rowing was the one I enjoyed most.
When you start to race it's different from other team sports. It's not like football where your striker can get your goalie out of trouble if he has a shocking game. There can be a 'man of the match' in football, whereas in rowing everyone has to perform. There's a bigger element of trust, that's what I like about it.
I may have been picked for every team, but I definitely wasn't the best. In my school they had 11 people in one year, so some of them were in the football team by default. I developed later. Even in rowing I wasn't one of the best until I was 17 or 18-years-old.
James Cracknell, OBE
5 May 1972
- 2004 Athens
Coxless Four - Gold
- 2000 Sydney
Coxless Four - Gold
- 2002 - Coxless Pair - Gold
- 2001 - Coxless Pair - Gold
- 2000 - Coxed Pair - Gold
- 1999 - Coxless Four - Gold
- 1998 - Coxless Four - Gold
- 1997 - Coxless Four - Gold
Junior World Championships
- 1990 - Coxless Four - Gold
Treat every race the same
It's all relative. The target you have is to win that race. Whether it's a race you're training for at school, for a club or at the Olympics. For us those four years were about the Olympics as that was the race we hadn't won. It wasn't like we looked at it as the pinnacle; it was just the way all of our training was geared for us.
I think you build it up, knowing the level of performance required to win, but you don't build it up to be such a huge race. You're racing the same people you've raced throughout the year and for the previous three to four years. You don't want to put any extra pressure on yourself. You just think 'Ok this is the one I've got to perform at,' rather than 'Ok if I don't perform, it's a disaster'.
We didn't really have rules. A lot of our training we did alone, as well as in a group. Everyone takes responsibility, so it's up to you to do the training.
It was also up to you to make sure you looked after yourself away from training. If you couldn't trust each other to do that, then you couldn't trust each other in the middle of an Olympic final when you're legs are screaming, your lungs are burning, and you know that you have to push that extra bit.
If you can't trust the people around you you're going to lose. So if it's all structured by rules and punishment, and you don't have personal responsibility for your training, you're never going to find those people who are committing to it 100%.
I found that socially you get closer to your team mates. You have common bonds to other people who do sport and you're more confident. It also helps you organise your life better.
I was a terrible student before I did sport at weekends and in the afternoons. Before you had time and left everything, whereas now when you got home you've got to be organised. Sport helped me do that. My studies actually improved despite me doing more stuff outside of them.
Address your weaknesses
Everyone has weaknesses. For rowing it would be better to be a little bit taller and a little bit bigger. I believe that if you haven't got them, then you build on other things. I didn't have particularly big lungs, but I made up for it by being good at tolerating lactic acid, the thing that really hurts when you're rowing.
I'd say Matthew Pinsent had enormous lungs, but he wasn't that good at tolerating lactic acid. Your body adapts. If you have a weakness, try and make it as strong as possible, and just remember that there will be somewhere else you can compensate.
The key thing is that people say it's hard, but actually being a full-time sportsman is the best and easiest job. Your day is devoted to enjoying yourself and playing sport. Yes there are days where there's lots of pressure, but the rest of it is making sure that you get to the end goal in the best shape.
You still know how to relax and how to stay focused. If you look across the Olympic start line everyone is pretty much the same size and strength as each other. Then it comes down to mentality - who's ready to put all that training into action.
I think finding a sport that I enjoyed was the biggest thing. I just enjoyed being out there on the water. Also people develop at different speeds. If you are doing sport aged between 12 and 15-years-old, the guys picked first at 12 may not be the guys picked first at 15. I developed slightly later and got stronger later.
I think that's also the key period to keep focused because there are so many other temptations including girls and going out with your mates. That's the time you have to make a lot of tough choices. You have to make sure you look after yourself and keep going if you want to be involved in sport. Then everything levels out by the time you're 16 or 17-years-old.
There are big sacrifices in terms of going out with your friends. Even when you're older you miss friends' weddings because you're away training, so you have to know why you want to do it.
When I was at school I wanted to make the Junior World Championship Team. When I left school I wanted to make the Olympics. So you have your goals, why you want to get there, and those are the things that help you strike a balance. I missed going out as much as my mates when I was in my twenties, but looking back I don't regret anything because I achieved what I wanted to.
There are tough choices, but it's easier if you're enjoying what you're doing.
Give 100 per cent
I got tonsillitis in Atlanta the day before I was supposed to race at the Olympics in 1996. They put me in a quarantine room so I didn't make anyone else ill. I was lying there and I was deciding whether or not to go to the next Olympics. I was thinking of maybe playing rugby and stopping rowing.
I was in that room and said to myself 'Well if I'm going to win in Sydney, I have to give absolutely everything to this sport, so that I can look in the mirror in four years time and say 'Ok, if I don't win there's nothing else I could have done'.' For me that was the key point in making the transition to achieving everything.
If you're going to do it, you may as well do it at 100% than do it at 90%, because 90% still takes up lots of time, but you're not giving yourself a chance to win.
Do your best for yourself and for your team.
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