Charles Cousins has long-term ambitions on rowing return
Cambridge rower eager to try to break in Great Britain set-up
Charles Cousins has the ultimate aim of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after launching a rowing comeback having overcome back surgery.
The 29-year-old London Olympian was in prime position for a place in the men’s quadruple scull for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but after managing a back injury for a year was warned that he risked irreversible damage without an operation.
It brought an end to his hopes of success in Brazil, and after completing his rehab with the national team, he left the sport, spending nine months in Mozambique in 2017 as a scuba instructor.
It was while in Africa that the hunger for a comeback started though.
“I think one of the turning points was out in Mozambique,” said Cousins, who is from Cambridge and a boyhood Cambridge United fan.
“I was watching Victoria Thornley in the single sculls. She was always someone I was quite good friends with in the team, and we always used to talk about the single [scull].
“She would say ‘I can do the girls’ single, you do the boys’ single and then we can do our training together’ and this was back when I was in the quad and she was in the eight and double.
“When I saw she was racing the single that year, and watching her win the Europeans in 2017, I thought it was really cool and reminded me of that conversation we had after the London Olympics – and she stuck with it and did it, whereas I didn’t get round to doing it.
“After that, I thought I would love to get back in the single and race that to see how quick I could get it.”
That appetite to be back in a boat was heightened when Cousins took a coaching job at Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, with the enthusiasm of the youngsters in his charge and being back on the river re-awakening his competitive edge.
He made a low-key return to racing during the summer before entering the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta, where he was beaten in the semi-finals by Kjetil Borch, who went on to win the World Rowing Championships.
Inspired by his own progress and the displays of former team-mates in the GB set-up, it helped Cousins realise why he missed the sport and acted as a spur to return.
“After some solid performances, I felt like I owed it to myself to give it one more shot to see where it could take me,” he said.
“I feel like there is no pressure on me because if I go through the trials process in the next couple of months and come away not one of the quickest, I’m happy with that as at least I gave it a shot; I don’t feel like I have anything to lose.
“Before, when I think to what it was like in 2015, I felt like there was so much pressure and there was always that expectation that in the British quad you’ve just got to not mess it up rather than just going out there, having a good time and coming away with a few nice wins.
“The only pressure I will have is anything I put on myself. It’s quite a nice position to be in.”
Cousins showcased his talent as one of the top scullers again last Friday by winning the prestigious Wingfield Sculls – a side-by-side sculling race on the Tideway course first held in 1830.
Qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 is the long-term ambition for Cousins, but he will take it a step at a time – the first one being the GB Rowing Team first assessment in Boston on November 10 and 11.
“Ultimately, that’s why I’m doing it because I want to have a shot at making the Tokyo team, but then I’m also quite realistic because you’ve got to go through the process,” he said.
“I’m working full time and training around that so I will be competing with guys that are training full time. I’m realistic and know that I’m maybe not as fit as I used to be.
“I will give it a shot, see where I am and then I can re-evaluate and go from there.”