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Challenger Programme

Will Satch: “You’re right on the edge; but that’s exactly where you need to be”

The Olympic rowing gold medallist and CW Challenger on how he and Team GB triumphed at the Rio Olympics

Hi Will. So, before we talk about your victory, how was Rio compared to London 2012?
The total opposite! It was samba. London was clean cut in that everything was set up. Rio was an Olympics that was always only going to be ready on the night. But if you don’t take the Olympics away from the usual western cultures, you’d end up just competing in the States, the UK and Europe. All in all, I loved it. Then again, it’s easy for me to say that with an Olympic gold medal around my neck.

What was it like when you arrived?
It’s the heat that hits you straightaway. It’s their winter, but the humidity is intense. As a rowing team we headed out together with staff from Team GB – we didn’t want to be taken out of that ‘cotton wool’. It does seem like you’re being segregated from reality, but you need to be in that situation if you want to get the kind of performance you want. You’re looking for the edge wherever you can. And it worked.

You did well in the heats, then had to wait around a lot…
It was a hard one to get round because you’ve almost got to take your foot off the gas to get yourself back up to the simmer again. Personally, I found that the hardest situation to be in.

You were providing stroke in the boat. Was that something you were told years in advance you’d be doing, or was it fairly late on?
It wasn’t last-minute, although you’re not really told. I have a strong relationship with Jürgen Grobler [the Team GB coach], but you have to put a lot of trust into him – he’s the boss. There will be confrontation: at the World Championships in 2014, I didn›t stroke the eight, but he had his reasons for that and we came away with the win.

To have him say, “I want you to do it” in Rio must have been great…
It was a nice feeling. If he’d put me anywhere else in the boat, subconsciously, maybe I’d have been upset because I like rowing that seat. It’s the hot seat.

Why’s that?
I always look at it as a rev limiter for the boat. We had a lot of horsepower, so you could rev a bit lower. The stroke rate had to be a little bit lower so that I could get all the power out of each person, every time. That’s the difference between our last race in Poznan [at the World Rowing Cup] and the Olympics: in Poznan, we got the horsepower but our rate was lower. Even then we still managed to check the Germans, and that scared them. Once we got to the Olympics, we’d brought the rate up but still managed to eke out the extra power.

What happened on the day of the final?
I didn’t sleep a wink: nerves. Now that doesn’t matter so much the night before, it’s the night before that where you really need to get your rest. In the hotel beforehand, I remember looking in the mirror and telling myself, “This is it. This is the one that counts and the one that everyone remembers.” We had to turn up.

So, you were nervous?
When we got to the venue, I was playing the goat as usual. It helped calm everyone else down and was my way of having a bit of a release, being myself. But you’re not yourself as you’re full of hormones, and you’ve got a nervous sweat waiting for this performance to come. You’re right on the edge; but that’s exactly where you need to be. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have that edge. I was in the right place.

Then the race began…
We got on the start line, and the first stroke wasn’t great. After that though, everything began to click, and we had the race of our lives. Everything we’d practiced in training, that we’d regimented and drilled into ourselves came together in every phase.

Did you have any tactics? You were leading from the start…
To have a lead like that in the Olympics is something very special; we had nearly a length. The job was almost done by 1km in, and with 400m left we just needed to carry the momentum. Personally I wanted to wind the stroke rate up at the end, but it would’ve been a lot closer. In the past, Phelan [the cox] has called something tough halfway and everybody has seized up and the boat speed drops. This time round, tactically we decided that he wouldn’t actually say anything at all. We’d be working flat out anyway!

What happened after you’d won?
When we crossed the line, it was almost relief. I was ecstatic to win but, when you’ve been training for four years and focusing on August 13th for so long – and it’s just happened – it was almost unbelievable. I turned around to Matt [Langridge] and said, “We’ve done it!” It doesn’t really get better than that.

Then there was the ceremony…
Once you get out of the boat, you have to linger around like a bad smell. We had to get changed into a tracksuit for the podium, and then do media. We worked our way round the media centre, before making our way to the podium where we met our families, wives and girlfriends. That’s when it started to hit home. They’re the ones who had been there with us through thick and thin.

Did you celebrate?
Behind the Lagoa venue there was a place called Parque Lage, with a pool in the middle. They put a glass floor over it and lit it from underneath. After we were done with media duties, we arrived with all of our friends and family there and got to properly let our hair down for the first time in a couple of months. Those celebrations continued for the next 11 nights!

We heard a lot about the Team GB plane journey home. Tell us about it…
We thought we’d be coming back in economy, but had a chartered flight. If you win a medal, it’s ranked. On our flight, all the medallists got to sit at the front – winning gold, we were up top in business class. We got in the cockpit and I tried to fly the plane with Adam Peaty [Team GB breaststroke gold medallist and world record holder]. They wouldn’t actually let me fly it: unbelievable!

You’ve been partying since you got back. It can’t continue forever, can it?
Well I’m trying to make it! I’ve got a few trips left – Ibiza and Marbella – and then combining a trip to Boston with some work for a rowing machine company. But you’re right, it’s got to stop at some point. I don’t know when I’m going to go back, but the idea is to carry on. It’s a hard situation, as we’ve been so successful: you can’t beat four years of winning back to back.

So you’re still motivated?
I look at it from this perspective: I’m an Olympic champion, at the top of the game aged 27. Why wouldn’t I carry on? Maybe it’s doing the 220km in the freezing cold! But, the bug’s still there. In a couple of months’ time, once I’ve come back down from this, I’ll be back for sure. It keeps me out of trouble!

Will Satch is a Christopher Ward Challenger. To find out more about the Challenger programme, click here:

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