Rowing: Barbershop boy cuts the mustard

It would be fair to say that rowing, as a sport in which to excel at Olympic level, didn't feature highlyin the imagination of the Kingston-on-Thames schoolboy Mohamed Sbihi. It was always asumed that Sbihi, the son of a Moroccan-born father, also named Mohamed, who owned a barbershop off Regency Street in London's Victoria, would one day go into the family trade.

"The only interest I had in rowing was when I flicked on the TV and the Olympics was on," herecalls. "And I remember returning over Hammersmith Bridge on the way home from the shop on Saturdays. One year it was crowded with people, and I wondered what was going on, and then discovered it was the Boat Race."

But that view of an alien sport all changed with a visit by representatives of British rowing's Start programme to Sbihi's Hollyfield School in Surbiton in 2003, on the search for raw potential. Sbihi, who, at 22, now stands almost 6ft 8in, could hardly fail to make an impression.

"They came round my school, where rowing wasn't a sport, did some physical tests, and a couple of weeks later I got a phone call saying I had the potential to start training," he says. His father and British mother, Jennifer, who works for M&S, were initially taken aback. "I remember there was a meeting at my house, with the head of the Start programme who told them: 'Your son could be a world champion.' I didn't believe it, and I don't think they could believe it, either. Both have been really encouraging. My dad's really proud. He tells most of his customers and has photos of me on the wall of the shop."

From barbershop quartet to Great Britain's gold medal-winning eight at the first of the World Cup series in Bled earlier this year, Sbihi's transformation has been remarkable.

Initially, he admits, his commitment was thoroughly examined. Pain tends to do that to you. "The first couple of months were hard work, and that was just doing three sessions a week," he says. "I did question it a lot in the first year but now I enjoy it. We train hard to make sure we race hard."

The effort has been worthwhile. From that first year, winning gold at the GB indoor rowing championships in the under-15 category, the Molesey Boat Club oarsman will, at the end of this month, be a member of the British eight challenging for gold in the world championships at Karapiro Lake, New Zealand. The fact that he is the first Muslim to represent GB rowing at senior level yields him profound pride, though it does confer its complications. From 11 August to 9 September, he should have been fasting during Ramadan. That means no eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset, every day for 30 days, which is a particularly challenging proposition for a rower who, at the pinnacle of his training regime, needs to consume 6,000 calories a day.

"My dad fasted, so did all my relatives back in Morocco, but I decided to postpone it until I come back from the worlds," he explains. "I can fast then. It'll be the same for the next two years that I won't necessarily fast at the times I should be fasting.

"I have full confidence in my ability to get through it. I've done it in the past and have come out of it sometimes feeling stronger. But this was just before the world championships, and I had to ask myself whether it was the best thing for me to be fasting when there's seven other guys in the boat wondering whether I'm going to be performing at my maximum, or whether I'm going to be keeling over in the boat."

Following that gold medal in Bled, the crew secured a bronze at World Cup regattas in Munich and Lucerne, behind the world champions Germany and Australia, which, he says, is an accurate gauge of their progress. "[Lucerne] was the big one for me. We were within touching distance of the Germans the whole way. Afterwards I said to the guys: 'I believe we can be world champions'." To do so would also make a psychological impression on their rivals less than two years out from the London Games.

Sbihi currently rows at No 7, traditionally the buffer between the stroke and the rest of the crew, and who helps set the rhythm. "I like to talk a lot, and give the crew confidence because I'm the biggest guy in the boat," he says. It says a lot for his development and assertive nature that he vies for vocal input with 38-year-old Greg Searle. Sbihi was four when Searle was claiming Olympic gold with his brother Jonny and cox Garry Herbert in the coxed pairs at the 1992 Olympics.

Searle, says Sbihi, is a "really big influence on the crew – always so positive and passionate about the sport". "Moe", as he is known, has also been inspired by Michael Johnson's book Slaying the Dragon and his guidance on preparation and focus.

Sbihi, who has also studied for a sports science degree at St Mary's University College, is unsure of his eventual future. He could even revert to the original plan of joining his father. "I've spent so much time there. Even practised on my dad's head. Not that he's got much hair on it! It's one of those things that I've watched so much, if I wanted to do it, it'd come quite quickly to me, hopefully."

But for the moment the only cut-throat plans he has in mind are ones involving Great Britain's rowing opponents.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power