It’s amazing what you find in the garden shed. Tom George went into his and came out with British rowing’s most prestigious record.
In the dusty shed at the bottom of his parents’ garden in the Cotswolds, George broke a storied indoor 2km record previously held by Olympic champions Matthew Pinsent and Moe Sbihi.
The only audience for his lung-busting lockdown efforts are a farmer and his dog in the next field and the odd delivery driver, leaving him to reflect on an incredible feat of self-motivation.
“I’ve felt in good shape during lockdown and I’ve gradually started to feel in the region of that record,” said the 25-year-old.
“I texted Moe in the morning - I text him before and after every session. He said ‘I’m going try for the record’ and that made my mind up. I wanted to try it.
“Every now and again the farmer drives by and gives me a wave but other than that I’m on my own.
“It’s not the same as doing it surrounded by your team-mates but I’m massively thrilled to do it and very happy.
“This might be my little gold medal for this year. Everything I've done in rowing has been to try and win at the Olympic Games and this is another stepping stone in that process.
“After I got the record, I walked back into the house. My mum and dad asked me how it went, I said ‘fine’ and ran upstairs to have a shower. I didn’t know what to say.
“When I came downstairs I realised I’d probably have to sit them down and tell them. They just went ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and then I took the dog out.”
George, a regular in the bow of the eight in the Tokyo Olympiad, rowed 2km on the erg machine in 5:39.6 and became the first Brit to ever break the 5:40 barrier.
Sbihi clocked 5:40 in 2015, breaking four-time Olympic gold medallist Pinsent’s 11-year record. The world record stands at 5:35.8 and belongs to Australia’s Josh Dunkley-Smith.
It takes something to move Jurgen Grobler but the German called to congratulate George and even gave him permission to have a beer in the evening to celebrate.
“Normally when we do these tests there are 40 guys in a room at Caversham screaming at you,” George said.
“During lockdown we’ve had to dig deeper rather than relying on energy around you and drag the performances out of ourselves.
“Getting myself into this shape is driven by the other guys around me. We talk on Zoom quite a lot and have WhatsApp groups where we share our performances.
“There are days when you don't feel great and someone will submit their score on WhatsApp and it holds yourself accountable for letting others down.
“We've created an environment where we push each other on, even though we're not physically there together at Caversham. It’s awesome.”
The Princeton University graduate is a key cog in an inexperienced British sweep squad and helped the eight win world bronze and one of only seven available quota places for Team GB in 2019.
Whereas more than a dozen Olympians stayed on from London 2012 to Rio 2016, only Sbihi and Will Satch remain after Tom Ransley’s recent retirement.
George was nine when he watched the four win gold at Athens 2004 and with a Pinsent-owned record now to his name, he will walk a little taller in Tokyo.
“Moe is the face of the boat and the rest of us are young guys working hard to improve,” he said.
“We've been raw and haven't performed. But we've learnt quickly and we've put ourselves in a position to handle the pressures.
“The team has been incredibly successful and you want to follow in those footsteps. You're aware you the next step in that lineage is yours and there is an expectation.
“I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, you have to demand the best of yourself.
“When you look back in a few years’ time, I want to be one of those people.”