Ambition still burns bright within Hodge

Great Britain rower Andy Triggs Hodge
Great Britain rower Andy Triggs Hodge
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With two Olympic titles and a boatful of world championship treasure to his name, Andrew Triggs Hodge would be forgiven for thinking he had seen it all in the sport he has graced for more than a decade.

He has had enough moments of sheer joy and utter desolation to last a lifetime, yet when he sits in the men’s coxless four at the European Championships in Serbia next week, he will do so with a new incentive and a new sense of purpose.

For Hodge, one of sport’s deepest thinkers, has recently become a father, a life-changing event for anyone, but for one who analyses his every training session and performance to the nth degree, it has offered fresh perspective.

When he sits in a new-look four in Belgrade in the heats on Friday, the latest regatta on the journey to what would be a fourth Olympics for the Hebden-raised oarsman, he will do so emboldened by his greater responsibility.

He is also chasing what even at the age of 35, and with a cv as honour-laden as his, would be a first European title.

Considering he took time after winning a second Olympic title at London before recommitting his future in the sport, this is all virgin territory for one of the county’s most driven sportsmen.

“Fatherhood is absolutely amazing,” says Hodge, just days before being named in Great Britain’s coxless four alongside Alex Gregory, George Nash and Mo Sbihi.

“Sebastian, our six-month-old son, is a pure joy, a real smiley little boy.

“You come home and any troubles you have on the water melt away when you hold him in your arms.

“In that respect I’m bowled over. Ideally, sometimes you’d wish you had less to do and weren’t getting woken up at 1am when he wants milk, but that’s the richness of life.

“Sitting there at 1am when he looks at you like there’s 
no one else in the world is such a wonderful moment and it’s almost like, screw rowing, this is now such a wonderful part of my life.

“Everything at the moment seems to be a joy and I’m in a very good place.”

The notion to ‘screw rowing’ is only fleeting.

Any doubts are restricted to a bleary-eyed feed, for despite a back injury at the time of the birth of his son further muddying the rowing waters, Hodge is now back at the forefront of the British team and rowing as strongly as ever.

Fatherhood may have changed him, but when he takes his seat in that boat it is the old Hodge who comes to the fore.

“When I go out to race am I doing it for Seb?” he questions himself. “Probably not. The essence of what I’m trying to achieve on the water is still selfish, it still rests solely on my shoulders.

“The effects of the results of that do have implications on my family. If I fail in rowing then I’m not going to get sponsored and I’m not going to be able to bring any money in. They’re longer-term questions of how long I keep going.

“When I’m on the water for a race I still have that clarity or focus about what I need to do to perform. That’s always been the way, all the pressures to perform are solely about me and on me.

“Do I have control? That’s basically the key. If it rested on Seb to give me motivation then that’s a motivation he can’t take on his shoulders and I wouldn’t want that.

“I have to perform as well as I can and that rests solely on my shoulders, but of course the implication has a massive effect on my family and also how long I can keep going in this sport and how long I can keep supporting my family.”

Hodge still cannot put a time on when he will hang up his oar for good.

He jokes about following in the strokes of British Olympic legends Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave, who won four and five gold medals respectively, but even matching Pinsent’s haul would take Hodge up to the age of 39 and the Tokyo Games of 2020.

“At the back of my mind Rio is the last Olympics I’ll probably do,” continues Hodge, “But every now and again if everything’s going well and the boat’s singing along nicely then I start to think Pinsent did four, Redgrave did five, am I really that bad?

“It’s the dreaded athlete’s conundrum of when do you actually retire? The question is always there but for now I’m happy to give my all until Rio and that my all is good enough.

“The hunger’s still there.”

That final line says everything. Hodge might be a father now, racing towards middle age with a creaking back, but his insatiable appetite for success is as strong now as it was 10 years ago, when he was coming out of the Athens Olympics chastened and humiliated by the men’s eight’s failure to reach the final.

A world title in the eight in Korea last year exorcised those demons somewhat, but 2014 begins next week in the familiar surrounds of the coxless four, the boat he stroked to Olympic glory in Beijing and London.

Jurgen Grobler, British Rowing’s Sir Alex Ferguson since the early Nineties, has shuffled his pack for the Europeans with August’s world championships in the Netherlands the primary aim of the season.

Hodge has been placed in the four with Grobler – a leader whose word is law to Hodge – yet to determine which of the eight or the four is Britain’s strongest boat at the summer’s worlds.

“The eight was a new angle to an old challenge,” says Hodge who lives with his family in Oxford. “Whether it’s an eight, four or a pair, it’s generally going to be a new boat and new personnel to get used to so the challenge is always there, just as it had been for the last 12 years.

“Jurgen has got a lot of talent and there’s great depth in the squad. Everyone is eager to make their mark and get another world title.

“I love the four, it’s a great boat to be in. It’s a bit like going to what you know. It’s like my happy place.

“The guys I’m with have all proven themselves independently. It’s actually the best start to a four project I’ve been in, it really does have a lot of potential this boat, so I’m excited.

“But I said the same about the eight last year. That took a while to bed in but once it did we were flying.

“I’m open to being in any boat for Rio, I wouldn’t put my name on a seat.

“The depth of the squad is so strong that we won’t be losing anything by rowing in an eight. Jurgen’s got a hand of aces.”

Before chasing what would be a fourth world title, Hodge has his his sights fixed firmly on a first continental title in Serbia this week.

“It’s going to feel different to a World Cup, but to be a European champion and make your mark is something good to have,” says Hodge, who despite his vast experience, insists he is no more important a cog than any of his fellow oarsmen.

“I still feel I’ve got as much to learn as anybody,” he laughs.

“It’s important that we have contributions from everybody and not just one or two, and I’m happy to sit in with the rest of the crew and make sure we’re all on the same page.

“A fresh pair of eyes on the situation is as important as those of an old has-been like me.”

Life and times of Andy Hodge...

1979: Born, March 3, in Buckinghamshire.

1980: Moves to Grassington near Hebden with family and is educated at Burnsall Primary and Upper Wharfedale schools.

1997: Takes up at rowing at Staffordshire University.

2005: Takes part in University Boat Race for Oxford and wins first world title in the coxless four.

2008: Wins Olympic gold in coxless four.

2012: After three world silvers in the pair, returns to four to win gold at London 2012.

2013: Vows to carry on rowing and wins world gold in the eight.