One year to Rio – GB rowers start Olympic countdown

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Today marks one year until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games get under way – and GB Rowing Team rowers are excitedly counting down to what they believe will be an “incredibly inspiring” event.

While the first goal is to secure Olympic qualification for each boat at the forthcoming World Championships in Aiguebelette, France, thoughts are already turning towards next summer.

The opening ceremony will be staged at the iconic Maracana Stadium on Friday, August 5, 2016, followed the next morning by the start of the rowing competition.

It is taking place on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, an urban lake right in the heart of Rio set against a spectacular backdrop of mountains and the Tijuca Forest.

And Alex Gregory, who won Olympic gold with the men’s four at London 2012, believes the venue will make for a truly memorable experience.

“For rowers, Rio is going to be really exciting because usually at an Olympics you are miles away from the host city,” said Gregory, who is part of the men’s eight aiming for a third successive World Championships title in Aiguebelette.

“In Rio we will be right in the centre, just a ten-minute walk from Ipanema Beach. On the start line we are going to be looking up at the statue of Christ the Redeemer. It is a very exciting thought to hopefully be going there to compete.”

Gregory is among the British rowers who have been out to Rio to see the Olympic city at first hand – and all have been impressed by what they found.

Jess Eddie, hoping to compete at a third successive Olympic Games in the women’s eight, said: “Rio is a place like no other – an incredibly exciting, vibrant city.

“It is such an athletic city as well, really busy with everybody seemingly doing something. Going there and being right in the thick of it was really uplifting.

“I came fifth in the eight at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012. The first goal is to qualify but we have to aim at winning a medal next year, that is why I came back for this Olympiad.

“We have got a good thing going as a crew at the moment and that is nothing but exciting looking forward.”

Hoping to defend their Olympic title in Rio are the women’s pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.

Since famously winning Team GB’s first gold medal of London 2012, Glover and Stanning have gone on to add the World and European titles to their Olympic crown.

They may be the outstanding female pairing in world rowing today but Stanning is not taking anything for granted.

“There’s no secret that I’m working hard to make sure I’m in the best possible position to defend my Olympic title in Rio,” she said.

“It’ll be a very different Olympic experience for Helen and myself but we’ll endeavour to make it another good one.

“With there only being a year to go makes everything that little more serious. There is only one more winter of training to do, only one more set of trials, only one more World Cup series before the GB Rowing Team become part of Team GB again.

“That’s all exciting but also intense. A lot can happen in 365 days but it will also pass very quickly, so every day needs to have a meaning and focus to get the best out of our time.”

The women’s pair gold was one of a record nine medals – four gold, two silver and three bronze – won by the GB Rowing Team during an unforgettable London 2012 Olympic Games.

Among those both inspired by and inspiring the now legendary Dorney Roar was Alan Campbell, who won bronze in the men’s single scull.

And while British rowers will not get to experience a home Olympics again, Campbell says that Rio will be the next closest thing for him personally.

“It will be very special as my wife’s father is a Carioca, having been raised on Ipanema in Rio,” he said.

“My wife still has family in Brazil so it would be great for me to compete there – it would feel like a second home Olympics.

“Rio’s Lagoa is a very special venue, probably the most iconic I have visited and had the pleasure to train on. The Brazilians that I met were amazing and very kind to me. Rio itself is probably my favourite city in the world after London.

“I am confident the Rio Olympics will be a first-class experience not just for athletes but also supporters coming to be part of the 2016 Games. I can’t wait to get going.”

Eager to enjoy his first overseas Olympics is Moe Sbihi, part of the men’s eight that won bronze at London 2012.

“I am looking forward to being able to compare it to London, my only other experience of an Olympics,” said the double World Champion.

“It is going to be a very important and exciting year but we must enjoy it for what it is and not put too much expectation and pressure on ourselves.”

James Foad, a crew-mate of Sbihi in London and now part of a European Championship-winning men’s pair with Matt Langridge, says his Rio ambitions are fuelled by memories of the last Games.

“Coming away in 2012 with a bronze medal was great but ultimately third place is not where any athlete wants to be, so that’s something I always think about and want to rectify,” he said.

“I am aware Rio is just around the corner, and it does mean a lot to me, but I’m not really thinking about it too much at the moment. We have a job to do this year and we’re focusing hard on how we can try and finish 2015 off in style.”

Vicky Thornley was part of the women’s eight which finished fifth at London 2012. Now, one year out from Rio, she is partnering Olympic champion Katherine Grainger – hoping to compete in a fifth successive Games – in the double scull.

“Rio is always in your sights – sometimes it’s the thing that gets you out of bed when you are really tired,” said Thornley.

“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.”

Among the many GB rowers hoping to make their Olympic debut in 2016 is Vicki Meyer-Laker, a member of the current women’s eight, whose dream is inspired by memories of a trip to Brazil six years ago.

“I went to Rio on holiday just after it was announced the Olympics would be there,” she recalled.

“I’d just started rowing and remember looking down over the big basin where the rowing will be, thinking how incredibly inspiring it would be to be in this position at the Olympics having won a medal.

“Getting a first Olympic medal in the women’s eight for Britain is a nice dream to chase. It would just be incredible.”

Charlotte Taylor only took up rowing as a hobby in 2010 but, 12 months out from Rio, is partnering London 2012 Olympic champion Kat Copeland in the lightweight women’s double scull.

“Competing at an Olympics has been a dream since childhood, so I’m just going to keep my head down, work hard and do everything I can to get there,” said Taylor.

“With one year to go, our main focus is qualifying our boat at the World Championships in September. After that the challenge will move to selection for the Olympic team itself.

“To be honest, this is such an exciting time and what we have been working towards so I’m relishing the challenge.”

Will Fletcher was amongst the supporters at Eton Dorney in 2012 and watched Richard Chambers go mighty close to winning gold in a dramatic lightweight men’s four final.

Now they are racing together in a promising lightweight men’s double scull crew and Fletcher is determined to savour the Olympic experience for himself.

“It would mean everything to me to be selected and compete at Rio alongside those I supported from the grandstand in 2012,” he said.

“I view the year ahead as I have each year in rowing, taking it one race at a time with the World Championships my current focus.

“But Rio would be the culmination of all of these individual races throughout my career and therefore holds incredible weight and importance.”

While the senior GB Rowing Team have to wait 12 months before competing in Rio, the under-18s will get their chance this week at the World Junior Championships – an Olympic test event on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.

All nine GB crews have their heats on Thursday, starting at 12.30pm BST (8.30am in Brazil).

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