Jefferies relishing Olympic opportunity

27 July 2012 / 19:05

Richard Jefferies has targeted a place in the final as he prepared to complete his fast-track journey from "not being able to get in a boat" to competing in the Olympic sprint canoe competition.

Five years ago, Jefferies had banished any thought of competing in professional sport, let alone in the London Games. A talented 800 metre runner as a youngster, a county-level basketball player and an amateur rugby player, he was undoubtedly talented but had never managed to forge a professional career in any discipline.

At 20, in his first year at Loughborough University studying sport science, a behind-the-scenes sporting career loomed, rather than taking centre stage himself. It was then his twin brother Ben saw an advert in his local gym for the Sporting Giants scheme, a UK Sport initiative looking to turn talented sportsmen and women into Olympians.

At 6ft 3ins, and weighing 100kg, Jefferies was the perfect applicant, but his initial hopes of making the rowing team were dashed. With some 4,000 applicants across the board, the team found themselves over-subscribed, but impressed by his performance in the tests, they passed Jefferies' file on to the canoeists.

"The rowers said you had to be a minimum of 6ft 5ins because they had so many applicants but canoeing got hold of my statistics and asked me to try out," he said.

"There were 60 of us to start, and that got whittled down to 10 and then there was three. I was just above the level of the other two guys, who were looking to Rio but understandably they didn't want to commit to 2016. It's quite hard when you are at the lower level to get the funding."

Fast-forward five years, and Jefferies, from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, is now competing in Men's C1 200m and C1 1000m - a discipline he compares to kneeling on a telegraph pole while paddling furiously.

He said: "The coaches have made it easy because they have given us achievable goals - from not being able to get in a boat to where I am now. I have just kept jumping through the hoops and now I am here."

"Having got into it at 20, I had grown up. I had done my A-levels and I was kind of over all that kind of thing so I have had a big advantage compared to a lot of people who have grown up through their teens competing at a high level.

"I plan to go back to university before Rio because I gave up after my first year. I wanted to be fully committed, to give everything that I could to achieve the very best that I could. I want to get in to the final, realistically, but then anything can happen."