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Tokyo Olympics: Cox Henry Fieldman sees extra year help boost the Team GB men’s eight

Former Cambridge University Boat Club cox Henry Fieldman. Picture: Naomi Baker (48973795)
Former Cambridge University Boat Club cox Henry Fieldman. Picture: Naomi Baker (48973795)

Henry Fieldman has seen the growth of the Team GB men’s eight in the past year.

The results on the water may have been impressive – with gold medals at the European Rowing Championships and the second Rowing World Cup – but it is their bond off the water that has been just as important.

Squads have an ability to come together when required, focus on the task in hand to get the desired outcome, and then head off in their own directions.

The pandemic, and in the case of rowing the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, has meant the need for people across the world to have each other’s back in a very different sense.

For the GB Rowing squad men’s eight, the delay to the Games has not just given them time to develop as a racing crew but be able to provide support in other ways.

“I think we have probably grown as a team quite well. As a team generally, we were quite young versus some of our opposition,” says Fieldman, who coxes the boat and steered the Cambridge University Boat Club crew in the 2013 Boat Race.

“An extra year of maturing and bonding as a group I would hope would affect us in a positive disproportionately to other teams.

“We certainly found as a group we became a little bit more comfortable; I guess maybe fronting up when things weren’t always going well or we weren’t maybe feeling as good as we could be.

“I think it is almost a brave thing for someone to come up and say I’m not feeling so great, and then the rest of the group can come and rally around them.

“We maybe didn’t have that bond before, but during the last year with Covid that has come.

“I think coming off the back of it we’re a stronger, more cohesive team.”

It meant that during the first lockdown, the group would check in with each other, and their then coach Jurgen Grobler, a couple of times a week virtually.

They would go through training plans – with Fieldman using the opportunity to go running, core strength and study aspects of the sport – and generally find out how everyone was doing, which led to a routine being formed.

“Being a sports team, there is a sense that if someone asks how you are then the answer is ‘I’m fine’ and we just keep on going. But we were in a global pandemic and there were times when we weren’t so fine – it is hard to admit that,” he says.

“I think we’ve got to the point now where it became a little bit more normal to not be feeling great, and talk about that and be supportive of each other in that way.

“It’s a deeper level of honesty, which I think is always key to any type of team.

“I think it is something that maybe we have shied away from being honest about vulnerability, which is hard to imagine when you look at the team which is 100kg guys crowded round a boat.

“I would just underline that with I still feel like we were in a privileged position versus 90 per cent of the rest of the population.”

It makes you wonder whether the greater sense of unity has helped improve their performance, with two gold medals already in the bag this season.

But the eight did have different challenges to manage.

Grobler, the chief coach of GB Rowing who specifically oversaw the eight, stepped down last August, and that was followed by Christian Fenkel, who had taken up the reins, departing a few months later.

Former Cambridge University Boat Club head coach Steve Trapmore has now taken over, and he had already worked with Fieldman at the Light Blues and Imperial College BC.

“It’s great to have him take the reins and pick up where Jurgen left off,” says the 32-year-old.

“I think with all the challenges we’ve had, it’s really brought us together.

“Steve gives it an extra technical magnifying glass which I think is working really well.

“We’re excited about the season we’ve had so far, and developing even more for the last one.”

Fieldman, who has been a coxing consultant to CUBC since 2015 and currently shares the role with Ian Middleton, the Cambridge cox from 2014 to 2016, will be steering an eight of Mohamed Sbihi, Josh Bugajski, Jacob Dawson, Tom George, Charlie Elwes, Oli Wynne-Griffith, James Rudkin and Tom Ford in Tokyo.

The obvious aim will be to repeat the gold-medal success of the GB eight at the Rio Olympics, of which Sbihi is the only survivor.

But it is about more than being outcome driven.

“In terms of delivery, we hope to deliver our best race,” says Fieldman.

“I think the O’Donovan brothers in the Irish lightweight double said so well, it’s a very simple sport, if we can just get from A to B as fast as possible that’s the process we want to move towards.

“What does that mean? We just want to execute the stroke that we’re trying to execute in training under the pressure of the Olympic Games from one to finish, and if we do that well then the result will come.

“Ultimately, it’s about the delivery of what we’re trying to do in training.”

Sounds easier said than done, but if the eight can do just that then there is a strong possibility that Fieldman could be leaving Japan with a gold medal.

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