The Oxford Blue and Olympic gold medallist Andy Hodge tells John Garth how rowing and university gave him self-belief.
Oxford Today congratulates Andrew Triggs Hodge MBE (St Catherines, 2004) on his gold medal in the men's coxless fours on Saturday, August 4. Andy led the four man crew to victory over Australia in the stroke position, much as he stroked the Oxford boat to victory in the 2005 boat race against Cambridge.
The London 2012 action unfolded on the remarkable day when Britain achieved six gold medals including Jessica Ennis' gold in the heptathlon, and Mo Farah's gold in the men's 10,000 metres. Andy, meanwhile, was defending the gold he achieved in the same event in Beijing four years ago.
We caught up with Andy before final selections for the rowing were made, to discuss the influence Oxford had on him. What follows is based on that interview, although obviously it doesn't reflect Andy's latest achievement. Following Saturday, he sent out a single tweet:"Thank you. Thank you for all the support. I am nothing without everyone around me."
Why did you apply to Oxford?
I never flourished academically until I started rowing at Staffordshire University. I graduated in 2000 with a 2:1 in Environmental Science, something I’d never thought possible. I joined a London boat club and after two years I was able to quit work and be funded by the National Lottery. I went on to the World Championships in 2002 and the 2004 Athens Olympics. Halfway through the pre-Olympic year a friend, Boat Race rower Robin Bourne-Taylor, suggested I apply for a postgrad at Oxford. At first I didn’t take him seriously, but having seen what I’d achieved over the last four years, I thought there was nothing to lose. There was a pull from the rowing at Oxford, but there was also a chance to prove myself academically.
What was your MSc topic?
Water Science, Policy and Management, which had just been founded by Rachel Macdonald, a Fellow of St John’s. She’s a natural over-achiever and hugely inspirational. She wanted to train people with a new view to the industry, giving new opportunities. I’ve had a natural affinity for water for as long as I can remember. And while at Oxford I studied alongside some very inspiring people. The course opened my eyes to a new world and way of thinking.
How did you balance sport with study?
I had a girlfriend in London but my Oxford life was split 50–50. The training programme forced us to prioritise, to be very organised. We couldn’t go out socialising like most of the students. It definitely made me a better person. Healthy body, healthy mind – it’s an old saying, but it really applies. Having a balanced approach to life is very important, and at any level of sport or academia.
How was the 2005 Boat Race?
Our coach, Sean Bowden, gave us the confidence to solve problems, work better as a team and go as fast as we could. Everyone at Oxford has a certain amount of confidence – some might call it arrogance, but there’s been a lot of work put into it. People were calling Cambridge the best crew they’d ever seen, but we knew what we could do and we performed at our absolute best. It was serious elation crossing the line.
Did you enjoy Oxford?
Enormously. So much so that I live here now with my wife, a doctor at the John Radcliffe, in the house I rented as a student, which I later bought. At the end of my MSc, I had to make the decision between rowing or moving into the water industry. It was a tough decision and I long to get back into it. But I had the prospect of Beijing 2008, the first Olympics when I had a realistic medal chance. If I stopped training I would lose this opportunity. I’m now training for London 2012, and something very few athletes will have a chance to do, that is to complete at a home Olympics. It’s such a unique fluke of an opportunity that it’s crazy to think about giving it up. We have our final trials in March–April.
What did you take away from Oxford?
Before, I used to put myself in quite a small box, but now I have the guts to walk through more doors in my life than I ever thought possible. After Oxford, I was paired with fellow blue, Pete Reed. Since then we’ve been together as a unit, building on the strengths from the start at Oxford.
How do you think of Oxford now?
I’ve got huge respect for the work ethic here and how people achieve more than they think they are capable of. I think the standards it promotes are essential for keeping Britain at the forefront. I’m honoured to be part of that.