Mark Roberson goes from Great Britain javelin star to indoor rowing world record holder
Great Britain javelin thrower, successful coach, British indoor rowing champion, world record holder and massage therapist, you could say that there is no end in sight to the number of strings to Mark Roberson’s bow.
He has packed more than most into his 52 years and, it would seem, is intent on adding to the accolades.
Roberson first made an impact on the athletics scene, winning a silver medal in the javelin at the World Under-20 Championships in Greece in 1986.
He would go on to represent Great Britain and England on multiple occasions, most notably at the European Championships in 1998 and at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, in 1998, and Manchester, in 2002.
Roberson retired from athletics aged 39, in 2006, and after a few fallow years away from competing found his calling on the ergometer.
“I hit about 45 and thought I’d done nothing competitive for five or six years and not really looked after myself as well as I should,” explains Robertson.
“Having trained for years and years, it’s not ideal not to do much, especially with joint wear and tear and general fitness.
“I did a 20-week programme from scratch and did quite well on a 2k, but then I set myself quite a high standard and pushed too hard after that and completely blew myself out in terms of motivation.”
A new opportunity was around the corner though when British Rowing started doing 500m sprints at the British Championships.
On his first attempt at the distance, Roberson clocked 1min 20sec. He went away to train for four weeks, and returned to achieve a then 40 to 49-year-olds’ record 1.19.3 as a 48-year-old at the English Championships.
“Ever since then I’ve been hooked really. I thought I’m obviously quite good at this,” he says.
“It got me on the road of doing different distances to keep me fit, but I have been focusing on the sprint stuff when it came round.
“I’m 52 now and the nice thing is that I’m still improving.”
The life as a sprint ‘erger’ – as they are called by rowers using the indoor machines for their winter training – is perfect for Roberson, who holds the British 50 to 59-year-olds’ records for one minute (402m), 100m (13.6sec) and 500m (1.17.7).
“I took all of that apart with my background in power training,” he says. “I’m a sprinter and my endurance base isn’t too high.
“I’m not very good at exercising but I’m quite good at training so if I’ve got something on the horizon then I can focus on it and get stuck in.”
Focus was certainly required in May when, as part of a team, Roberson set a third world record for 100km in three years.
But it is not just about getting back into competing for Roberson, who has also returned to coaching.
He had guided British javelin record holder Goldie Sayers from 2005 to 2009 and then 2013 until her retirement, and is now working with 21-year-old Harry Hughes.
Mike McNeill, Roberson’s own mentor as a youngster, had sent Hughes in the direction of the Burwell-based javelin coach.
“If there was anyone I would like to work with it’s Harry because I think he ticks all the boxes,” says Roberson, who works out of the Beechwood Practice in Cambridge as a self-employed massage therapist.
“It seemed to be the ideal opportunity to get stuck into something.
“After finishing with Goldie, there was no-one really to coach that I could spend time with.
“It worked quite well as he is fairly local and I’ve known Harry on and off for years so I’ve helped him out through injury phases.
“It’s nice working at this level. It’s where I think I’m most useful because I’ve got a lot of experience, know how to train, what is expected, how I go about it and I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I’ve made along the way.
“I’ve learned a lot from working with Goldie, understanding what’s needed, and just making the right decisions or help them make the right decisions.
“He is a big prospect moving forward, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg at the moment to get him healthy. We will move on to next year and aim for the Olympics.”
There was a setback for Hughes, who has thrown over 80m this season, when he was ruled out of the European Under-23 Championships through a heel injury.
Although it was no doubt a blow, you just feel that with the determination of Roberson, Hughes is in good hands to bounce back in style. And build a list of honours that would befit his coach.