James Fox |

‘There’s nothing like tears on a podium to bring a country together’

In an exclusive new series for British Rowing members, GB Para rower James Fox shares his thoughts and insights over the next few months on his journey to Tokyo

Here we go again. In the lead up to the Rio Olympics and Paralympics I was told by some of the old timers in the GB Rowing Team that everything changes in ‘Olympic year’. As soon as the clock strikes midnight on 1 January, once every four years, there is a shift.

And it’s true, there is a sense of occasion; everybody squeezes a little bit harder, wrings a little bit more out of each session and all the pieces, trials and training camps carry more weight and significance than the previous three years put together. After all, this is the year we have been waiting for. January 1st 2020, right on schedule, had a buzz about it and a wry smile was shared between a few of the guys at Caversham. This is it.


But instead 2020 was a calamitous year, the world was struck by a silent killer and the Olympics and Paralympics were postponed.

That’s okay, it meant there is more time to get fast, it’s an opportunity to work on a few things, to try something new. There are bigger fish to fry now, don’t worry about rowing. But as we fasten our gates and pick up momentum into, what we hope is going to be the most exciting nine months of the last five years, things feel a little different. Maybe we have all been mellowed by everything that happened last year – which continues to affect us in 2021, but Caversham lacks the childlike excitedness and mindless enthusiasm.

Jürgen Grobler once said, referring to training, that to jump up high first you must be pushed down low

We hope, with all our hearts – and I’m sure everybody at home does too – that come the summer we will be in a safe enough position to send our athletes to Tokyo to compete on the highest stage and bring home some metalwork. There’s nothing like tears on a podium to bring a country together.

And things are looking up. The European Championships and Olympic & Paralympic Qualifying Regatta in Varese, Italy have both just been given the go ahead for the middle of April and other sports are setting a strong precedent that events can be held safely and successfully even when COVID-19 does its best to stop everything in its tracks.

For now, all we can do is control the controllables. We are incredibly grateful to be able to continue training, even when it is below freezing outside (do we really need the winter miles?), and we are taking the bull by both horns.

The mindless enthusiasm is making a comeback and will be helped, I’m sure, by the arrival of spring, and you try curbing that childlike excitedness when the European Championships roll around in 10 weeks’ time. I, for one can’t wait to get back on the start line.

I’ve missed out on enough racing in my rowing career – that’s a story for another blog post – and I’m trying not to make a habit of it. The past 12 months have been incredibly tough for all of us, but things are looking up and I hope that we can all look forward to a prosperous summer, whatever that means for each of us.

Jürgen Grobler once said, referring to training, that to jump up high first you must be pushed down low. Perhaps that had more dimensions to it than even he realised.

Photos: AllMarkOne and Nick Middleton