Pure gold: Matthew Pinsent
The four-time Olympic gold winning rower, Matthew Pinsent shares his pearls of wisdom with Esquire and revels in his career as a sports journalist at Rio 2016.
I don’t miss rowing, I’ve closed that chapter of my life and I’m happy. I can’t look back on my career and think I could have done much more, to be honest. Once you move on then you get to relax.
People imagine that rowers get up at 4am to train, we didn’t. We used to train at 8am in the winter and 7am in the summer, so it was actually pretty straightforward. It was the winter weather that was the worst bit of the job.
The Olympic wins are the ones that standout in my mind as my most important achievements. You target and train for them for four years, so it matters that much more when you win.
Picking between Olympics victories is like picking your favourite child – they’re all so different. As Steve Redgrave would say: ‘You’re asking to pick between your children’. They are unique and they’re all four years apart and they mean different things to you.
I still row for exercise. Obviously I don’t row at the same level as I did 10 years ago, but it gives me the opportunity to hang out with old friends. It’s different to how it was. A good different.
When I do motivational speaking gigs, normally I’ll lead with some footage of winning the Olympic races. Or, failing that I break out the medals – that always gets people’s attention.
We didn’t really feel much pressure or responsibility back when we started rowing. A lot of the pressure came from the expectations we had for ourselves. That’s what really drove it. It was always based on the respect and appreciation that we had for all that we were doing.
I admire pro golfers, particularly their mindset. It’s seriously tough to put together four days of perfect shot-making back-to-back. In an amateur game of golf you can ride out a single mistake and absorb it. In pro golf you can’t, and that’s probably the ultimate test. It’s that immense concentration over four days, whereas rowing is all said and done in six minutes.
I didn’t really have a retirement plan. I knew I wanted to write about sport and I’ve been lucky to work with the BBC and The Times. I’ll be at Rio with the Olympics this year, covering rowing, hockey, canoe slalom and whatever else needs doing on a day-to-day basis.
My era had a lot less corporate sponsorship, compared to today. Although, we still had our fair share – as long as we kept winning, then people wanted to be associated with us.
I’m glad Twitter wasn’t around when I was competing. Giving people that direct access to you is a difficult balance. It’s all well and good when you’re doing well, but when you’re under pressure or something goes wrong then it can be pretty brutal.
Media training plays a big role for today’s athletes. They are expected to be entertaining, honest, newsworthy and good at sport, all at the same time. That’s a very tricky combination.
Athletes recognise me more than they do other journalists. As a journalist, I’ve used that tactic a number of times to get exclusives and access to interviews that other can’t.
There are times when I’ve been interviewing people, and I’ll be thinking, Are you sure you want to be telling me that?, because with my journalist hat on, if I get a good quote on the record, then I’m going to use it.