Thursday 23 September 2021

How To Be An Olympian by Harry Reardon BLOG TOUR @rsreardon @unbounders #HowToBeAnOlympian #BookExtract


Hannah Dines and Jess Leyden are two perfectly normal, brilliant women. One, a world record-holding athlete and a Paralympian on the trike. The other, a multiple age-group world champion and one of the most promising rowers Great Britain has to offer.

In the five years (yes, that’s right) between Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, they will face cancer scares, crushing defeats, and the biggest global health crisis in a century. They will get dropped, they will get injured, and they will win medals. They will spend the best years of their lives knowing that at any moment, it could all come crashing down. That all the training, all the sacrifice could be in vain, wasted effort as a pandemic raged. That maybe these could be the years that will shape their finest hour – or that maybe, after everything that they’ve been through, it could all still be snatched away at the last… 

How To Be An Olympian by Harry Reardon was published on 16 September 2021 by Unbound.
As part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour, I am delighted to share an extract from the book with you. 

Extract from 
How To Be An Olympian by Harry Reardon

First up, a hop over the North Sea to Rotterdam, and the under-23 World Championships. Since the quad missed out on Rio, the coaches have been lining Jess up for a double with the other stand-out sculling prospect in the British women's squad, Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne. It's a boat, though, that has no history and very possibly no future, however well they perform. It's not nothing, of course – it'll keep them in shape, it might well earn them a medal. But it's been cobbled together at short notice essentially to give them both something to do, and age-group racing in the September of an Olympic year is not why either of them got into the sport.

For Jess and Mathilda, what the next few months are really about is getting in the best possible shape for trials – the series of head-to-head races, time trials and rowing machine tests which runs between November and April each year, punctuating the punishing winter-to-spring training programme. It's a gruelling experience, which will officially form the basis for crew selections for next season and in practice quite probably beyond; in fact, it's fair to say that what happens at the upcoming final assessment, in April next year, could end up defining the whole Olympic cycle. Which makes it important, obviously, even if you can't think of it like that.

“Sometimes people –” begins Jess, and she names no names, but that's not the point, this could be anyone, any sport, any cycle, any country – “sometimes people get really caught up in trials, and trying to be the best person in the country. Whereas actually, day-to-day training as a team, you should be thinking about beating the world. That's the team I want to be part of, a strong team that wants to beat the world and not just each other, that shouts to each other to get better, but that supports each other, and doesn't tear each other down. Because you'd rather miss out on a team that's winning a gold medal than be in a team that comes last.”

Team dynamics. At the very top level, a huge amount of sport is about how to get people working together, and it's a tricky business. For one thing, assuming Jess makes it into a boat this time around, it's going to be completely different to the one that missed out on Rio, not least because over the next few weeks, half of the old crew will quit the squad – Ro to try her hand at cycling, Tina to turn her back on professional sport entirely and join Deloitte. So if there is going to be a return to the quad, and Jess admits to a feeling of unfinished business, there will need to be new team mates, new relationships. The only one left from the Rio cycle that she could be racing alongside is Holly Nixon, and the two of them haven't always seen eye-to-eye.

“When we first came onto the team together, we didn't really trust each other,” says Jess. “I think Holly had a few issues outside of training that she was trying to work through, but she was quite closed about those, and so came across to me as weak-minded. And with my personality, I'm a bit of a bull in a china shop.” But then British Rowing brought in someone from one of those companies that do team insight profiles, the upshot of which was everyone on the squad being assigned colours to represent their personalities. Holly came out as Earth Green, Jess was a Fiery Red, and just like that, it started to make a bit more sense. So now when Jess blurts out something critical, Holly knows that she's not doing it to upset her, and when Holly is acting all sensitive and over-thinking things, it's not because she wants to piss Jess off. It's anyone's guess how that will play out in the long term if they end up back in a boat together, but for now it's great, it's lovely, it's the end of Cool Runnings and it's Junior and Yul and 'This doesn't mean that I like you.' Holly helps Jess rein herself in, and if Jess really believes in what she's saying, she'll explain why and they'll talk it through, and now Holly's one of the closest friends Jess has got.

Harry Reardon is a qualified lawyer who, at the age of thirty-one, left the law completely to train as a sports journalist. He now works in the civil service. He lives in a small village outside Winchester with his wife and their two young children.

Twitter @hsreardon

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