Athlete of the Month - July 2014
Alex Gregory’s rowing career followed anything but a typical trajectory. Beginning as a sculler, Gregory first competed internationally in 2004, earning 11th place at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships. Two years later, he had turned that into a silver medal in the men’s single sculls, but the medals did not start to pile up until much later.
A spare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Gregory’s career was not shaping up as he imagined. Rather than giving up Gregory decided to change his training regimen and switch to sweep rowing. The result was astonishing. Selected for the men’s four in 2009, Gregory became a part of the crew that would go on to medal in all but one international competition through to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
With two World Championship golds and an Olympic gold around his neck, Gregory became part of Juergen Grobler’s eight in 2013 that went on to be the first British eight to score a World Championship title. Back in the four for the 2014 season, Gregory has picked up two more World Cup gold medals and a European Championship title to add to his accolades.
A father of two, Gregory has not given up on the chance to go for another Olympic gold. One of rowing's favourite rowers, Gregory is World Rowing’s Athlete of the Month.
World Rowing: Your career entirely changed after the 2008 Olympics, what flipped the switch?
Alex Gregory: There were a number of things that flipped the switch for me during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I was spare man for the team, sitting on the side lines, watching the racing when I realised what the Olympics really meant. It's such a huge event, the pinnacle of our sport. It wasn't until I was there, soaking up the atmosphere that I realised the true meaning of the Olympics. From that moment on I was sure of why I was on this pathway pursuing this dream.
I watched every boat that won a gold medal during those Olympics and I tried to work out what the difference was between those guys and me. I knew I could row well, technique was my strong point, but I was missing something. Then it hit me, I was lacking the physical strength that allowed me to compete with those gold medallists. I made the decision there and then to put on weight and significantly increase my strength. So I locked myself in the gym for three months. I met my targets and this added strength gave me a lot of confidence, it really made a difference.
The final thing was my decision to swap disciplines from sculling to sweep. I had filled in for a couple of the guys in various boats in the lead up to the Olympics and found that (sweep) rowing came quite naturally to me. With all these factors in place I found myself standing in the middle of the podium with a World Championship gold medal hanging around my neck just 12 months after sitting on the side lines in Beijing as the spare. It had been the turning point I had needed.
WR: What was it like to transition out of the four after winning at the 2012 Olympics and into the eight?
AG: Moving into the eight after the Olympics was just the change I needed. I had competed in the four every year since 2009 so it was a good chance to take a break from the event. I really wanted to approach the 2013 season in a slightly different way. To take the pressure off a little and to enjoy rowing for what it is. The new challenge was not straightforward, the complexities of moulding an eight together needed a lot of work throughout the season but with the experience of the guys in the crew and under Juergen's guidance we managed to get it right in Korea. It was a very special win for us as a nation, the first World Championship gold in the eight for Great Britain and for me personally my daughter was born during the event. A time I will not forget.
WR: Tell us about your race at the 2013 World Championships.
AG: We must have had a good race in the final of the World Championships but my memory is very hazy. I would say it was one of the hardest races ever, it hurt a lot. We decided to go into the final with the aim of getting a really fast first 1000m and then following that with a really fast second 1000m! I remember being aware of having a good margin up on the rest of the field by half way, and then it was just a case of holding on to that lead. Watching the replay the Germans really closed up on us in the final 250m but by that point we had done enough to cross the line in the lead. I couldn't really enjoy the moment that much and the medal ceremony was a real blur. I was very sick and could barely hear or see. Unfortunately being the last event of the competition we had the closing ceremony for the Championships to stand through, I was wobbling about all over the place, very unsteady and feeling very weak. Despite the way I was feeling physically, it was a fantastic moment.
WR: What's your typical day like at the moment?
AG: I'm woken every morning any time between 5:30 and six by my daughter Daisy (nine months old) who loves to shout from her cot. I'll lie there hoping somehow she'll fall back to sleep but she never does. I'll get up, carry her downstairs, change her, then invariably have to change her again five seconds later. I'll make her milk, feed her then probably have to change her again. By this time Jasper (four years) will be downstairs with us and demanding his breakfast. As Daisy crawls around the floor trying to eat anything she can get her hands on, I'll sit down and have a bowl of cereal with my son. By this time I'm probably already late, so I'll rush out to the car and drive to Caversham (rowing centre) which is only 20 minutes away. Generally we do three sessions a day. At the moment two on the water and a weights session. It's an exciting time trying to get our four together and I'm enjoying the challenge very much.
Once training is finished I'll head home just in time for the children's dinner time, bath time and bed time. It's always the toughest session of the day!
WR: What is your role in the boat?
AG: My aim in whatever boat I'm in is always to be as reliable and consistent as I can be. I want my crew mates to know they can rely on me and trust me to be working hard for them in the right way. I like to keep things calm and relaxed too. I like to see the funny side in everything . All the guys take the mickey out of me for my terrible 'dad' jokes. I think there's a time and a place for my rubbish dad jokes but I don't know any good ones so my team mates just have to make do with my bad ones all the time!
WR: What's the hardest training session that you've ever done?
AG: There have been many tough sessions but one in particular springs to mind. It was the first week back to training after the London Olympics. I was pretty unfit, and still deciding my plans for the future I was finding the motivation to train a bit of a struggle. We were five minutes into a huge weights circuit session which I knew was going to last for two hours. Already the weights were too heavy for me, everything was burning, I was drenched in sweat and knew it wasn't going to get any easier. For a moment I stopped, turned towards the door and imagined walking out never to return, I had my gold medal after all. But thankfully for whatever reason I turned back to the weights which were too heavy and continued to lift them for another 1hour 55 minutes. I'm so glad now I didn't walk away at that moment, I'd never have forgiven myself.
WR: What do you imagine that you'll be doing in ten years’ time?
AG: In ten years’ time who knows. Hopefully I'll have been on some adventures, taken up some more challenges, and given my children a good start to their lives.