Excitement builds at 500 days to Rio marker

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(From left) Alex Gregory, Moe Sbihi, George Nash and Andrew Triggs-HodgeHelen Glover (left) and Heather StanningIt only seems like yesterday that the Dorney Roar lifted the GB Rowing Team to their most successful ever Olympic Games at London 2012 followed by a memorable Paralympic Games.

But the countdown is now well and truly under way to Rio 2016, with Tuesday marking 500 days until the Olympic cauldron is lit once again in Brazil to mark the start of the Games period.

And with this summer’s World Championships in Aiguebelette, France, doubling as an Olympic and Parlaympic qualifier, rowers admit there has been a real step up in intensity as the Games draw ever closer.

We caught up with several members of the legendary London 2012 squad – which won a record four golds, two silvers and three bronzes – to get their thoughts on the exciting challenge ahead in the next 500 days.

Helen Glover famously made history at London 2012 as she teamed up with Heather Stanning to win women’s pair gold – the first-ever Olympic title for female British rowers.

It was also a first gold of the Games for Team GB, sparking a memorable gold rush, and Glover is hoping she will have chance to go for more glory in Brazil next year.

“This being Olympic qualification year makes Rio 2016 seem not only incredibly real but also just around the corner,” she said.

“The focus towards Rio has become much more intense and the battle for places on the Olympic team is evident in the way the squad is approaching and attacking daily training.

“You can already feel the buzz and Olympic excitement building, though there is a lot of work to be done in the next 500 days.”

Alex Gregory was part of the renowned men’s four – along with Pete Reed, Tom James and Andrew Triggs Hodge – which led from start to finish to win gold at London 2012.

Having experienced a home Games, Gregory is now desperate to race at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas – the stunning venue for rowing in Rio.

“It seems like yesterday we were sitting there, emotions rising sky high as the London 2012 opening ceremony blew us all away with its spectacular showcase of Britishness and Olympic spirit – it was pure perfection,” he recalled.

“Almost as quickly as it began, tears flowed as the torch was extinguished, it was all over. Time has flown and now, with only 500 days to go, it’s not long until we’re at that point again.

“I’m incredibly excited about the prospect of racing in Rio, especially knowing that rowing is going to be at the heart of that most amazing city.

“The lake is just a short walk from some of the most famous beaches in the world, it’s in the shadow of mountains and under the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer.

“The people of Rio live and breathe sport, so I’m sure this Olympics is going to be sensational. My aim is to make sure I’m doing everything I can to get myself on that start line to race.

“We are all fully aware of how quickly it will be upon us but for now we’re focussed on the most important job so far in this Olympiad – Olympic qualification.

“This year’s World Championships are of huge importance and a major stepping stone to ensure we get to race in Brazil. The countdown has no doubt started.”

Sam Townsend – who finished fifth in London in the men’s double scull with Bill Lucas – has experienced the highs and lows of Olympic qualification, having been part of the men’s quadruple scull which narrowly missed out in 2008.

The current quad crew of Townsend, Graeme Thomas, Charles Cousins and Peter Lambert have enjoyed Britain’s best-ever World Championship results in the past two years, winning bronze and silver, but no one is taking anything for granted.

“Rio really does feel like it’s just around the corner now and in the squad we are all definitely aware of it as it edges ever closer,” said Townsend.

“That certainly adds an element of excitement to things. However, we are all totally switched on that this year’s World Championships in Aiguebelette are hugely important for the entire team. I am sure we will be looking to try and qualify all 14 boat classes for GB.

“Having been involved in two previous World Championships that act as the qualifying for the Olympics [2007 and 2011], I can tell you it is some of the most intense racing you can ever be a part of, so we all have a very big job to do in September.

“This is particularly evident in the men’s quad I have been racing in for the last two years, as we now only have eight qualifying spots available compared to the 11 there were in previous Games.

“I am sure it is going to make for some extremely tight and hard-fought racing.”

Richard Chambers will be bidding to compete at a third Olympics having represented the GB Rowing Team in the lightweight men’s four at Beijing and London, where he won silver with brother Peter Chambers, Rob Williams and Chris Bartley.

Having been through two qualification programmes, the Coleraine rower knows only to well how important it is not to look too far ahead.

“With only 500 day until Rio begins, training is in full swing,” he said.

“But there are many miles to cover between now and then, and we also have the Olympic qualification regatta.

“The 500 days will pass quickly, so it is important for us to get the most out of each day.”

Vicky Thornley made her Olympic debut at London 2012, just five years after taking up the sport with the GB Rowing Team Start Programme in Bath.

“Rowing for your country at the Olympics is so special and I think the rowing in Rio will be incredible, especially with it being at such an iconic venue,” said Thornley, who was part of the women’s eight which finished fifth at Eton Dorney.

“I do let myself think about it and what it will be like as it is a massive motivator. Also, having been to Rio now, I can picture the lake which is even better.

“It would of course be amazing to compete in Rio but we obviously have a lot of work to do before then.

“We talk about how the racing this year is going to be even more competitive with it being qualifying year and we are bringing that intensity into our training.”

Richard ChambersSam TownsendVicky Thornley

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