GB’s men’s quadruple sculls crew. Photo: David Pearce
Maidenhead’s Jack Beaumont helped Great Britain to one of only two Olympic rowing medals on the Sea Forest Waterway last week, and he thinks the men’s quadruple sculls squad had a ‘secret weapon’ in their armoury which enabled them to perform at their best while other boats faltered.
Great Britain had never before won a medal in the men’s quad, despite Britain’s dominance in Olympic regattas over the last 20 years.
But in Beaumont, Harry Leask, Angus Groom and Tom Barras they found a crew capable of upsetting the odds, who believed in their ability to come away with an Olympic medal.
They needed to show resilience to claim that silver, coming through two tough races to reach the final through a repechage race, but they rowed the crosswinds in the final to perfection to finish behind world champions, the Netherlands, who won in a world best time of 5minutes, 32.03seconds. Australia made a late charge along with Poland as the boats neared the finish line, but the British crew dug deep to finish second, punching the water in delight when they realised what they’d achieved.
“There was a lot of commentary coming into the Olympics that we were an outside shot at a medal,” said Beaumont. “But we weren’t thinking about it that way. We knew in our hearts and heads that if we got everything right, we could win a medal.
“All we could do is get from A to B as quickly as we could, so we had to focus very much on ourselves and getting the best out of ourselves, and through the regatta we improved with every race.
“In the heat we finished in third place, but it turned out all of the medallists came from that heat, so we thought it was disappointing, but it actually wasn’t.
“We then used the repechage to improve on a few things and tried to use it to our advantage. That was a fantastic row under real pressure, but it meant that in the final we felt no real pressure. We were just really excited to go and put all of our training into practice in one burst down the track.”
Beaumont was aware of the crew’s placing in the early stages of the race, and knew they were in with a shout of a medal; however, he didn’t have the luxury of checking on their rivals as the crew emptied the tank in the final few hundred metres.
“I had no idea where we were,” he said. “We could have been anywhere between first and fourth in my head.
“When we crossed the line, the pessimist in me told me we’d come fourth, and then I saw the scoreboard and we just went mental. It was the hugest, most overwhelming feeling of pride. Although the GB rowing team has a tradition of success over the last 30 years, in our discipline, Team GB has never won an Olympic medal, so it’s been a long time coming. The team that beat us had to do a new world record to beat us in a really competitive race. The realisation that we’d managed to do what we failed to do in Rio was overwhelming.”
The inquest has now opened into GB Rowing’s comparatively weak performance in Tokyo, however, they did have one other medal winner, the men’s eight – featuring another Maidenhead rower, Moe Sbihi, who claimed bronze. There’s been plenty of speculation as to why Britain haven’t done quite so well this time around, with the pandemic, the weather conditions, the transition of rowers from Rio to Tokyo all cited as possible factors for the poor performance.
Beaumont doesn’t think any of those can be blamed, however, he believes his crew may have benefited from a ‘mental refresh’ in the months before the Olympics that other GB crews missed out on.
“It’s been a disappointing Games for the rowing team and there hasn’t been as many medals as we were expecting,” he said. “But there were some really tight margins with a lot of fourth places.
“In some of those it almost came down to a roll of a dice as to who would finish first and fourth.
“We’ve also seen the biggest spread of medals across different nations. It shows that more countries can perform to the highest level and there’s no margin for even the slightest error. I’m disappointed for my teammates because I know they would have wanted more, but hopefully it will put fire in the belly for us all to go further in Paris.
“I was surprised to see the weather used as an excuse. We’ve always known there would be a strong crosswind from that angle. We live in a windy country and all of the places we train can get quite rough and bouncy. When I saw that tailwind for the final I just thought ‘brilliant, there’s no better condition for us’. It’s what we’d trained for.”
Beaumont added that taking a short break from Britain’s training base at Caversham helped the crew earlier this year: “We had a secret weapon this year. Between the European Championships, where we finished fifth and the World Cup race in Switzerland, where we finished third, we took a little trip away from Caversham and went rowing on the river, just one lock downstream from Maidenhead between Dorney and Bray.
“We just wanted to train in a different venue, and we just progressed so much and had so much fun. We were training just the four of us and our coach, away from the team, but it reminded me what I loved about the sport as a kid. I felt like I should be having an ice cream after each session. It felt like a hobby again.
“But I think we really ingrained some technical changes doing that and we also gave ourselves a mental reset before we hit the training super hard before the Olympics.
“There’s something we could learn as a team from going back to grassroots sports. The skills you learn from that, going round bends and all of that, but also just the enjoyment factor.”