Tanner already focused on making a splash in Rio


British Rowing Performance Director Tanner insists the blood, sweat and tears start now as preparations for Rio 2016 get underway.


By Pete Grant

THE waters may only just have settled after British Rowing’s best ever Olympic summer, but Performance Director David Tanner insists the blood, sweat and tears start now as preparations for Rio 2016 get underway.

At London 2012, Team GB built on the six-medal haul of Beijing four years ago to scoop an unprecedented nine podiums finishes, including a record four golds.

The host nation came in as overall winners, topping the rowing rankings amid jubilant scenes at Eton Dorney where every category saw a British boat in the final.

But the next chapter looms large in the shape of Rio 2016 and for both the returning heroes and emerging talent, the hard work starts now.

Appointed GB Rowing’s Senior Team Manager in 1991, 64-year-old Tanner successfully masterminded the strategy for London 2012 and the international coach of over 40 years has already drafted his ‘Road to Rio’ action plan.

Several Olympic stars have already announced plans to return. Coxless fours winners Alex Gregory and Pete Reed are already back on board and lightweight sculls champion Kat Copeland has recently pledged her future to the sport.

And Tanner is confident that no matter how many of his Olympic heroes plough on for another shot at the podium, there will be a new crop of talent vying for a place on the plane to Rio.

“The plans for Rio are well underway. I’ve been there three times and I’ve prepared my detailed four-year plan,” said Tanner, who was awarded a CBE in 2009 for services to rowing. 

“We’re still working things through with the Olympians who want to come back and those who want a bit of time out from the sport. It’s great that so many have already confirmed but we certainly have built a strong shadow group to come through.

“For instance, we took nine boats to the European Championships in September with no Olympians involved and we came back with five medals, so that’s extremely positive.

“In terms of building talent, we’re deadly serious. We’ve got a World Championships this year in Korea and we may not produce quite the number of results we did during the Olympics but we intend to build that team right through.

“The coaching team is the same as four years ago and that went extremely well. It’s a challenge but we’ve proved that we can do it.”

Tanner, who has taken charge at six consecutive Olympics, is buoyed by the huge level of interest rowing received following the uncharted success of London 2012.

British Rowing, the sport’s governing body, began their successful Start Programme in 2001 to identify and develop future Olympians, and the scheme received over 1000 applicants this year with 350 being put through their paces.

Five of London 2012’s gold medal heroes came through its ranks, including Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, GB’s first-ever female winners.

As Performance Director, Tanner knows the importance of nurturing this talent, not just with the talent-spotting programme but also by harnessing the wealth of talent in the university sector.

“There has been a massive attraction to rowing recently, and many have been inspired by our Start programme because of what Helen and Heather achieved,” added Tanner, a former secondary school headmaster.

“What was really encouraging was that 40 per cent of those coming forward were women and girls and normally it’s about 15 per cent.

“I see the importance of the university sector particularly in growing senior rowers – it’s a sleeping giant.

“At a national level, it’s all part of my Road to Rio plan, which includes a particular focus on university rowing. The athletes are always there, we just have to make sure they get involved with our sport. If we build it cleverly, it can be a catalyst for something big.

“It can also help develop the showing of top rowers from the less traditionally rowing universities, which is extremely positive.”

Among those pledging their future to rowing after London is gold-medallist Gregory, another successful product of the Start Programme.

The 28-year-old Olympic champion said he had no hesitation in making his choice and insists the massive boost in the rowing’s popularity post-games will in turn lead to more success on the water.

“It was an easy decision for me, I always wanted to push on for the next challenge,” said the 28-year-old, who took the top spot in the coxless fours in his debut Olympics after narrowly missing out on a place in the boat at Beijing.

“There’s never been a better time for British rowing. I hope we can grasp this opportunity and really put rowing on the map now it’s in the public eye.

“The real benefit this year is that success breeds success so it’ll push the standard on. It needs to happen because all the other countries won’t stand still.”

British Rowing’s Chairman Di Ellis has seen it all in her 24 years at the helm, and the 74-year-old is preparing to stand down in 2013 after overseeing Britain’s meteoric rise to Olympic dominance.

A former British rower and coach, Ellis insists that no matter what the outcome of the next Olympic challenge, GB’s finest will be at the top of their game for Rio.

“This year has been absolutely incredible,” said Ellis, awarded a CBE in 2004.

“To have all our crews in the finals was wonderful, and I’m especially proud as I’ve been waiting 36 years for that first women’s gold medal and to have three was amazing.

“I’m not so sure if I’ll be there for Rio, but whatever happens I’ll definitely be with them in spirit.

“One thing’s for sure, rowing will be ready. As it was for London, it’ll be ready to take on the world.”

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