By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Heart surgery and then a shoulder operation came as “a bit of a kick in the teeth” for 2016 Olympic champion rower Will Satch last year but time off the water has provided fresh focus for the hard slog towards next year’s Tokyo Games.
The 29-year-old from Britain’s rowing heartland of Henley-on-Thames stroked Britain’s men’s eight to gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games and says he is now fully motivated and ready for more.
“Having time away has just made me appreciate what it is and why I do it,” he told Reuters.
Satch underwent heart surgery a year ago to treat the hereditary condition of atrial fibrillation, while a ruptured shoulder has kept him mostly on an exercise bike since December.
The heart problem, previously managed with tablets, had become increasingly an issue ahead of Rio and had to be addressed.
“If I’m honest, I just wanted to get Rio done and then I was going to get out,” said Satch at the launch of the SAS Ranking Points Index, which aims to help identify future elite talent as well as making club rowing closer and fairer.
“A lot of my friends retired and it would have been very easy to follow suit.
“But I’m potentially a little bit masochistic…I enjoy the pain and the training and I like building camaraderie. I do miss the old guys but now we’ve got this new group and I’m really excited to try and do it again in a different way.”
Satch tells a story about veteran Olympic rowing coach Juergen Grobler, a famous task-master, that shines a light on the team spirit within what has become a medal machine for Britain.
In Rio, while team mates savoured their moment in the media spotlight, the dehydrated athlete spent an hour and a half trying to provide a urine sample in the confines of an air-conditioned room.
Grobler, a former East German who has mentored champions at every Olympics since Munich in 1972 and can claim to be the most successful coach in world sport, waited outside. At the end, the two men walked away together.
“I was like ‘We are going to have this conversation now, we’re on. This is going to be an emotional moment,’” recalled Satch with a smile.
“And we’re walking back and I probably got 15-20 seconds out of him, and the walk was 10 minutes long. And in my head I was thinking ‘I’ve just trained four years to get a smile out of this man’.
“I got it, but it was very short-lived. And potentially that’s why I’m back.
“I want it again. A few seconds.”
Now 72, Grobler has hinted he will retire after the Tokyo Games and is likely to add to the list of 33 gold medallists under his watch so far.
With Britain, he has personally coached gold medal-winning crews at every Games since 1992 — the first two with five-times gold medallist Steve Redgrave and four-times champion Matthew Pinsent.
“He’s as passionate as ever. And that’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to have passion. Without passion, what’s the point?,” said Satch.
“He doesn’t even need to say that much. It’s just having that inspiration around you is very special.”
Satch’s own future looks likely to lie more with the four than the eight when it comes to Tokyo selection.
Winner of a bronze medal with George Nash in the pairs at his home 2012 London Olympics, Satch joined Moe Sbihi, Matthew Tarrant and Matt Rossiter in the coxless four that took bronze at the 2017 world championships in Florida.
“I just want to be in the top boat, whatever that is,” he said. “I’m very excited about the eight although I’ve been there and done it. The pair is a very special boat to me, my debut was the Olympics with my best friend in that boat.
“And then the four is something I haven’t really done. I haven’t had a fair crack at it because I had that heart issue leading into the 2017 worlds.
“I feel like I could potentially do any boat if I am at my best.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)