Representing your country at the Olympics is the pinnacle of any sportsperson’s career, and an athlete sacrifices a lot to make the dream come true. Sometimes, those dreams come so close, but don’t materialise due to circumstances beyond their control.
This is the story of 31 year-old British rower Matthew Tarrant, who has been to the Olympics at Rio in 2016, as well as, Tokyo in 2021, but each time he made the team as a spare.
Tarrant started rowing in 2005, at the age of 15, when a family friend suggested he give the sport a try after trying his hand at rugby, swimming, tennis and football. He quickly realised he was good at rowing and decided to focus on it. Within two years, he was representing Team GB at the Junior World Championships and since then, Tarrant has represented GB at rowing every year.
When asked about both the Olympics, and missing out on which one hurt more, he said: “In 2016, it was easier to accept than this time around. The first time I was quite new to the team and I was seen as one of the newbies. A lot of the guys in the team had been to the Beijing Olympics and the London Olympics. I hadn’t been to any of them. I’d won the under 23 World Championships in 2012. So I had done stuff, but I guess, on a development level, because I hadn’t yet done it.
“That being said, I had represented GB at the senior world championship in my first three years in the team and I missed out on racing at the Rio Olympics by 0.2 of a second.
“But then this time around, this Olympiad, I had won quite a lot of the trials. I’ve been in the top boat every year, and then unfortunately, I had a blood clot in my leg in January, just before COVID hit the world. That took me out of a boat for three months. I managed to get back with a couple of days spare before our Olympic trial. That didn’t go very well and the coach didn’t really give me the benefit of the doubt, I guess.”
Looking back at the collective team disappointment at the Tokyo Olympics, the worst ever medal return from the Team GB rowing team, was mainly due to a lack of experience, according to Tarrant.
He said: “We went from a team of 90% returning olympians in 2016 to a team with 90% development athletes in 2021. So even when Jurgen Grobler (former coach) was here, it was about trying to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the athletes coming through and which boats suit them and how to get the best out of them.
“We spent four years trying to build a team and I think leading into the Olympics, we were expecting better. It wasn’t a good olympics for us by any means but there’s a lot of stuff said in the media about it being like this because Jurgen had left but I don’t think it was. The training routine was pretty much the same, and the results were pretty much the same as the last three years, but basically we didn’t step up to the task and that was due to inexperience, in my opinion.”
Since the Tokyo Olympics, Tarrant has been considering his options for the future. He has a YouTube channel, which gives viewers a behind-the-scenes perspective on what it takes to be an elite athlete. Apart from that, he also owns his own company RowElite, which coaches young athletes aspiring to make the top of the sport through tailored plans, as well as, online and in-person coaching. But this decision has become more difficult, especially after ending this season with a gold medal at the Henley Royal Regatta with teammate Morgan Bolding.
Tarrant said: “The last two weeks have been really well with Morgan. So I suppose that decision is now a little bit harder. So a bigger half of me is leaning towards moving away from the sport.
“But I’ve got a good couple of months, I think I’ve got till December, January time before I have to make a solid decision. So I’m sort of taking my time, having some time away from everything just to clear my mind and think everything through really.”
Analysing his career so far, Tarrant adds that he has given his everything to the sport, maintained discipline, and sacrificed a lot of social events with friends and family to represent his country and it’s something he would never change.
Finally, he does admit that retiring from rowing will give him more time and freedom to work on his other projects, something that was restricted since the time he has been involved with British Rowing. But that’s just in addition to the fact that he is unsure if his body can last the intensity of competitive rowing for three more years, until the next olympic games.
He added: “Rowing has been my life for my entire adult life and sort of towards the end of my teens. So I don’t really know life outside of it. But you know, I just fancied it a little bit of a change.
“I don’t know if my body can last another three years. I’ve got lots of niggles and aches and pains that never seem to go away. But it’s, it’s bittersweet, because sporting wise, I’m in a good place. But I guess, mentally wise, I sort of already made my mind up.”