Tuesday, 09 August 2022

I remember when rower was useless, says coach

DEBBIE FLOOD was an extraordinary athlete even before she took up rowing.

DEBBIE FLOOD was an extraordinary athlete even before she took up rowing.

At the age of four, she took part in a two-mile fun run with adults — and won. She was a county level runner and a Great Britain judo international as well as competing in the shot put.

All this despite being born two months premature and weighing only 3lb. Her twin sister died at birth.

Debbie’s rowing coach Mark Banks talked about her upbringing and how he first came across her during a “meet the athletes” dinner at Leander Club on Thursday last week.

Mr Banks, Leander’s director of rowing, said: “I was first introduced to Debbie in 1997 when she had been rowing for a month and she was useless.

“She fell in I can’t remember how many times and there was nothing there to show that this girl was talented.”

However, having driven 100 miles to see the novice rower he decided to talk to her and half an hour later he knew he had a star in the making.

“As I spoke to her, I asked her what she thought made her special,” recalled Mr Banks.

“Debbie said that she discussed it with her mother and father and that ‘judo would not gear me up to be a gold medal winner’. We sent her to the first trials in November 1997 and she came last, miles behind everybody, but I put the money where my mouth was and I put her in the top lottery grant. I was asked why but I said, ‘just go with me’.”

Of course, he was proved right as Debbie went on to win silver in the women’s quad at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008 and three world championship golds, among many other honours.

Debbie, who is Leander’s first female captain, told the 70-odd diners that she was a “handful of trouble” when growing up and her parents encouraged her to take up sport.

She said: “I used to watch the Olympics and used to say, ‘Wow, they are superhuman’. My dream was to one day have that and represent my country at the Olympic Games.”

After taking up rowing at age 17, she didn’t think she had much going for her as most rowers seemed to be very tall.

“I am 5ft 9½in, 4cm too short,” she said. “I certainly wasn’t a natural when I first started.

“Rowing is an exceptionally technical sport and I really was terrible. I got caught in trees and all sorts. My dream was to go to the Olympics. I naively thought I would row for two years, get to Sydney and then get on with my life and become a veterinary surgeon. Fifteen years on and I am still rowing.”

Debbie said that to beat her pre-race nerves in Athens she took an 18,000-piece jigsaw with her. She finished it just before the start of the Beijing Olympics four years later!

She said it was an “indescribable” feeling when she won her first Olympic medal but she was devastated to only repeat this feat in Beijing instead of winning gold.

“I can look back now and see we had a fantastic race,” she said. “We didn’t do anything wrong and we had nothing left at the end.”

She also competed at London 2012 and although she didn’t medal, it was her favourite Games.

Flood said: “It was amazing to see many of my friends win gold and other medals.”

She singled out winning at Henley Royal Regatta with people shouting her name as one of the high points of her career.

Flood added: “I don’t regret a single second I have rowed — it is such an honour to represent your country and be part of a successful team and I would not change that for anything.”

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