Tokyo 2020 - “It’s outrageous to say athletes have had it hard” during pandemic - Team GB rowing hopeful Matt Rossiter
The men’s four hopeful says most athletes have been able to continue training in secure bubbles during coronavirus, and told Eurosport their struggles are nothing compared to “a single mum who’s home-schooling two kids and she’s lost her job through Covid”. Rossiter is one of Team GB’s favourites for Olympic gold in Tokyo and continue preparations at World Rowing Cup II in Lucerne at the weekend.
British Olympic men's four rowing hopeful Matt Rossiter
Matt Rossiter may not yet be a household name to the level of Sir Steve Redgrave or Sir Matthew Pinsent - but he looks to be heading to Tokyo 2020 as one of the favourites for gold.
Just like the iconic rowing duo, he is part of a men’s four team which recently claimed the European title, as they look to uphold Team GB’s outstanding recent record on the Olympic rowing lakes.
Rossiter, along with team-mates Oliver Cook, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie, have not yet officially been picked to go to Japan but will fine tune their preparations at the World Rowing Cup II in Lucerne from Friday to Sunday, ahead of selection being confirmed.
Speaking to Eurosport, Rossiter is not taking his place at Tokyo 2020 for granted, and says he is even being cautious with the language he uses to his friends and family about his plans for the summer.
“It’s kind of an elephant in the room. I’m always striving to be modest and keep my head down, I just look at myself as I haven’t achieved anything yet, I’m not good enough and I haven’t been selected.
“Even with wedding invites and stuff, I never say ‘after the Olympics’, I say ‘after the summer racing’.
“I don’t want to acknowledge it’s there yet, that’s me, but some of the boys aren’t like that - I’m wired a bit differently and I’m quite hard on myself.
“In a way, it’s quite good because I just focus on training that week, that day, rather than getting too carried away.”
Matt Rossiter, second from the left, after winning European men's four gold
Image credit: Getty Images
Rossiter is strong in his view that athletes have not had it as hard as most people when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He believes those who have complained probably have their reasons, but says in context, their situation has not been that bad.
“I actually feel quite strongly that some people have really suffered,” he said.
But I’m 31, I moved back home with my parents, we had a garden and had really nice family time and for sure when people were spamming Instagram saying ‘oh the Olympics would have been today’ you think, that is rubbish, but I was having a nice time with my family and from a rowing perspective, our crew’s definitely in a better place than it was.
“When we were allowed back to the training centre, I moved to Henley with my flat-mates - we call it the orphanage because there’s loads of us in there - and we could come to the training centre, have bacon with the boys after training every day and it felt basically normal.
“That’s not hard. It would be really insensitive to say it’s been so hard. Of course, the plan was to go to the Olympics and I had loads of sweet trips planned after it but we’ve been business as usual, hanging out with my mates at training, keep fit, keep my job essentially.
Whereas if you think about a single mum who’s home-schooling two kids and she’s lost her job through Covid - that’s really rubbish and it’s outrageous to say we’ve had it hard when people have really had to suffer.
“Of course it’s been a challenge, but there are far bigger things at play than me licking my wounds that the Olympics were cancelled when the world is grappling with something so horrendous.”
Rossiter is saying all of this despite being a self-confessed Olympics obsessive, who has targeted competing since the age of 8. Rowing is not what he expected to fall in to, even though his dad competed in the Boat Race in Cambridge.
“I watched the Atlanta Olympics and I had a little notebook and I wrote down which sports I could do and I think it was decathlon or track cycling,” he said.
“Do you remember cable TV? I used to cycle on the cables on the road and pretend I was a track cyclist
“I didn’t really enjoy cycling at first. I was a bit chubby, I wasn’t bullied but I got teased so I did a bit of cricket too, I’d also played rugby, tennis and football.
“But then in my second year I did a bit more, had a bit of growth spurt and then things started to progress.
I don’t want to say I don’t enjoy rowing - I really enjoy the people side of it - and I love coming in from a hard session and having breakfast with the boys, that’s just awesome.
“I was starting to get some results and feel quite confident. I sort of fell into it, I’m not that big, only 6’2, I’m probably the shortest guy in the national team and I’ve always felt like I’ve had to work hard.”
Rossiter says he would be “so proud” to represent Team GB and finally achieve his goals at Tokyo 2020, having almost fallen out of the sport when he suffered with a serious back injury at university.
“I had some pretty dark periods,” he said.
“At university I was just going drinking a lot, but I was just unhappy because my back hurt so much. I planned to row full-time, when that was taken away, I was a bit lost.
"The Olympic dream was still burning deep in me and I found it really difficult seeing some of my peers go to London 2012 and I just got back in time to trial for Rio, but missed out just because I wasn’t good enough. I found that really difficult but I think it really reinforced that I wanted to do it.
I worked in one of the London 2012 shops just to try and feel involved but that was a terrible decision, just miserable as I couldn’t a) compete or b) watch the events, I was just stacking shelves full of overpriced merchandise.
“That was definitely a bit of a struggle but I think every sportsperson will have a bit of bad luck here and there and I’m really proud of how I overcame that.”