Olympic life resumes at 40 for Greg Searle as men's eight aim high

Barcelona gold medallist has no doubts about the wisdom of returning for a crack at London

Anyone would think he learned how to row on a Phoenician trireme. In Olympic terms, however, there is no getting away from the fact that Greg Searle is old enough either to reproach or inspire millions of middle-aged men, as they observe this carnival of athleticism with a wistful sense of their own decay.

At 40, Searle himself must look back across half his life to the gold medal he won in the first flush of his physical prime. He was just 20 when he won the coxed pair at Barcelona with his brother, Jonny. Now, after sitting out two Olympics in retirement, he finds himself elder statesman of a British men's eight that also includes Constantine Louloudis – an Oxford student, himself only 20, the very incarnation of the gulf Searle is trying to bridge.

In rowing of all sports, Searle knows all the experience in the world cannot redress any shortfall in capacity. He imagined that he had made a final Olympic appearance at Sydney in 2000, announcing his retirement a year later. In 2009, however, he took his restless cravings back to the national coach. "You weren't too young to win a gold medal when you were 20," Jürgen Grobler told him. "So you're not too old to win one when you're 40."

Sure enough, this spectre from the Redgrave-Pinsent era stresses that there was only one way his dreams could ever gain substance. "I'm here purely based on merit, purely based on performance," he said yesterday. "If I didn't perform, he wouldn't select me. Within our sport I think everyone understands that's the way it is."

Which does not mean that the romance of the moment will be lost on him. "The reality that I am going to make it has begun to sink in," he said. "That I am going to be out there rowing on the lake at Eton Dorney with the stands full of 30,000 people. I expect to have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes – and then I'll know that I'm really there to compete."

Searle is known in the boat as "grandad" and relies on his own children, aged eight and 11, to elucidate his team-mates' taste in music. But he well remembers the dauntless innocence of his own youth, after bursting on to the scene with consecutive golds in the men's coxless four at the 1989 and 1990 World Junior Championships. "The first time I came at it, I was young, totally enthusiastic and totally bullet-proof," he said. "I'd never lost a race before and just expected I would show up at the Olympics and win another one because it was just another race.

"I recognise the difference of doing this as a 20-year-old and doing it as a 40-year-old. If I compared my lifestyle to my peers when I was 20, I was missing out on a lot of fun stuff. But as a 40-year-old I have a pretty good lifestyle. When I drop my kids off at the school gate, most of the other dads have to put a tie on and go off to work in the city. I don't have to do that. I've got a fantastic lifestyle and really recognise this as a very special opportunity."

But there have been sacrifices of a different kind, as well – missing out on family time, family duties even. He has refused cricket in the garden with his son, for fear of breaking a finger; even declined to take the bins out, to mind his back. He has embraced a teetotal, decaffeinated lifestyle. All this because of a few Honda dealers, in a hotel conference room, clients in his new career as a business coach. It was the day London's 2012 bid came up trumps, and the car salesmen asked Searle how he hoped to experience his home Olympics: as a trainer, maybe; working with sponsors, perhaps; or as a mere spectator? As soon as he saw the rowing schedule, nearly an exact replica of the one at Barcelona, he knew that none of those options was tolerable.

"The massive advantage is that I love it," he said. "Every day I show up at training and no matter what's on the programme I take it on, get stuck in, and enjoy it. I've loved every day of it from when I sat down with Jürgen and he asked me if I wanted to row or if I wanted to coach.

"I think we're in the right place. We've done really good the last six weeks, and through the season we've been learning how to put together a race. We need to put ourselves in the last 500 [metres] where we're in a position to win the race. I know the competition is going to be tough. There's a small number of places at the Olympic Games, and they're all going to be good. But I know we're going to be very good as well."

 



Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas