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Boat Race 2022: Olympic GB bronze medallist Tom George finds the perfect balance at Cambridge University

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Tom George, centre, alongside Cambridge University Boat Club men's head coach Rob Baker, left, and Daniel Toye at the presidents' challenge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom George, centre, alongside Cambridge University Boat Club men's head coach Rob Baker, left, and Daniel Toye at the presidents' challenge. Picture: Keith Heppell

When it is put to Tom George that rowing and academia are inherently good bedfellows, there is no disagreement.

“You just get super disciplined from rowing because you can’t be late as you’re letting people down,” says the 27-year-old.

“You’ve got to work hard because otherwise you don’t get better, and then you’ve got to always produce your best work to win, and to succeed.

“The three of those avenues, you just imprint them onto work.”

George has just pedalled across the city after a lecture and we meet in a coffee shop on one of Cambridge’s side streets, a venue perfectly fitting with the character of the person – down to earth and easy going.

Only one table remains in the venue, a two-seater squeezed in alongside other customers, where manoeuvring into position is made even harder by a terrier dog sprawled out after what seemed a long day.

Few glances are made over to the 6ft 4in figure and yet you wonder if there would be a bit more attentiveness if other drinkers knew they were in the midst of an Olympic bronze medallist and national record holder.

George is studying an MPhil in real estate finance after competing at the Tokyo Games, and expands more on a conversation with a tutor at a Peterhouse sports society dinner, who had talked of sports men and women.

Paraphrasing the tutor, George says: “He said, ‘The athletes are never the ones requesting extra time to do things or requesting extensions, they always seem to be on top of what’s set’. That’s just inherently the nature of what you do.

“People always say things like a change is as good as a rest. If you can stimulate your mind, you will feel more recovered when you turn up to train and I actually think that’s pretty true. Since I’ve been here, you’re just rushing at 1,000 miles per hour from A to B to C – you go rowing, go to class, go to the library, go to dinner.

“You’re always tired and a bit fatigued I guess musculally but you’re never fatigued mentally. You’re always so stimulated and it’s just a joy to be able to do it.”

George is fascinating to listen to, and the conversation hops seamlessly from one subject to another, from BBC1’s This Country – filmed in his home town of Northleach – to modelling to global politics to cycling.

And it has been the breadth of studies and topics at Cambridge that have so captivated him.

Tom George at the crew announcement. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tom George at the crew announcement. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The other day I was sitting in Peterhouse having dinner with a guy who is now doing a post-doc and he is studying autism,” explains George.

“I was talking to him about that, something I know nothing about, and just listening. We talked for about 45 minutes and I thought ‘wow I’ve learned so much’.

“We do completely different things, from completely different backgrounds, but it was just really cool to be able to experience that.”

George did his undergraduate degree in politics – international relations – at Princeton, but is looking at life after professional sport.

Working in the financial sphere of real estate or pure finance has its appeal.

“At some point, you’ve got to stop rowing and I think people always forget that,” he says.

“No-one ever gives that much attention to the fact that you have a bit of a shelf life in sports, and in rowing.”

George did an internship at a real estate firm at the end of 2020 which reaffirmed his desire to do the course and ultimately move into the industry.

You also get a clear sense of how he approaches the bigger picture.

It is not just about the here and now. The devotion to learning is apparent, but what exactly does studying mean to George?

“Always trying to get better, furthering myself, learning new things,” he says. “Life moves on pretty quickly and you’ve got to make sure you keep up with it, especially when you do move into a professional sphere.”

It is obvious that this applies in equal measure on the rowing front.

George first represented GB in 2012 at the World Rowing Junior Championships, with rugby having previously been the sport of choice. He was an outside centre.

So what does rowing mean to him now?

“It’s a competitive outlet,” he explains. “I always wanted to play rugby. I would say rugby is my favourite sport, but, in a classic intersection without really trying, I quite quickly became better at rowing than I was at rugby.

“They just crossed over and it was, ‘OK, I guess this is what I’m pursuing now’, and I’m glad I did.”

What is noticeable from that sentence, and as we chat in general, is George’s tendency to downplay.

It is a sign of a humble nature, and one that is just at ease with his surroundings.

They are currently Cambridge University Boat Club’s Goldie Boathouse where he arrived with the bronze from the GB men’s eight, alongside fellow Light Blue Ollie Wynne-Griffith, and as the national record holder over 2km on a rowing machine.

He became the first Brit to go under 5min 40sec in 2020, breaking Rio Olympics gold medallist Moe Sbihi’s mark by clocking 5min 39.6sec.

Sbihi, who had initially taken the record from Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent, regained it by going two-tenths of a second faster a month later.

But, in February 2021, George beat it by another two-tenths of a second – and celebrated by having a milkshake from McDonald’s on the way home.

The physiology of George has been recognised by Pinsent, who publicly hailed the ability of the oarsman.

Tom George in the stroke seat of Cambridge University Boat Club men's crew in action at the Trial VIIIs. Picture: Benedict Tufnell/Row360
Tom George in the stroke seat of Cambridge University Boat Club men's crew in action at the Trial VIIIs. Picture: Benedict Tufnell/Row360

“It’s cool when you get someone like him… that’s pretty humbling, isn’t it?” he says.

“You are like wow. It’s really nice to have people who you kind of look up to, and they are the sport in this country, like him, Redgrave, Cracknell, those guys are the sport, that’s what we were brought up on so it’s really touching when you get that kind of compliment.”

But how did he process such high praise from the four-time Olympic gold medallist, one of Britain’s greatest oarsmen.

“I guess I just never really thought about it in that sense. It’s just nice, but you’ve won Olympic gold medals and I haven’t yet... that’s what I want to do.”

On that note, he did not have much time to reflect on winning bronze at the Olympics, such has been the speed of returning to the UK and arriving in Cambridge. But he sees it as a bit of a mixed bag.

“You win an Olympic medal and it’s really hard to sit here and say I’m disappointed, and I’m not at all like that,” says George.

“I think that we could have done things differently that may have got us a better outcome in the lead-up to it. There are maybe a couple of shoulda, coulda, wouldas in there, but, ultimately, I won an Olympic medal and I want to keep building and go for the next one.”

It is that approach that George has taken into trialling with the Light Blues this year.

There has not had to be a big adjustment from being with the GB squad in terms of the training schedule, with the workload not too different, but there has, however, been the aspect of getting used to the Cambridge way of rowing.

“It took me a bit of time, definitely,” says George.

“Rob [Baker, Cambridge’s chief coach] was sitting there, ‘no Tom, no, DNA’. But I think it’s good and I like it a lot.

“Obviously, it took me a bit of time to be like ‘OK, this how we do it’ and adapting to it. I think it just becomes muscle memory.

Cambridge's Tom George, right, and Oxford's Charlie Elwes, left, at the Boat Race crew announcement. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge's Tom George, right, and Oxford's Charlie Elwes, left, at the Boat Race crew announcement. Picture: Keith Heppell

“When you suddenly have to change, even if it is small, you are sitting there thinking, am I doing it right? Am I not? Then you over think things. I think it’s important that programmes have a style then you get everyone on the same page and singing from the same hymn sheet and if you don’t do that and just try to blend people together regularly you see it not working.”

Something else quintessentially Cambridge that George is looking forward to in the Summer Term are the May Bumps. It could be quite a crew from Peterhouse, with George and Wynne-Griffith joined by George Finlayson and Ollie Parish from the Blue boat.

“I’ve heard a lot of things about it, and I’ve got no idea what it entails,” says George, honestly.

“Everyone is always talking about how much of a mess it is. There are four of us in the Blue boat from Peterhouse. That’s going to be fun.”

It is just another example of why rowing and academia are such good bedfellows at Cambridge.

Read more:

Boat Race 2022: A guide to the Cambridge University men's crew

Boat Race 2022: A guide to Cambridge University women's crew

Boat Race 2022: Lure of rowing for Cambridge University was too strong for Imogen Grant

Boat Race 2022: Our guide on where to watch it, when to see it on TV and all you need to know about the Cambridge v Oxford contest

Boat Race 2022: Ruby Tew completes a glittering rowing CV with Cambridge University

Boat Race 2022: A show of fortitude sees James Bernard earn a Blue in Cambridge University's No 2 seat

Boat Race 2022: Meet the Cambridge University Boat Club men’s crew to face Oxford

Boat Race 2022: George Finlayson swaps Sydney and California for Ely with Cambridge University

Boat Race 2022: Brothers Ollie and Jasper Parish seeking to guide Cambridge University to double victory

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