James Cracknell ()James Cracknell () © Copyright

Been there, won that: James Cracknell

The British rower and adventurer, James Cracknell, talks Olympics, politics, and his life-threatening bike crash.

Sydney was made better because I’d missed out on Atlanta 1996 through illness. It reminds you, though, that you can’t afford to have one bad week, to make one mistake. The six minutes you’re racing for are the most important six minutes of your four years.

We were favourites in 2000, so it’s less enjoyable winning because there is more pressure – plus the lads had a gold from 1996, so if we didn’t win again, it’d basically be my fault!

The gold in 2004 was my real Olympic moment. In 2000, we had already beaten everyone, so we knew we were good enough to win. In 2004, we hadn’t raced much, so we didn’t know how good we were. We had our best row, and we did it on the day we needed to, for that gold. Our average wouldn’t have won that time out, so that was more of an Olympic moment than in 2000.

We still had the record for years after I retired. That makes it hard not to be tempted to return. That belief that ‘maybe our best is still enough to win us medals’ always keeps you tempted to get back in the boat. I didn’t stop because I was too old, I stopped because I wanted to do something else.

I rowed the Atlantic while deciding whether to go back to rowing. As it turns out, rowing 3,000 miles isn’t good motivation to go rowing again. It made me realise that the sport is sterile, though. The lake is always the same size. In the other stuff I started to do, you’re a small dot in a big landscape, so it’s much more liberating.

The Olympics is still the hardest thing I’ve done, but that’s mainly because it all comes down to one moment, and one mistake ruins everything. Some of the other things I’ve been lucky enough to do are all about battling the climate, or solving a problem. It’s not necessarily your fitness you need to work on, it’s more your common sense and your forward planning.

My wife got a call saying I might only have 24 hours to live after my bike crash in 2010. It was huge. They basically didn’t know how that first 24 hours were going to go. The hard thing since the accident has been having limits set on me by other people, but in the same way as the Olympics doesn’t define me, I refuse to let my life be dictated to by an accident either, so I won’t let it hold me back.

I’m still keen on becoming an MP. My motivation to get into it is helping people to fight, and avoid, lifestyle diseases – heart disease, diabetes, malnutrition. The best way to do that is with some democratic responsibility in Parliament.

The issue is whether people can see you doing something like that. Some people judge you and think because you were good at sport, all you can do is talk about sport and know about sport, so we’ll see how it goes.


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