THE rowing coach responsible for winning 10 Olympic gold medals has spoken of his pride.
Jürgen Gröbler, chief men’s coach for British Rowing, achieved the unprecedented honour at London 2012.
The German was the man responsible for setting the Team GB training programme for the Games and had the biggest say in the selection of the crews.
It was Gröbler who made the decision just weeks before the Olympic regatta at Eton Dorney lake to move Andy Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed from the pair back into the four in which they had won the Olympic title in 2008.
Since moving into the pair after Beijing, the duo had been beaten 13 times by New Zealand and their return was the worst-kept secret in rowing.
Gröbler, who lives in Nicholas Road, Henley, said: “It was always in the air.
“As a coach you had to realise and accept that the New Zealand pair was great. Our guys were really up for it and we tried everything but just could not beat them.
“In our national strategy the four is always the leading boat and you make your best boat as strong as it can possibly be.
“To support the athletes we have to make a decision about where our strength is.
“The other nations had strengthened their boat too but we had to do our job and go with our best athletes. It was not a big surprise when we changed the boat.”
The gamble paid off when the new four, which was completed by Alex Gregory and Tom James, showed their strength at Eton Dorney, taking the gold medal on Saturday, August 4.
“I was quite confident with the guys but you have to do it on the day,” said Gröbler.
“They peaked brilliantly, it was definitely their best race and I am very proud of them.”
The 65-year-old was appointed chief rowing coach for the former East Germany squad in 1970 and within two years had secured his first Olympic gold.
His winning streak continued until 1988, with the exception of 1984, when East Germany boycotted the Olympics.
Gröbler recalled: “I began training as a PE teacher with a focus on teaching at a school. But that meant five years at university so I decided to coach at a club.
“The club I was first sent to did not perform very well. I was seen as the last secret weapon and that is how everything started.
“By 1980 they were the strongest men’s club, so we definitely turned it around.”
Gröbler also changed the face of British Rowing, which he joined in 1992.
He had moved to Henley from Berlin a year earlier with his wife Angela and son Chris, now 32, to take on the role of head coach at Leander Club.
His first GB success was coaching Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent to gold in the men’s pair at Barcelona.Their title was successfully defended four years later at Atlanta. When Gröbler arrived at Leander, Regrave already had two Olympic titles to his name but Pinsent, who was then only 20, had only two senior bronze medals to his name.
Under the watchful eye of their coach, the two athletes became one of the most successful pairs in the history of rowing.
The coach’s contribution was marked by a road named Grobler’s Way, which leads to the Redgrave-Pinsent Rowing Lake in Caversham, where the Team GB athletes train.
Gröbler also played a big part in Redgrave and Pinsent’s move from the pair to the coxless four with Tim Foster and James Cracknell in 1997.
The crew went on to win four consecutive world titles and took the gold at the Sydney Games in 2000. It was Redgrave’s fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal, making him the most decorated rower in history.
Gröbler recalled: “That was very special as there was such a lot of gold in that boat but it is about doing it as a team. Everyone achieved that gold in Sydney because everyone was working together.
“Being part of Steve’s fifth Olympic gold and helping him to get number three, four and five were very special moments.
“If you are so long in the sport, that is an outstanding achievement as our sport is so demanding.
“Rowing is not the only sport in which you train hard but to do that for such a long time... winning just one Olympic gold is incredible.”
Gröbler continued coaching the men’s four in the build-up to Athens in 2004, where Pinsent achieved his fourth Olympic gold medal with Cracknell, Steve Williams and Ed Coode. The four won their final by eight hundredths of a second.
In 2008, Williams was joined by Reed of Leander, Triggs Hodge and Tom James and won his second gold. Then for this Olympiad Alex Gregory, also of Leander, replaced Williams.
To successfully defend the fours title was no mean achievement.
They won their heat and their semi-final but the latter win was not as convincing as the first one.
Australia, their big rivals, had recorded an Olympic best time of 5.47.06 in the first heat and led for much of the semi.
Gröbler recalled: “I thought that the Australian crew would be the other potential contender.
“We said that we would not give anything away as we came here to win but did not have the best start straight away and we were behind Australia.
“Then the boys woke up and said, ‘we want to win it’.
“We had to find that last gear in the last 300m to beat the Aussies and that was the fundamental thing to set us up for the Saturday.” Gröbler was “honest” with the crew after the semi-final.
He said: “I said that we did not need to go that slowly at the start and that we had to match them but to be careful that we were not going so fast that we burned out.
“That is the only way the Australians race. Their last 500m are not the strongest and they are not huge guys so they give a lot in the first three-quarters.
“We did not want to give something away and make it so last minute.We wanted to get our nose in front and get in command.
“The crew executed that wonderfully. It was exactly what we wanted and it is not very often you can do that.”
Grobler admitted that he poured out all his emotions as he cycled alongside the lake during the final following his crew.
He said: “I do not think they heard me as it was so noisy but you bring everything out of yourself, all the pressure and the stress.
“It was a big relief when they crossed the finish line. I put my arms in the air — it was just great. There were several tears shed.”
He added: “Australia did not do so well at the Games but their whole management committee came down to Dorney to celebrate their four’s win, so we thought, ‘thank you very much’.”
Gröbler, who now considers himself to be British, believes London 2012 was an incredible achievement for the UK.
“It was outstanding,” he said. “It was really far more than I was expecting.
“Sydney was very good but I think the Brits topped that. It was the whole atmosphere and the fact that everyone was smiling and into it. The atmosphere at the rowing lake was incredible. I have never seen that before and this was my 10th Olympics.”
Gröbler, who leads a team of six coaches, is already looking ahead to the next Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
He said: “You are always looking forward and I am very motivated. I love my job. Of course I am happy with what I have achieved so far but I hope I can still help other youngsters achieve success.”
Gröbler won the BBC coach of the year award in 2000 and was awarded an honorary OBE for services to rowing in 2006.
Yet when asked what makes him a good coach, he laughs shyly.
“I suppose I am a scientific person,” he said. “I have learnt everything there is to know about how the body works and what it can do. That is important.
“Other people might say I am a good teacher, team worker and motivator.”
He admitted that he is not always as calm as he appears, saying: “I can also be quite aggressive but I want to come across as calm because that comes over better and motivates young people better than shouting and stomping around, which I do not think that is helpful.
“You are trying to bring people on board and get them working in the same direction. You have to have respect for people.
“A partnership is also important. You can have the best ideas but you have to bring them over and then someone else has to put that into practice. The relationship between athletes and the coach is vital.”
Gröbler said that each Olympics was “very special”.
“It is because it only happens once every four years,” he said. “Every situation is something new for that individual athlete that you are coaching — it is their special moment.
“Every gold medal is something special and it brings its own story.”