Monday, 24 September 2018

Clegg battles back to fitness as he aims to cook up medal in Olympic lightweight fours event

ELITE rowing has been part of Jono Clegg’s life for almost a decade but he only

ELITE rowing has been part of Jono Clegg’s life for almost a decade but he only suffered his first major injury two seasons ago.

The 27-year-old will be part of the Great Britain lightweight four taking part in the heats of the Olympic Games in Rio in their event tomorrow (Saturday).

Leander Club rower Clegg had a cycling accident in late 2013 which saw him lose a place in the four — the top boat for lightweights — where competitors must weigh in on average at 70kg.

Clegg battled back and will take to the Lagoa in Copacabana with team mates Chris Bartley, Mark Aldred and Peter Chambers.

They have been together as a crew since last season and won silver at the European championships in Brandenburg earlier this year.

Last season in the World Championships final in Aiguebelette the crew finished ninth but still qualified the boat for the Rio games.

Clegg says the pressure of the event, and making sure the boat was qualified, was something he had never experienced before.

He said: “There was a lot of pressure on the four of us, and rightly so otherwise we would not have qualified.

“It was definitely a lot of pressure that we had no experience of. We got there and came fourth so we’re in the B final so all we have to do is not come last.

“For me I was confident with how we were racing. I think that was how we raced, thinking ‘don’t blow this up.’ I think we started having silly thoughts.”

Clegg grew up in Maidenhead where his parents John, a Wing Commander based at RAF High Wycombe, and Margaret brought him and his younger brother Laurie up.

During his early teens, when he was a student at Sir William Borlase’s grammar school in Marlow, he played hockey for Berkshire.

But Clegg first took up rowing when he was in year eight at the school.  He was coached by Ali Brown, a former GB and Leander lightweight, who is now senior coach at Abingdon School.

“He taught me to row and compete,” Clegg says. “He is a truly inspirational coach who still inspires me.

“He got us to do some crazy sessions at school that are still some of the hardest I have ever done.”

When he was in sixth form Clegg considered going to an American university to study and row but decided against it.

“I was going through the entry process but at the same time I had international aspirations and it was a four year process,” he says. 

“That’s a lot of time, when I look at it now I think that’s a whole Olympiad.”

Instead Clegg decided to join Leander in 2008, once he had completed his A-levels, a move supported by his parents.

“They’ve always wanted me and my brother to do what makes us happy,” he says.  “It’s great to have supportive parents. They make it possible. Being so close to Leander there was an opportunity.”

Clegg would go on to compete as a lightweight for Great Britain’s U23 squad from 2009 to 2011. 

In 2009, his second year at Leander, he was selected to participate in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival.

Clegg won gold in the open-category men’s eight alongside current Great Britain rowers Will Satch, Jonny Walton and George Nash.

During this period Clegg also coached at his old school.

In 2012 Clegg was invited to join the senior men’s squad but he did not take part in the London Olympics.

Three retirements after the games, where Great Britain won silver medals in the lightweight four and double sculls, meant Clegg had to step up.

“Because I was selected as part of the squad it meant support from lottery funding,” he says.

“But then that comes with added pressure about making sure you are performing and you’re in your coach’s eyes. It’s about dealing with that pressure.

“In 2013 I was in the lightweight four which was amazing. They had come second the year before at the Olympics and one of the guys came back, Chris Bartley.”

The four won bronze at the World Championships in Chungju but Clegg’s 2014 season was sent off the rails by falling off a bike near Christmas in 2013.

He had a lay-off of more than two months with a injury to his left hip.

Initially Clegg trained on as he was not suffering any pain but after a few weeks his rowing had adapted and he had to do rehabilitation at Bisham Abbey.

“For me, 2014 was a bad year,” he says. “I had my first experience of being injured. As an U23 I had come through really strong and had never had a massive injury.

“That kept me out for part of the time in 2014. I was out from January to three weeks before trials in April.

“It was a hip injury where I fell off a bike in December and thought it was nothing. I think that my rowing was adapted from it. I had it treated and did some rehab at Bisham Abbey where they have an intensive rehab unit. 

“I worked with the team there for two weeks to push me back in. They said if I wanted to race this season then I had to race at final trials.

“I went back in with training and kept trying to pick up speed.

“It was uncomfortable with the injury, I couldn’t lie on my left side. The fact I was in the boat and then I was missing training and trying to find all the extra edges with stretching and conditioning.”

“I got selected in the pair and won bronze but it was not where I wanted to be. I had lost my seat in the four that I had the year before. 

“The pair is a non-Olympic boat so it’s not the top boat or the one you want to be involved in. I feel I missed out.”

From the start of last season Clegg was determined to win back his seat in the top boat but it was a bumpy season.

Injuries meant the crew who raced in the World Championships, where the boat would need to be qualified for the Olympics had never been together before. Clegg, Aldred, Bartley and Chambers came together to qualify the boat, taking the ninth of 11 spots by finishing third in the B final.

This year has been smoother, with the crew racing together throughout the run up to the Olympics. 

“I am confident we can deliver the result we want,” Clegg says. “Winning at the Olympics would make it all worth it but we’ve not had much time to think about it. I think about what has gone on over the four years but Chris has a silver medal and doesn’t think about it.

“I’ve never been there so I need to stay on and do the day-to-day.”

The day-to-day is spent training with the lightweight squad, which can be a competitive environment.

The team do more heavy weightlifting than the open-weight squad to help them maintain muscle mass while staying within the weight limits. Clegg said: “You push each other to push more weight. It’s another way of being competitive and making sure we are doing better than another country or just between each other battling for seats.”

Clegg is supported for his hopes for an Olympic medal by his girlfriend Ally Brooks, 26, who he lives with in Upton Close, Henley.

She is a fellow rower who competes at a national level for Maidenhead Rowing Club.

He says: “She is always there for a my races but also on the hard days during the winter.

“It’s great to be able to speak things through with someone who gets the sport and the pressures that go with it. But it does mean I don’t always get sympathy for it!”

Miss Brooks recently treated her partner to a meal at the Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow, run by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge.

Clegg would walk past the eatery on his way to school every day when he was at Borlase.

But he is also a dab-hand in the kitchen with cooking one of his favourite pastimes.

He said: “My signature dish is probably, spaghetti bolognese. It’s really simple to cook up but I have tried different twists on it like lamb shank instead of beef with lasagne sheets instead of spaghetti.”

Being a rower who has to watch his weight must have its downfalls but it’s clear to see Clegg has got a grip on what’s going into his body in the run-up to Rio.

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