INTERVIEW: Rebecca Romero talks to the Comet about her Olympic Games success

Rebecca Romero. Photo: supplied

Rebecca Romero. Photo: supplied - Credit: Archant

The latest interview from Madeline Hurley with sports stars, and how they got into the sports they love, is with Olympic Games gold and silver medal winner Rebecca Romero.

Rebecca Romero. Photo: supplied

Rebecca Romero. Photo: supplied - Credit: Archant

Who influenced you most into becoming a sporting success?

There wasn’t really anyone, and that’s the thing most of the time, people get into sport by being motivated by a person or idol for me there wasn’t anyone in my family that was sporty.

When I was younger, watching sport on the TV, I’d see athletes and see them on the podium winning, I thought they were super-people and that I wasn’t a super-person.

I never thought that there was a link to travel to an elite status or aspiring to be like them Olympians or super-humans, so there wasn’t really anything that inspired me until the main link when someone spotted me and said I had talent and potential, and that I had the ability to go to the Great Britain team and maybe one day go to the Olympic Games.

It wasn’t until that link was made that I felt inspired to show the world that ordinary people could make it to the top.

If I had to pick one particular athlete from when I was younger I would pick Jonathon Edwards because when I started to become aware of ordinary people can do elite sport I remember watching Jonathon Edwards compete and how he broke records and how he conducted himself as an athlete and a person.

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He was very inspirational and if I had to be like any athlete, I would be like him.

How did you manage to get a silver Olympic medal in rowing, a gold Olympic medal in cycling and do exceptionally well in the iron man trials?

I decided to retire from rowing after I’d been to the Athens Olympics and the following year I won gold.

I really wasn’t looking forward to rowing for the next three years and I wasn’t motivated for it and I didn’t enjoy it.

I was doing it because I was good at it not because I enjoyed it.

It wasn’t like at the beginning when it was fun. So I took a long hard think and answered a few tough questions. I decided I wanted to retire from rowing and walk away from being an elite athlete.

I thought that’s it and on to another career. I’d seen track cycling on the TV and from a young age I’d always loved cycling. I used to do a weekend job to save up for a bike. I used to go outside and see how fast I could go. They told me there was a particular event, The Individual Pursuit. I guess when I retired from rowing; I wondered what it would be like to race on the track and do something I had never done before. The person who linked me into rowing also knew the British women’s track coach. They didn’t have much talent as a team and at this point it was coming up to two and a half years away from the Olympics. The British track coach called me up and asked whether I wanted to test it. When I went, they told me I had potential and that there was a place on the team and they could see what could be done. So that’s how it happened from moving from rowing to cycling. I stopped cycling because there were two events that I did the individual pursuit and Points Race about a year later they cut one of my events from the programme because they were changing the women’s events around. So then I thought I would try time trials because I was pretty good at that and I had potential, but again when I was partway through the project they cut it from the programme. Then I went to try to do the Womens team pursuit but by that time I had lost my fitness and speed required so I told myself I had a good run, I got my gold medal and I thought that I could finish off my career by doing the Iron Man Triathlons. It was in July 2012, so for me it was like the next closest thing to the Olympics. I really enjoyed it and it was a really good way to finish my career. It was great because it wasn’t like a job, I enjoyed it and there wasn’t any pressure. I could do all these three sports because I know my strengths and weaknesses as an athlete. If I take everything I did and learned in rowing, that set me up really well for cycling. It was slightly different going into cycling because I was cycling for half the amount of time I would row for so I had to develop a lot more speed. It just meant I had to be clever and adapt my training and also moving away from the strength power based training I was doing in rowing. So it was about taking everything I learnt in rowing and building upon that. Then what I had to go into iron man trials was a lot of background knowledge about how to change and adapt training to specific sports. I learnt you can start off really rubbish but if you train clever you do get better. What some athletes do is they think they’re rubbish and they’re not going to make it but I knew if I did the groundwork performance would come. Being good at sport isn’t just about being strong or fit its also about having that mental toughness and ability to either getting up for performing and racing and to be able to keep your cool but to also be able to keep going through training. It gets tiring and there’s bad weather and it’s about keeping going. You need that mental discipline, so making sure you have good nutrition and you’re eating well and that you’re looking after yourself and being able to manage the other parts of your life as well so having good time management is important, you also have to have other skills such as team work because you might have to work in a team sport. You have to get the best out of yourself and the best out of others.

How did you feel receiving your medals?

If I’m totally honest in rowing, we went into the Olympic games to win the gold medal, we were the fastest favourites and we were on fire. It was the best crew I had ever rowed with, we were all confident to win gold. However, when we were in the final we messed up the first quarter of our race and that was our strength. For me, when I crossed the finish line it was like we lost our gold medal. When I got my silver medal it was tinged with disappointment because I felt we had the capability to win gold but on the other hand I was only 24 and if I had gone back eight years I would never have thought I would have been in that position. I was happy about it but I was disappointed with not getting the gold medal. When I look at the Beijing Olympics, I was again the fastest favourite, I was ranked number 1 in the world. I knew I had the capability to win, so it felt like I was reliving Athens all over again and all I had to do was not mess up. You will only win if you execute everything perfectly and don’t make any mistakes. So I felt worried that the Athens Olympics would happen all over again and I would lose that Gold medal. I was trying to be strong in my head and think all you can do is race your absolute best but I was really worried about not executing properly and making mistakes. When I executed everything properly and I got to stand on the middle position on the podium and see that gold medal that was the best feeling ever. I always motivate myself in training by thinking of all the scenarios of what it would feel like not to qualify or not win the Olympics. To watch the bronze medal get given the girl on the left and the silver on the right and see me getting the gold medal and not anybody else, that was one of the best moments in my career ever and everything was worth it then.

How did you stay calm and focus?

A lot of people don’t take on their experiences of the past, they’ll race and if they have a bad one they would keep going but wont really learn from it or equally if you have a good one and if you’re doing well you might think great I’m doing brilliant I’m the best and you’re thinking everything’s fine then someone beats you because you have been lazy. What I used to do is every training session or every race I used to take a record and particularly when I moved into cycling I would analyse everything I did in rowing and everything my team mates had done like what were their good things, what were our good things as a team and checked all the good points and learned from that. I was also moving forward because I was always taking new things on board and learning things. I think its good to have a training diary because monitoring one training session might not mean something now when actually it can be really useful in the future and help you make a crucial decision. So I had a training diary and a history of racing I would write down everything that happened in a competition whether it was to me or to somebody else and I learnt from that going forwards. I thought of it as information ammunition always helping me forward particularly when it came to my race in the Beijing Olympics I wanted to be really strong minded about it, because after the past four years, I made sure I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. I think the hardest thing in sports is you have to make really hard decisions really quickly and in a lot of my cycling events, my bike was slightly altered but in a good way but I had to make some real crucial decisions. In my first world championships we had a discussion the night before the race about changing the gears on my bike and it seemed like a really scary, radical thing to do, it could have been the worse decision ever and I could have done badly or like it did it could go really well I won the world sliver medal. If I had walked away from that race without a medal my aspirations for the next year would have been a lot lower. It was the best decision and it was based on information and excellent communication, which my coach and I had. Moments like that I think back and I think that was one of the reasons I won that gold in Beijing. We made some radical decisions in my training in the week running up to it, we had worked really hard on setting a routine and we completely changed it. It seemed crazy what we were doing but we had to make that decision, it was the only way to get me in shape to win but we did it based on so much information. Doing well isn’t just about training hard its about loads of background work, learning and making really good decisions.

What are the Olympics like and what was the best part about being on the GB team?

I think one of the best things about the Olympics is all the sports coming together. I remember being young on the rowing team seeing all the amazing GB athletes and then you go to the Olympics and see all the other sports and athletes and one of the most amazing things is being part of that but then to really step out a win a medal its really special.

What sport did you enjoy the most out of the rowing, cycling or the triathlon?

It’s difficult to pick because I did them in different stages of being an athlete. All of them had good and bad points. A lot of the bad points in rowing I was able to learn from and put right in cycling. If I hadn’t of done the rowing first and I had done the cycling first would it have felt the same for me? If I looked particularly at the events themselves I loved the side-by-side aspect of rowing that I didn’t really get in cycling but in cycling I loved the fact that it was a closed environment where there were spectators all around and the late night atmosphere, whereas rowing was early-morning. It would be really quiet at the start of a rowing race it wouldn’t be until the last few hundred meters you would hear the cheers of the crowd. The Ironman was amazing because it wasn’t an elite sport, it was ordinary people and ordinary athletes. People were doing it for fun and for charities and to do it like it was at the beginning of my sport career was amazing. All of them were great in different ways.

What was your proudest moment?

It would have to be winning the gold medal because that was the ultimate pinnacle of the sports I was in and also making history of getting two Olympics medals in different sports. That was really special. It’s so bizarre how the door of fait opened all these opportunities.

How did you get into rowing?

I hadn’t had any inspiration off anybody. I did school sports growing up, I only thought that ordinary people did school sports like netball, hockey, athletics etc. and actually there is a whole world of sports out there. That’s the good thing about the Olympic it shows children that there is a whole range of sports out there to try. If I’d known that then I would have probably got into the right sport for me earlier. Making sure people are aware that if they are not good at the traditional school sports that there is a sport out there suitable for them. I was always keen on trying new things and when my family moved to Twickenham in London I decided I wanted to try a sport on the river. I picked up the yellow pages, which is a massive book that had details to any houses or places or clubs. I saw that there were rowing clubs and canoeing clubs. It was 50/50 and I picked rowing. I looked at the two rowing clubs nearest; there was one in Twickenham and one in Kingston, four miles away. So I went to Twickenham rowing club that was on an island in the middle of the river, and at the time there were repairs going on and the gate was locked, so I couldn’t get in. I ended up phoning Kingston rowing club and someone answered the phone and said to come round the next day. For six weeks in the summer, I went down twice a week and the coach would tell us to go in the gym and go on the rowing machine and he would leave us to it. I wanted to go on the water and row and not go to the gym. After a few weeks I went and told myself if I don’t go on the water today I’m leaving. The coach said the same thing, go to the gym so I did the tuff in the gym, then I went into the changing rooms and I was about to leave and never come back, and I stopped by this guy, he convinced me to come round the following evening and I would get to learn how to row on water. I went back and he told me to row for 20 minutes and I was really frustrated, I did it anyway. Afterwards, he sat me down told me I had the ability to one day row for great Britain and even go to the Olympic Games. It turns out Kingston rowing club was at the time one of the best rowing clubs for women. If I wasn’t stopped from walking out of the club, then I wouldn’t have become who I am now.

What is the best advice you could give to anybody wanted to become an elite athlete?

Never be afraid to try something, never be afraid to do something new. People who made it to the top have probably had more failures, because they have been willing to keep going and they have learnt from them.

What was your favourite place to visit in your sporting career?

There is a place in Switzerland called Lucerne which we visit every year and it’s beautiful. A lot of rowers have a place in their heart it’s one of the nicest places and it holds a lot of memories because there were some bad races I had there and some amazing races as well. I also remember this place in Canada, it was when I was young very early on with Debbie Flood, we were young athletes just starting our sporting careers. It was the best fun I had ever had, it was fun being so young and travelling around seeing Niagara Falls, it was amazing.

What are your aims for the Future?

I decided to dislocate myself from sports for a bit as I had been doing it since I was 17 and got an ordinary job as an orthopedic rep. I work in hospitals, where we provide implants and other things for theatre. When people break their bones and have to use metal, I help hospitals use the instruments. It’s been really different and great for me to do something different and be in the working world. I have also started a family and might go back to sports consulting now that I feel refreshed and done something elsewhere. You always have to have a balance in life with your social and sports life and studies.

What tip would you give people who want to get motivated into sport?

The hardest thing is making that step to do something. You need that big push to get out the door and make a call to any club near by. Make that first step its always the hardest part. Be inspired and motivated by the unknown, that’s how it was for me making that step to do something and not know what it could turn out to be. Think of the possibilities, you don’t know what might happen.