‘I don’t want to fall to the bottom – I want to be able to go out on top’

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The life of Andrew Triggs Hodge since that stirring performance on the water of Eton Dorney at London 2012 has been a blur.

Parties, a visit to the Queen, his long-overdue wedding and a relaxing honeymoon have all taken pride of place in a hectic schedule he would not even allow himself to consider as he plotted a second Olympic title in the build-up to London.

If he wanted that crowning accomplishment on the morning of Saturday, August 4, to be his last act in a rowing boat, nobody could have said he did not bow out as one of the sport’s most driven and admirable individuals.

He even looked into new avenues outside the sport, meeting people who offered him opportunities to carve another niche for himself.

But when it came to making the decision – a major one considering he had said in the past that he had put his wedding and his life on hold in the pursuit of Olympic gold – it was not as difficult as he might have expected.

“It’s a big decision, because I don’t want to fall to the bottom and have to go out that way, I want to go out on top. But it wasn’t necessarily a hard decision,” said the Yorkshire-raised champion.

“I went through a process of speaking to lots of amazing people who are offering me the chance to do some very different things with my life that ensures that when the time comes, I won’t fear leaving rowing.

“The whole process has given me the confidence that there are plenty of things out there.

“On top of that, I’ve got a wife, a house, a mortgage and other aspects of my life that mean that if rowing isn’t going to be a major part of my life, then there’s no point doing it.

“Equally, if I’m kidding myself about going back, then it’s not going to do anyone any good.

“But now is the only chance I’ll get to continue rowing. I cannot take a four-year break and come back to it after Rio.

“You make the most of what you’ve got.

“I’m in a privileged position and I’m honoured to do what I do. While I still can, I may as well make the most of it.”

It was while training with fellow Olympic medallists for a special Superstars programme to be broadcast on Boxing Day, that the competitive juices began to flow again.

Hodge was out of shape, embarrassed by the likes of Otley’s Lizzie Armitstead and others who have been back in training for some time.

It was not that Hodge had spent his days since London burning the candle at both ends, but he had neglected the inner drive inside him, and he felt guilty.

“I was one of those who really hadn’t trained and there was a big difference,” he noticed.

“Since the Games I’ve been running around like crazy. There’s been a lot of really nice opportunities and things to do that you really cannot decline.

“But it was inspiring to see some of the other athletes, those who were already back training hard.”

So Hodge headed back to the day job he has loved for more than a decade.

With his men’s four team-mate Tom James being one of those who has packed away his oars for good, Hodge has returned to find a younger looking squad.

He has a new training partner in men’s eight bronze medallist Mo Sbihi, who is nine years his junior.

He does not yet know if his future lies in the flagship four or in another boat, with much water to pass under the bridge before the first World Cup meet in Sydney in March, let alone Rio.

“I’m really looking forward to the project,” said Hodge, who is open to rowing in whichever boat he is put in. Jurgen (Grobler – coach) has a couple of ideas.”

With his future still exciting him, Hodge continues to reflect on his life-changing Olympic experience. Beijing was a breakthrough Games for him but crossing the line first in front of his home crowd was the highlight of his career.

The whole mood of the nation during the memorable Olympic summer also proved uplifting for the former Burnsall Primary and Upper Wharfedale School pupil.

“It was an incredible time,” said Hodge, who is basking in the glow of his second gold medal.

“As athletes, you’re focused on your own performance, and very little else matters. You have to put every ounce of your soul into it.

“You get the sense that you’re missing out on everything else that’s going on, that everything the nation is celebrating, you can’t enjoy.

“So as soon as you cross the finish line, no matter what position you’ve finished in, if you know you’ve put 100 per cent of yourself into it then you can start to realise that you’ve played your small part in something that has touched every human being in the country.

“The whole country changed because of what happened for those few weeks.

“The people who came down to support you, the people screaming at their television screens – all made a difference for those few weeks.

“You realise you were a part of something so much bigger than your own performance.

“It was an incredibly powerful thing.

“It was the most amazing three-and-a-half weeks with the Paralympics as well.

“It’s incredibly humbling and I’m very honoured to have played my small part and won a medal.”

Every opportunity he gets to show off his medal, be that a return to Hebden to present medals at a fell race or a visit to the Palace, is greatly received.

“I see it as my responsibility to show the medal to as many people as I can and, hopefully, keep that feeling alive for as long as I can,” he said.

“Walking on the pitch at Chelsea was pretty cool, as was meeting the Queen.

“It’s great to get the medal out and see people’s faces. I enjoy watching their reactions, they all have that same smile.

“They all say ‘It’s so heavy,’ and you can see they’re casting their minds back to where they were during the Olympics, remembering their favourite moments.

“I’ll never tire of seeing that reaction.”

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk

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