30 July 2021

Team GB medallist criticises former coach as inquest begins into Olympic showing

30 July 2021

British Rowing’s Olympic Games post-mortem began in the Tokyo sunshine with bronze medal winner Josh Bugajski calling for honesty and claiming he “popped a bottle of champagne” when head coach Jurgen Grobler left last year.

Barely an hour earlier, Bugajski had helped the Great Britain men’s eight crew to a bronze medal in the rowing regatta’s final event at Sea Forest Waterway, joining forces with Jacob Dawson, Tom George, Mohamed Sbihi, Charles Elwes, Oliver Wynne-Griffith, James Rudkin and Tom Ford.

But a Games total of two medals – one silver and bronze – was the first time for 41 years that a gold medal was not among Britain’s collection for a sport that received just over £24million of UK Sport funding in the Olympic cycle.

Great Britain’s men’s eight won Olympic bronze (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

Grobler surprisingly stepped down in August 2020. He coached eight gold medal-winning British crews across seven Olympics overseeing sporting superstars like Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent.

But Bugajski did not hold back, claiming: “I will admit he is a good coach to some people.

“But there were people that he seemed to take a disliking to, and what he did to them was destroy them, destroy their soul, destroy everything. He had complete power.

“I am going to be brave and say something the crew don’t want me to say. I popped a bottle of champagne when Jurgen retired.

“I had three very dark years under him. I would be a coward not to say on behalf of the guys who are back home and didn’t make it on to the team and that got the darker side of Jurgen.

“It’s the end of an era for British rowing, but it is the start of a much better era. We’ve had six boats come fourth, on the cusp of a medal, and we’ve had two medals.

“Come Paris (in 2024) we’ve got a lot of potential, but we need to be honest about where it went wrong.”

Bugajski also questioned selection over the past few years, adding: “Selection should be the fastest people at rowing, and that should be that.

“I don’t think that has been done properly the last few years. For some people, one mediocre result was enough to put them in a boat. For some people, one mediocre result was enough to put them out of a boat, even if they had been top in everything else.

Great Britain failed to win a medal in the men’s four – an event they had dominated this millennium (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

“British Rowing won’t be happy with me saying that, but we have got to be brutally honest. We don’t improve unless we are honest with ourselves.

“I completely back free speech, I think everything we should do should be transparent. The training should be transparent. I don’t really think we’ve got anything we should be hiding.”

British Rowing performance director Brendan Purcell said he “could not speak for Josh” as he faced media after the final race and explained the reasoning behind Grobler’s departure.

“It’s no secret we are a programme in transition,” he said

“We were talking with Jurgen about this is how we are moving forward and this is what we’ve got to do. During the pandemic after he got the guys into that space, he took his time and decided it was the right time to move on.

Performance director Brendan Purcell (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)

“The reality is, a performance environment needs to achieve exceptional performances and for people to explore their limits. It needs a balance between support and challenge.

“Some people thrive on challenge every day, some people don’t. One of the things we have to get a bit better at is that we didn’t always get that balance quite right. I can’t speak for Josh, because I am not in his shoes.

“It has been a massive transition for everyone. I think we still had two-to-four medal shots, and the performances were a step on with fourth places that were challenging for medals.

“We need to ask ourselves tough questions. We had a four-medal target, we didn’t meet that target. We didn’t meet our own expectations – we can’t hide from that.

“UK Sport will be sitting down with us pretty soon, I am sure, because we didn’t meet our target. We are accountable to that funding, and I won’t be sleeping well until we get back on top of things.”

The Tokyo aftermath looks set to be long and detailed.

James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent won Olympic gold with Great Britain (Phil Noble/PA) (PA Archive)

Double Olympic champion James Cracknell told the BBC: “We got three gold, two silver in Rio. We come away from Tokyo, £24m of investment in British rowing, with one silver and one bronze.

“At a time when the national budget is under pressure from so many different areas, is that a good return on investment?”

Pinsent believes the inquest must focus on the governing body, saying: “We can’t escape the fact the British team haven’t performed the way that we have in the last five, six editions of the Olympic Games.

“I will be talking to the performance director, Brendan Purcell, before the end of the day and I will be interested to see how he responds to these questions as well, because ultimately the performance of the British team is his job.”

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