"You need good focus and a balanced mind set," says the Olympic gold medal winning cyclist, Rebecca Romero.
Raise Your Game: You made it to the Olympics as a rower, why did you decide to change sports and take up cycling?
Rebecca Romero: It wasn't really a decision to change from one sport to the other. I made the decision to retire from rowing and then, within the following month, I had the opportunity to do a bit of testing for the cycling team. They were looking for new talent to fast track for Beijing.
RYG: What skills do you need to excel in the sports of cycling and rowing?
RR: Both sports require good endurance and power. That's what I developed within rowing and fine tuned for the different events I've been doing within cycling.
Achieving such a high level within rowing has given me that background in elite competition. The main difference is that, within rowing, I was involved in a team sport, whereas I'm now focusing on more of an individual event. I've had to draw out two sides of my personality.
RYG: Is there more pressure when you're competing as an individual?
24 January 1980
Rowing and cycling
- Appointed MBE (2009)
- Gold - Individual pursuit, Beijing Olympics (2008)
- Gold - 3 km pursuit, World Championships, Manchester, 2008 (cycling)
- Gold - Team pursuit, World Championships, Manchester, 2008 (cycling)
- Gold - Quadruple skulls, World Championships, 2005 (rowing)
- Silver - Quadruple skulls, Olympic Games, Athens, 2004 (rowing)
RR: It's a similar level of pressure but it's a different kind of pressure. In rowing you have a responsibility to your team mates. If you mess up it's going to affect their performance and their result. Likewise you're relying completely on them.
In an individual sport, if you mess up, you're only letting yourself down. If you succeed then it's all down to you. You get a lot more glory. With a team sport you're only contributing whatever percentage of the crew you represent, 50% if there are two of you, or 25% if it's a four person crew. In a team you can only be successful if everyone fulfils their specific role. That's special. My last year rowing was 2005. We became World Champions and that was probably the best year I had, working as part of a team unit.
RYG: How important is it to be focused and committed in training?
RR: You've got to be focused, but I don't think you can stay 100% focused all of the time. One of the things I've learnt this year is that you can actually be too focused and committed. By that I mean that you can focus too much on the end goal of getting gold medals. You can become obsessed with what you're doing, so that it becomes a problem.
You need to have a relaxed attitude to what you're doing. Focus on one day at a time, and try to have aims and objectives for each day. Ask yourself 'How am I doing today? Are my times world class? Are they good enough for me to achieve my end goal?' You have ups and downs, good days and bad days. You need good focus and a balanced mind set.
RYG: Is it important to set yourself goals?
RR: It is. I set myself smaller goals throughout the year, working in one or two week cycles. You generally find that it all slots into place when you work in small chunks. If you don't work in those small chunks you can often miss certain aspects of your training.
RYG: How important is it to prepare mentally if you want to compete at the highest level?
RR: Lots of athletes can be blessed with the right physical genes - the raw engine, the raw power. If they don't have the psychology they can't use their talent.
The psychology of sport is immensely important. It enables you to make the sacrifices you have to make to be an athlete, to keep the momentum of training day in, day out, to push yourself to the max in each session, to deal with the pressure of the big events and the down times when things aren't going right.
In elite competitions you get elite competitors whose physiological capabilities will be pretty close. When it comes down to it their psychological abilities win them races.
RYG: How do you deal with the pressure before a big race?
RR: I get nervous and ask myself 'Do I want to feel like this?' I train all year for a handful of races. I want to be able to enjoy it.
If I get nervous I just think 'Let's calm this down and just enjoy the atmosphere of the race.' That's what I love doing. If I'm in control of myself I know I'll get a better performance. I perform every day in training and put the work in, so I can only do the best that I can do. If I give myself the opportunity, there are no limits to what I can do.
RYG: Do you get confidence from your preparation?
RR: I take confidence from the fact I've put the work in. If training has been going well I feel good going into a race. I believe that nobody trains harder than I do or is more committed. I also have faith and belief that I'll always raise my game at the big competitions.
I always raise the level of my performance when I've got a number pinned on my back and it's the real thing. That's why I had a head start going into cycling, from a background of sitting on the start line and getting results. I learnt that from rowing.
RYG: What has sport given you?
RR: A lot of ups and downs (laughs). It's given me huge highs and massive lows. It's given me an understanding of myself, through pushing and testing myself. It's taught me how to overcome problems and allowed me to experience the elation of winning. I've learnt how to mix with other people and how to work as part of a team. I've also had lots of fun along the way.
RYG: What have been the highlights of your career?
RR: The Olympic games in Athens, 2004. Although, at the time, I was disappointed with winning a silver medal, because I believed we had the ability to win gold. It's still an Olympic medal and very few people have those. It was my first Olympic Games, at the age of 24, and it was more than I could have hoped for at the beginning of that year.
My cycling performances over the past two years have been a highlight. I was ranked second at the World Championships only one year after starting on the track.
This year I made the hardest step up I've ever had to make, to get the gold at the World Championships. It was absolutely exhilarating, but probably the biggest mental test I've ever had, and I was able to come through it and perform, in front of a home crowd in Manchester.
RYG: And the lowlights?
RR: Sometimes you have these crazy thoughts and tell yourself 'I'm no longer an athlete, all my ability has gone. Those were just lucky years I had but now it's all gone.' Sometimes you're absolutely shattered, when you've been training for three weeks solid. Sometimes you do crave a normal life, when you haven't had contact with friends or family for a while.
RYG: How important is good time management if you want to be successful?
RR: It's extremely important. I write down my goals with my coach and say to myself 'In this period of training I want to achieve this.' Life runs better if you have good time management. You get the best out of yourself in terms of training and recovery. Simple things like basic planning make a big difference.
RYG: What advice would you give to youngsters wanting to make it to the top of the sporting world?
RR: I wouldn't have stumbled into rowing if I hadn't been adventurous in trying new things. I always tried a wide range of sports at school but I never really excelled at anything. I tried as many sports as I could until I found one I was good at. Luckily I found rowing.
If I had given up and thought 'I'm rubbish at sport,' then I never would have kept going and I never would have gotten into rowing. In that sense I always say that everyone should take every opportunity that they can to explore new activities.
I used to think athletes were super human. Now that I've done it I know that we're not super human, it's just about hard work and dedication. Talent will get you so far but you need hard work and dedication. It doesn't happen overnight, it's a long term project.
You have to have a goal and never lose sight of it.
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