18 August 2008

Andy Triggs-Hodge, stroke of the Olympic champion four, says the best is yet to come as Britain claim a second gold.

On the lake the weather had changed, but for Great Britain the gold gleamed on. For a long while yesterday the sky was overcast, with a thick rain-filled haze obliterating the distant Yat Shan mountains, but Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter’s triumph in the lightweight double sculls confirmed that British rowing had climbed to another peak. Then, as the sun came through in the evening light, Andy Triggs-Hodge talked not of the past but of the future.

“I have really enjoyed these last four years,” said the stroke of Saturday’s gold medal-winning men’s four, whose long blond hair and quick, open intelligence make him the most likely heir to Redgrave and Pinsent as the recognisable face of British rowing. “But the biggest thing I have learnt is that there is so much more to learn. What happened on Saturday was the best possible ending to the last project, but now we have to start again.

I came into this Olympiad saying I would do the trials and see what comes, and this is what will happen again. We don’t know who will be around. I would be happy to try another boat, another challenge. I just want to get involved.”

Behind Triggs-Hodge, the British eight were folding themselves rather sadly into their boat with bittersweet silver medals round their necks, and the oddity struck again of how a sport which can look so mind-numbingly dull can produce such lucid participants. “At face value it is a dumb sport,” Triggs-Hodge agreed. “You can’t see where you are going and you are racing people you cannot see. But you have to try the experience, the feel and the flow and the beauty of the sport. Being in a boat at full flight, beating down the track and seeing crews slip behind you is a feeling nothing else can give.”

Such passion can be infectious and Triggs-Hodge has every intention of using it in his next “work hard, play hard” year as newly elected captain of Molesey Rowing Club. “We have a massive development programme,” he says. “The idea is to get the club closer to GB rowing and to step up to the plate in attracting young athletes and developing them. GB needs a bigger base and one thing I can do in this next year is to give my time to inspire young people to come through.”

“I am Olympic champion,” he continued, savouring the words and looking across to the familiar figure of Steve Redgrave coming to join us, “and it gives me a chance to go to groups of young guys and, not tell them how to do it, but to give them targets and let them find their own route. What happened on Saturday was my target. Now we have to focus on 2012. It will be big for me, and massive for rowing and for Molesey.”

Redgrave put a huge hand on his arm in tactile acknowledgement of the task ahead. Rowing has been one of the successes, not just of these Games but of, at least, the past three. Much of that has been down to the input of Redgrave himself, and even more to the extraordinary Jurgen Grobler for whom these have been the 10th consecutive Games in which he has coached a gold-medal winner. But the future needs fresh images from which new talent can draw inspiration.

En route to this most amazing of watersports arenas, a tattered, overgrown horseracing grandstand bears witness to the last experiment that failed in these parts. Whether in time the lilies will grow over the splendours of Shunyi Rowing and Canoeing Lake only would-be Chinese pullers and paddlers will know. But what Tom James, Steve Williams, Peter Reed and Triggs-Hodge did out there on that sweltering Saturday afternoon was something over which the weeds will never spread.

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