Friday, 19 August 2022

Stroke of Team GB eight parties for Britain

FROM egg-eating contests to fancy dress, not to mention his first Olympic gold medal, Will Satch

FROM egg-eating contests to fancy dress, not to mention his first Olympic gold medal, Will Satch had an eventful time at Rio 2016.

The Henley rower stroked the GB eight to victory in Brazil, ending the country’s 16-year wait for Olympic glory in the event, before letting his hair down in the city famous for its party atmosphere.

Satch, 27, said that becoming an Olympic champion after Team GB beat Germany, their fierce rivals, by half a length in the final felt “pretty surreal”.

“Everyone asks how it felt when we crossed the line but to me it was more like relief,” said the Leander Club rower, who won bronze in the men’s pair with George Nash at London 2012.

“It had been quite an unsuccessful season until then but we had our best race of the season and that’s what you get with the eights sometimes.

“We had to trust the process and the man who is the most successful Olympic coach [Jurgen Grobler] and it worked.”

Recalling the race itself, Satch said: “I’m leading the boat and you’ve got to go out as hard as you can and get your speed up in a short period of time.

“We executed it really well and we have got the fastest boys in the middle of the boat so it was just about getting them in to the rhythm - that’s my job.

“If we get that right no one can touch us in the middle kilometre. If we don’t, you can spend the whole race trying to catch up.”

By the half-way point he was confident of victory as the British crew held a length’s lead.

Satch said: “Then when we came through the kilometre almost a length up and I thought it would be very hard for anyone to change the result.

“I don’t know another Olympics eights race that has been won in that manner, we had it from the word go and won by half a length.

“Everyone talks about the GB eight in Sydney 2000 and the way they did it but they didn’t win by the same margin as us.

“The eight is the blue riband race, everyone wants to watch it and there’s so much passion and aggression — that’s what I love about it.”

After delirious celebrations in the water and on the podium, Satch was brought back to earth by a random drugs test when he returned to the boat tent.

He said: “It always seems to be me that is drug tested! We got the boat back and as we took it out of the water the drug testers were there.

“I said ‘is it Will Satch?’ and they said ‘yes’. It really brings you back down to earth!”

Satch spent an hour giving samples before rushing out to celebrate with friends and family, including his mother Sally and girlfriend Zara Milne, who had travelled to Rio to watch him.

His stepfather Martin Unsworth attended the Games as a volunteer and watched the race from the finish line. Satch said: “Martin has the gift of the gab and managed to get himself in charge of all the media on the finish line, so he had the perfect spot to see everything.

“My mum was an emotional wreck! She managed to find the money to come, as did my girlfriend, who took three separate flights. They both stayed in a hostel so they could come and watch and that means a lot to me.”

The rowing regatta at the Rio Games finished more than a week before the Games closing ceremony, meaning Satch had lots of spare time to enjoy himself.

He celebrated in the city’s hot spots and sampled the country’s national cocktail, the caipirinha.

Satch recalled: “Rio is the carnival town and it was non-stop partying, getting in at 8am and being pretty much nocturnal.

“We had been before the Olympics for orientation so we had an idea of the venue but it was like that on steroids. It wasn’t run according to plan but that was part of the magic.

“It was so different from the previous Games. London takes some beating as it was a home Olympics and I was racing with a great friend. After our races, Rio was like a holiday! We partied quite hard because we train so hard and we were done after the first week.

“A lot of athletes who were done early went home but we didn’t. The caipirinhas are lethal — they are alcohol made with sugar then put with more sugar, which really fires you up to go out!”

Satch stayed with Nash, who also won gold at Rio in the coxless four, outside the athletes’ village but still had time to meet up with other GB champions.

He even got into a few impromptu egg-eating contests with canoe slalom champion Joe Clarke after nights out.

Satch said: “It seemed to happen again and again. I remember one was a tie, about 18 fried eggs each!

“When we got home we were both on The One Show and when we were waiting to go on was the first time we had been sober together in two weeks!

“He was with his mum and girlfriend and he’s the most down-to-earth great bloke.”

Another night Satch visited a nightclub in Rio’s Centro neighbourhood, along with 5,000 other people, as well as visiting dozens of Olympic hospitality houses, such as Jamaica House, Italia House and, of course, British House. He also met English electro duo Chase & Status and has arranged to reconvene with the pair when he goes on holiday to Ibiza with friends later this month.

During the Olympic closing ceremony, Satch and Nash dressed in outfits resembling long blades of grass, which they “borrowed” from Brazilian dancers in the Maracanã stadium.

They liked the outfits so much they even wore them back to their accommodation.

Satch said: “It was an awesome party and on the bus back George and I really wanted to wear them. Trying to use the toilet in those is impossible!

“There was a point on the way back when I sobered up and thought ‘what am I doing?’”

Satch says his experience of Rio was a long way from the picture of crime the athletes had been warned about, although he did end up walking along the beach with an armed guard in his first week in the city.

He said: “Everyone seemed really friendly. We were told what to expect in Rio but I didn’t have any issues while I was there. The military patrol the beach when it gets dark.

“It was nice to get out and make friends, even though they were carrying M15s!”

Since he returned to England last week, Satch spent a lot the time being interviewed and fulfilling commitments that come with being an Olympic champion.

He is not due back in training until October and says the next month will be a time of big upheaval in his life as he moves out of the flat in Duke Street that he has shared with fellow rowers for six years.

Satch said: “It’s crunch time now, it’s time for a change. I’ve seen a pretty cool flat in Watlington and I’m hoping to get a mortgage, otherwise I’ll be going from Olympic champion to homeless in a month!

“I have a month-and-a-half off training but I’m hoping to elongate that as much as I can. You go from the pinnacle of fitness to a pub body in three days so getting it back is quite hard work.

“The regime is hard but I can see the ups and downs now. It keeps me out of trouble and has done ever since I found the sport.”

Satch says he couldn’t have imagined he would be an Olympic champion when he first started to row at Shiplake College as a teenager.

Now his name will be added to the Olympic honours board at Leander Club, with perhaps more to come at Tokyo 2020.

Satch said: “I’m the ambitious type but it was a pipe dream to be an Olympic champion.

“To go to London was a dream but now I’ve done it, I’m an Olympic champion and it’s really quite surreal. It’s starting to sink in.”

• Will Satch is part of the Christopher Ward Challengers Programme, which aims to support up-and-coming sportsmen and women in their bid to achieve their ambitions.

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