Andy Hodge believes he is a stronger rower now than he was four years ago, when he was last en route to an Olympic gold medal.
The Skipton-raised oarsman became an Olympic champion in the men’s coxless four in Beijing in 2008, but has spent much of the intervening years playing catch-up.
The 32-year-old switched to the men’s coxless pair with Pete Reed in the wake of Beijing and the duo have repeatedly come off second best to the New Zealand team of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray.
They have lost 14 straight races to the Kiwis, including three World Championship finals from 2009 to 2011.
But speaking yesterday six months out from a home Olympics, Hodge said he felt a more rounded rower than he was four years ago, when he and his crew went into the Olympics as favourites.
“I learned a lot by coming last in Athens and then again by winning in Beijing,” said Hodge.
“There’s a lot to learn from both. But in these last four years in particular I have developed enormously as a rower.
“I’ve stepped up physically and mentally, and in particular I’ve got a better grasp of the stroke.
“Whatever happens in London, over the last three years I have learned so much. You learn more from a defeat than from a victory.
“And it’s not just been learning how to row better, but life lessons as well.
“Learning how hard you can push yourself. Learning that there’s a certain amount of rowing which is more than just pulling hard.
“You can really connect with the water, in a way which is much more in sync with the water.
“It’s a very hard thing to get right. Doing it as an individual is hard enough. Doing it as a crew or in a pair is another matter.
“When it works you have a really fast boat.
“And it would be great to turn the silvers we’ve been having to settle for into winning gold at just the right time.”
Hearteningly for Hodge, Bond and Murray have a history of choking on the big occasion. Four years ago they were favourites again but failed to even reach the final. As experienced Olympic champions, Hodge and Reed will keep chipping away at their rivals’ mental and physical advantage.
“We respect them. Hamish is a really good guy. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for him as a person and as a professional.
“They are determined to have a good crack at the Olympics.
“They’re smarting because of what happened in Beijing. They’re hugely ambitious and hugely driven. But so are we.
“The British squad is very, very strong this year. We are definitely looking to exceed expectations.
“I certainly don’t want to step back from an Olympic gold.
“We need to make sure we are putting together the best team and as long as I’m doing my best every day in training, and setting new standards then I will be happy.”
London will be Hodge’s third Olympics. Training seven days a week on his golden quest at Caversham has forced him to put his extra curricular activities, such as motivational speaking in schools, on the backburner.
He will be 37 by the time of the Rio Olympics, but is not committing himself yet to carrying on beyond London, or hanging up his oar.
“I’m very open-minded about it,” he said. “I love training hard and you never know what might happen. I could come out of the Olympics with an axe to grind.”
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