Nearly 10 months ago I was sat on the start line of the Olympic final – the culmination of 13 years of my life dedicated to rowing. I still haven’t watched the race and I still don’t want to, it brings back too many bad memories.
The media totally wrote us – the Great Britain men’s quadruple scull – off in the run up to the Olympics. I remember reading one of the broadsheets that had a two-page spread covering the rowing boats and their respective chances. We were the only boat that was predicted to not make the final with no chance of a medal. I won’t repeat what I said when I read the article! We were aiming for a medal and thought we had a good chance of taking a bronze if we produced our best row.
I don’t think the media negativity surrounding our boat affected how we trained or performed but it did hit home that we were in a tough position – we had been selected late and it was going to be a huge challenge. But then if it was easy, everyone would do it.
We didn’t get the medal we wanted but we did exceed media expectation and finished fifth in the final, an achievement I’m proud of but one that still grates at me. It’s hard to explain how much I wanted to win a medal or how hard it was when people asked to see my medal after the Olympics when they knew I had been a part of Team GB.
The experience of being an athlete at a home Olympics was amazing – the support from the crowd, friends and family, signing autographs, having pictures taken with fans. Two weeks of being a celebrity which ended abruptly with a speeding awareness course I had been putting off at 9am the morning after the closing ceremony.
These pictures are two of my favourites from the Olympics, they show me being interviewed by John Inverdale after our semi-final race when we had just qualified for the Olympic final. I can’t remember the question he asked me but I remember thinking it was a tough one and answering with something diplomatic (always remember the media training, it’s a game of two halves and all that).
The media spotlight was intense for those two weeks whether we were racing or out for a few drinks (I actually got “papped” outside a London nightclub one night, behaving well of course) but we were lucky that we were well protected from it all by the GB Rowing Team – all media requests had to go through them.
Today I’m sat at my desk at Hamlins having hardly thought about the Olympics this year until today. Being a professional rower feels like a lifetime ago and I would definitely describe myself as a lawyer now, not an Olympic rower. I was fortunate enough to qualify as a solicitor before I started rowing for Great Britain which has made the transition to working life easier than it could have been.
So far this week I have drafted a compromise agreement, a senior employee’s employment contract, provided some suggestions on an athlete appeal procedure, put together a response to an employment tribunal claim and drafted a commercial contract for one of our property clients – and it’s only Wednesday! Pretty different from sitting on the start line for the Olympic final or being cheered into the Olympic stadium by 90,000 people or signing an autograph on someone’s head (really).
But I wouldn’t change a thing, the rowing challenge is over and my new challenge to be a great lawyer has begun – bring it on!
Tom Solesbury is an employment solicitor at Hamlins