Following medal success on each of his two Olympic appearances to-date; Mohamed Sbihi’s Tokyo-tilt was supposed to be about proving his worth to himself.
The 33-year-old shelved plans to hang up his oar in the wake of the Games’ postponement last year, with hopes of emulating London 2012 bronze and Rio 2016 gold in the eight and coxless four events, respectively.
Having dedicated those gongs to his parents and wife Rachael, this time was about winning for himself until the arrival of son Idris seven months ago sparked a change in his perspective.
Juggling training with the demands of a new-born during a global pandemic was not without its challenges, but Sbihi has put everything on the line in a bid to bring back gold for his young family.
“My perspective has changed – it’s become a lot more tired,” joked Sbihi.
“Before Idris was born my biggest stress outside of rowing was cooking dinner. Now everything I do is revolved around him, but knowing I am going back to that does make a hard day’s rowing a lot easier.
“At the start of the Tokyo 2020 cycle I wanted to prove I could do it myself, but now it’s more about being successful for Idris. He won’t remember it, but if I became an Olympic champion while he’s alive that’d be pretty cool.”
Fellow Olympic champion rower Helen Glover made her return to the water earlier this year following a break to have children, and Sbihi has sought her advice on how to juggle both commitments wherever possible.
He said: “It’s been hard to speak to Helen regularly because we’ve been in separate bubbles, but we agreed that you start smelling your child’s poo everywhere after a while – even on your kit!
“It’s not really there and it’s probably a sign that you’ve been hanging around your kids’ nappies too long when you can’t get the smell out of your head!
“What she’s done in terms of coming back to the sport after four years is incredible. I think it’s easier as a dad because young children are so dependent on their mums, and I have so much respect for her.”
With the Games under two months away, Sbihi faces the prospect of an extended period away from his son and he acknowledges he will miss several milestones as Idris continues to grow at a rapid rate.
But he also accepts the sacrifices he must make as an elite athlete gunning for Olympic gold and has no doubts Rachael will keep him up to date with a swathe of photos and videos.
“As much as lockdown has been tough, the real test will come when I have to go away and leave Rach to look after him on her own,” said Sbihi, who is also a three-time world champion.
“I know there are a lot of people in worse situations than us, but it will be hard on her, and me because I know he will change while I’m gone - he’ll grow and he’ll learn new skills.
“But we knew this was part of the process and I have just got to go out there and do my best to win another medal, which is what Rach has supported me to do over the last 12 years.
“We’ll be on FaceTime regularly and stay in touch, and with the time difference Idris might actually help us out if he fancies a night feed!”
Plans to fly out friends and family members – including Rachael and Idris – had to be abandoned in the wake of Covid-19, but Sbihi is confident a lack of home support will not impact GB’s medal chances in Japan.
A strong start to the season has seen the Maidenhead-based star pick up European and World Rowing Cup gold as part of the men’s eight already this year, with victory in the latter coming down to the final stroke in Lucerne, Switzerland.
He added: “In an ideal world I’d have my loved ones there, but strictly as a rower, not having crowds doesn’t change a great deal. The Olympics is the peak competition but for most of the international races on the calendar the crowds are minimal anyway.
“We know there’ll be huge support for us back home and as it stands, we’ve put ourselves in the best possible position to attack the next few weeks and really go for gold.
“Although we know we still have a lot to do, coming away with those wins was a huge confidence boost – especially beating Germany who have dominated in the eight at the worlds since Rio.
“They’re still the lead boat as far as I see it though and they’ll be desperate to put that loss right in Tokyo. It’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.”