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Challenger Programme

The gold is not enough: Will Satch on the Olympics, his MBE and… getting a puppy

Will discusses how he maintains motivation levels during training, whilst also turning his mind to what life holds in store after he hangs up his oar for the last time

In early August, we sat down with Will Satch – our longest serving CW Challenger, and somebody who also just so happens to be an Olympic gold medalist – for a long overdue catch up at our Maidenhead showroom. Topics ranged from his return to normality, post-Rio; the five year anniversary since his first Olympic medal at London 2012; keeping himself motivated at the highest level; and finally, his plans after his departure from a world of coxed eights, early morning training and full body Lycra.

CW: It’s been a year since you won gold at Rio. When did things return to normal?
WS: Basically you have a massive break after every Olympiad, so I had about three months of partying [laughs]. During that time I was flown out to Boston, went to Mallorca twice, and I took part in a fundraising cycle ride for a charity that I support. I didn’t really go home at all!

I then decided that I wanted to do it all again – rowing, at Tokyo 2020, that is. From my point of view, I don’t know if I’m brainwashed or not, a true sign of a real champion in this day and age is to do it twice. I’m not saying anyone can go and do it; it is very very hard, but if I can do two, that is what is keeping me going.

CW: There are no more days of 5 golds like Redgrave are there? It’s just not possible.
WS: Definitely not! It’s also a new season, a new era, due to losing most of the team. The struggle comes from losing the camaraderie you’ve built with your friends, that pushes everyone through thick and thin. I’ve never had a real job so I don’t know, but this lifestyle is almost like a sheltered void. It’s been weird; you’re training every day to make yourself better and trying to achieve a dream you’ve already achieved, and you do start to think: why am I doing this?

I trained through the winter, but there were some really dark days, and I’m glad I got through those. It’s the first time I’ve struggled mentally, and it’s good that I’m quite open about it. I never thought it would be a thing for me – I’m quite dogged and will just get on with it, but I did contemplate knocking it all on the head. It’s a great way to finish, you know? After three World Championships on the trot and a Olympic gold medal, why wouldn’t you stop?

CW: So how do you psych yourself up for another four years? By setting yearly goals until you reach Tokyo?
WS: It’s strange. I’ve always thrived being the underdog, and now we’re up on this pedestal. So I’m not Will Satch, the Shiplake kid who was alright at rugby; I’m Olympic Champion and Triple World Champion, and there’s a lot to live up to. You turn up to events and, being in the four at the moment, it’s not just myself and [Mohamed] Sbihi, there’s two other guys as well. We all race in the same boat, but because you’re Olympic Champion there’s almost an expectation. Being on a pedestal is a very different kettle of fish – it’s not something I particularly like!

I’ve had to take everything right back to basics and realise what actually got me there in the first place. My New Years Resolution has been to enjoy rowing more which is very simple, and boiling it down to, as you say, setting small goals to achieve the big target again.

CW: Do you feel more or less pressure now?
WS: I think it’s more, it feels more. The train doesn’t stop; times are only going to get quicker, and I’m only going to get older. The lucky thing is that I know on when I get to Tokyo I’ll be 31 which, in an endurance sport, is your peak. If I can hold out, skeletal and muscular-wise I think we’ll be in a really good place. I like looking at it that way. It’s quite easy to not look at it in a positive light because three and a half years years is a very long time.

[As Will finishes speaking, he breaks the handle off one of our showroom coffee mugs.]

CW: What were we saying about physicality? Moving on… do you feel a responsibility to help the guys who haven’t been in the Olympics before? Is there a nurturing aspect?
WS: I do, and that’s another strange step for me because I’ve always liked and accepted the underdog thing. Some of the new guys are my age but I feel older because I’ve been there and done it, and I have to pass on what I can. Then there are guys from 22 to 24 who’re feisty and active and have a different outlook; that almost brings it back to how I got there in the first place. It’s a never ending circle.

CW: It’s five years since you won at London.
WS: Yeah, the final was literally yesterday (3/8)! I couldn’t believe it. Five years! What have I done, apart from row?

CW: Win an Olympic gold? That’s a little more than most. What are your main memories of that day? Does it all fade away after a while?
WS: It doesn’t fade away, for me. That day was more special than anything. It all came as a sudden shock. I’ve said it time and time again, but to do it with my best mate [doubles partner George Nash] who I’ve raced with since I was thirteen and not expect to go to the Olympics and then go, and then break the Olympic record – it just kept rolling. It was over the space of two weeks. In a way, it’s similar to how I recently got a new puppy. You go and chose a puppy, and you find the one and all of a sudden it starts behaving, eventually, and then you get it potty trained and it eats at the right time. Everything just fell into place. Having my friends and family there too, I felt like I owed it to my mum, who’s backed me up the whole way. I’m not from the wealthiest background and she’s supported me through and through – all my friends were there in ginger wigs actually!

CW: Could you pick between the London and Rio Olympic medals?
WS: London. It was the first, nothing beats that. But then winning a gold medal is pretty good as well! But London was a moment, something I’ll take to my death bed. It was almost the pinnacle of my life! For me, Rio was just about getting that job done, whereas in London when I crossed that line I was like ‘oh my god!’. Again it just built and built, being given the key to London, more or less meant we could do what we liked for a week.

CW: How did you find out that you were receiving an MBE?
WS: When we finished at the Lagoa in Rio, a chap from the military came over and mentioned that we’d be receiving them. I didn’t expect it would actually happen – a reprobate like me getting an MBE! [Laughs]

CW: Most importantly, which watch did you wear on the day?
WS: I wore the C9 Jumping Hour on a brown alligator strap. I wore a TM Lewin suit so it worked well.

Rather than the whole team being there, we were invited on our own. That was unexpected, being there with my mum and sister, and going in as an individual. Mo was there, which was nice, but it was just me and him. Then I basically wore the MBE round on my forehead for the rest of the week. I actually put it on the puppy the other day!

CW: The dreaded question… After rowing, is there anything in the pipeline?
WS: I’ve actually started a carpentry apprenticeship already. I find it very therapeutic. There’s a monotony to it – part of me hates it, part of me loves it – but I can see that working for me. I just enjoy making stuff – I’m actually building my kitchen, which is quite handy! But because I’m training all the time, I only do about four hours a week and there’s months where I won’t go in at all, but it’s a skill I feel I need to learn for when I finish rowing. I’ve been doing it since I was so young, I don’t really have any other skills anymore. I’m very good at one specific seat in seven particular boats, but that’s a very specific niche to have because once that’s done, I’m pretty stuffed!

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A grueling training regime is a crucial part of keeping Will in peak condition, both physically and mentally. But what if the choice of what he wears on his wrist – a mechanical watch, for example – could actually provide a psychological boost?

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