Big Interview: Golden boy Andrew Triggs Hodge has a new tunnel vision

Great Britain's rower Andy Triggs Hodge announced his retirement this week.
Great Britain's rower Andy Triggs Hodge announced his retirement this week.
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THE announcement only came this week but had been six months in the making. Further back, in truth, to a time when Andrew Triggs Hodge lay on his sick bed with glandular fever in the winter of 2014, wondering if he had drawn his last oar in anger.

He had not, there was still a glorious swansong in Rio to come, when this unflinchingly driven Yorkshire-raised rower defied even his own expectations to claim a third Olympic gold.

He knew as he lay back in exhaustion and relief in the boat that carried the British men’s eight to glory at the Rio Lagoa that that was it, but typical of a man who attacks every challenge meticulously and wholeheartedly, he was not going to rush an announcement.

So half a year later what felt inevitable finally arrived, in 1,240 words via Facebook.

In that cathartic outpouring, the 37-year-old wrote of his love for competition, the ‘selfish quest’ of chasing glory and the sacrifices those closest to him had made to help him achieve his goals. He thanked everyone from the first coach to get him into a boat, to the mastermind behind all his success, Jurgen Grobler, to Pete Reed, his ‘brother in arms’ who sat with him for all three of those gold medals.

“It took a long time to write because a) it’s a difficult thing to get right, and b) because I’ve been so busy with a son being born and a new job starting in the same month and all the challenges that presents,” Hodge tells The Yorkshire Post.

Great Britain's Andrew Triggs Hodge kisses his medal after winning gold during the mens four final at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China.

Great Britain's Andrew Triggs Hodge kisses his medal after winning gold during the mens four final at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China.

“That’s why it’s taken me so long to get it out there. But I was pleased I was able to say it in my own words.

“Unofficially, I made the decision quite quickly. When Rio was done it was a case of ‘you know what, this feels right’.

“But I was very keen to write and publicise to my friends my own take on my rowing career and there were plenty of people I wanted to thank.”

Many, in fact, he felt indebted to in a career that spanned 14 years with the British programme, four Olympic cycles and a multitude of world championship regattas that yielded four global titles. Not bad for someone who first set foot in a rowing boat at the age of 19.

The first time I stepped into a rowing boat was at university in October 1998 on the advice of a friend. I never thought it would lead me to the Olympics.

Andrew Triggs Hodge

“I do remember that first time,” says Hodge.

“It was at Staffordshire University in October, 1998 on the advice of a friend who said I should try it out. He said it’d get me fit and there was a good social aspect to it.

“At the end of those two years, my part-time coach said to me ‘if you ever gave rowing a go’ you might be all right. I was like, ‘I am all right already’, but, in truth, I was pretty rubbish.

“But it got me thinking that I could be on to something here. That’s when I moved down to Molesey in Surrey because I knew if I wanted to give it a go it had to be with a proper coach and in a proper set-up.

Great Britain's Men's Four of (left to right) Andrew Triggs Hodge, Tom James, Pete Reed and Alex Gregory celebrate winning gold in the final  at Eton Dorney Rowing Lake, Windsor. (Picture: PA)

Great Britain's Men's Four of (left to right) Andrew Triggs Hodge, Tom James, Pete Reed and Alex Gregory celebrate winning gold in the final at Eton Dorney Rowing Lake, Windsor. (Picture: PA)

“I never thought it would lead me to the Olympics. I always had the idea of just seeing where it goes, and well... the rest is history.”

Some ‘history’, yet only after a few chastenining years, highlighted by an Olympic campaign in 2004 that resulted in Hodge and the men’s eight failing to make the final.

That abject disappointment ‘seeded an anger and a ruthless desire to prove myself’ as he writes in his farewell post, and served to inspire Hodge to never be beaten again.

He was, of course, because sport at the highest level over a long period of time is all about winning, losing and rebounding, but when the stakes were highest, Hodge delivered.

In Beijing, he stroked the men’s four to glory, and then four years later on the lake of Eton Dorney, in front of a partisan home crowd, he repeated the feat, falling back into a team-mate’s arms as they crossed the line.

Rio was different. The first serious signs of stress on a body approaching late thirties and a serious bout of glandular fever laid him low for the best part of a year, and Hodge began thinking seriously about life outside rowing.

London calling: With one gold medal already in his pocket from Beijing, Andrew Triggs Hodge was happy to promote the London 2012 Olympics, above, where he was part of the mens four which retained their title before landing a hat-trick in Rio (Picture: prshots.com)

London calling: With one gold medal already in his pocket from Beijing, Andrew Triggs Hodge was happy to promote the London 2012 Olympics, above, where he was part of the mens four which retained their title before landing a hat-trick in Rio (Picture: prshots.com)

“That period was effectively my first step into retirement,” he says now. “I was prepared to not make Rio – to give it a go but fail.

“I almost feel as though I cheated the system by coming back for a year, getting into this amazing crew and getting another gold medal.”

Given the turmoil of his last cycle, does that make Rio his finest hour – or is his first gold in Beijing or the one in front of friends and family in London the memory he treasures most?

Hodge pauses. “I can’t split the Olympics, the three golds are all equal,” he eventually says.

“My proudest moments are around the national trials. If you track my trials results you can probably track my attitude throughout my career.

“It’s not that I was happy because I was winning, it was that I was winning because I was happy. I was winning because I was motivated and in a position to control what was going on and be a driving force.

“There’s a lot that went into those trials wins but they’re ones that give me a lot of pride.”

Hodge’s wife, Eeke, a former rower herself with her native Netherlands, thinks he can go on to Tokyo but Hodge knows enough is enough.

The London to Rio cycle, as eventful as it was on and off the water, also brought with it two children, the second born just two months after his final gold.

He also has a full-time job now in London, putting his degree in environmental science and masters qualification in water science to good use as part of the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, in which he is part of a team helping release the tidal Thames of 60 million tonnes of raw sewage.

Those countless hours spent on the water at Caversham Lake in Berkshire – bursting every sinew to be better than he had been the day before – have now become hours spent in a shirt and tie, trying to improve the environment for Londoners.

“It’s not like I’ve quit everything,” he says. “I’m still an ambitious guy who looks at the challenges and gets more out of life than I thought I could do.

“This new job is the same mentality, all I’ve done is replace rowing for a desk job.

“I’ll give as much the next four years as I have done the last four years and the four years before that. You can achieve in so many different areas of life, you don’t have to be an Olympian to have that sense of pride. That’s where my head is at now, I’ve got my next Olympiad and I’m going to be part of something great.”

That is where Hodge is happiest; a vital part of the team who fades into the background.

With three Olympic gold medals, this young man who spent his childhood and adolescent years in Hebden near Grassington, finishes his career only one Olympic title behind Sir Matthew Pinsent and two behind Sir Steve Redgrave.

Both are well-known figures, but Hodge never courted such notoriety. “I never really see myself as a household name, I’m not commercially minded like that,” he continues. “I’m a rower first, and a public figure second.

“When I started, Redgrave and Pinsent were people I looked up to and thought ‘I’ll never be an Olympic champion like they are’.”

Through an unbreakable desire to succeed he became one, three times over, which should fill him with pride as he sets out on the next phase of his life.