Jack Beaumont (on the left) is a British rower who represented Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Jack has won multiple medals at World and European Championships throughout his career so far. In this interview, Jack shares his journey to the Olympic final, his views on planning for life after sport, developing a positive mindset, and his views on showcasing rowing as a sport for everybody.
Q: What inspired you to start rowing?
A: My dad inspired me to take up rowing. He represented Great Britain in the Olympics in 1988 and finished in fourth place. I always thought that it was cool that my dad was an Olympian. He took me down to Maidenhead Rowing Club, and the rest is history!
Q: How did your rowing journey progress during your time at Maidenhead Rowing Club?
A: To begin with, rowing was purely a hobby. I was training once to twice a week with my mates, to try and win at local competitions. Unfortunately, the wins did not come around often. I lost a lot more than I won, and even lost to several girls teams!
I loved spending time at the rowing club, so I ended up spending a lot of time there. As a teenager, life got overwhelming at times, and I saw the club as a place where I felt happy. With all of this time spent on the river, I started to get quite good. I found the rowing machine to be a great way of relieving my teenage angst. I was progressing really quickly, and when I turned fifteen I had a chance to trial for the Great Britain junior team. I was very proud to be selected for two junior world championships, the experience of which inspired me to aim for the Olympic team.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome during your career?
A: My biggest challenge was a significant injury I had in the summer of 2015, exactly a year before the Rio Olympics. Training was going fantastically for me. I was 21 years old, I just became a full-time athlete, and I was improving at a rate of knots. I was on a training camp in Portugal, and had a head on collision with another boat. The boat hit my back and resulted in several fractured bones in my spine. I had to spend a week immobilised in a Portuguese hospital. During my stint in hospital, I had no idea whether I would be able to row again or even if I would walk again.
I went through four months of intensive rehabilitation which left me with eight months of training before the Olympics. Although the odds did not look good, I never considered giving up. The target of the Olympic Games had was still the same. I threw myself at the rehab training, pushing myself on the bike, in the pool and in the gym. It was not an easy time. I was playing catch-up with my teammates who seemed to be on the direct road to the Olympics, whilst I was taking the windy country route to even get back into a boat.
During this tough time, my family were great. My parents, step parents and grandparents have always been so supportive of my career, and their support made an enormous difference.
Q: As well as a prestigious sporting career, you also have an undergraduate degree in Criminology from Birkbeck, University of London. Where did the inspiration come from to study in higher education?
A: My school really supported high performance sport, and also strongly encouraged us to have a ‘Plan B’. One of the teachers used an analogy that elite sport was a mountain, and the peak of the mountain is your pinnacle. You work so hard climbing the mountain, but you have to have a plan of how you will come down the mountain afterwards. In context, you have got to plan for your life after sport. Even now I have not have not worked out exactly what my life after sport will look like, but I know I cannot row forever.
I saw getting a degree as an opportunity to develop transferable skills. Being a semi-professional athlete at the time, part funded by the National Lottery, I was still working part time alongside my training. In order to get a degree as well, I had to look at options for part time study. Birkbeck was great for me, as they teach between 6 and 9 in the evening. Studying there allowed me to fit in all of the things that were important to me, even if it did mean long days of leaving the house at 7am for training, and not returning until 11pm after uni!
Q: What influenced you to study criminology and does any of what you learned help you in your rowing career?
A: In terms of criminology, it happened to be a subject that was a perfect fit for my schedule. I had planned to study Biology, but with my full time training and part time work, I didn’t have time for all of the time I would have to spend in a lab. Criminology had a lot more self study that I could do at home, and being on training camps was less of an issue. Before I started criminology, I did not have any massive passion for the subject, I was interested, but doing the course was a means to an end. However, I found that as I completed the course, I developed a real passion interest for it. I was especially interested in drug laws, and the policy which surrounds them. The other area which I focussed on was prison reform.
The course does not necessarily enhance my knowledge around rowing. But it did give me something else in life to focus on away from my primary responsibility. It is essential to have different focuses to ensure your mind has a healthy balance which is crucial for anyone.
Q: While you have committed so much time to become a professional athlete, how important is it for you to think about alternative options to pursue after a life of professional sport?
A: It is fundamental to have a plan B as we are not always in control of our lives. An example being my injury as I was remarkably close to never rowing again. At that moment, I was happy that I had something else to focus on in my life. I am not saying you should not put 100% into your sport, but it is important that athletes develop other parts of their life as well. We are more than just our sporting results.
Q: In 2016, when you got the call that you would be going to the Rio 2016 Olympics, what thoughts, emotions and feelings were going through your mind?
A: I had not been picked for the Olympics, and I was really disappointed as I believed I was good enough. I did not perform well enough at the trials, but I felt as though the trials came through too soon after my injury, and I hadn’t had enough time to get back into top shape. I was chosen as a spare, and my job was to support the Olympic team. I went on camps with them, and replaced anyone who was sick or injured for a session. On the last day before they flew to Rio I was still substituting an athlete who had back pain. After training that day, I wished the guys good luck but deep down, I wanted to hop on that plane with them. They all thanked me for being a great spare. I felt so lonely when I was driving back home that day. All of my best mates were off to live their dream that they had worked so hard to achieve, and I wanted to go with them, even just to support. I am not ashamed to say I shed a tear that afternoon.
Two days later, the performance director at British Rowing phoned me. He told me that one of our rowers had come down with a sickness, and they needed me to get to Rio as soon as possible to cover for him. It was a strange time, as I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone what was happening. It felt so surreal, but became real when boarding the flight and the first two people I saw were Andy Murray and Chris Froome. That was when it kicked in that I realised, “wow, this is the Olympics”.
During the flight my mind was torn. I did not want to get my hopes up, as I had not been told that I would be competing. Also from a team perspective, I wanted Graeme to be in the best health possible to ensure the Team perform to their best. But of course there was a selfish part of me that was desperately hoping for my own opportunity.
When I arrived at the team hotel, the performance director sat down and told me Graeme was being withdrawn and that I would be selected for the Olympic games. I was eating my dinner and my hands were shaking. It was overwhelming! I was going to be competing at the Olympics which was my dream! I had conflicting views in my head though, as I would have preferred to have been chosen on merit instead of being chosen as a substitute due to one of my team mates misfortune.
Whilst being excited to become an Olympian, I was heartbroken for Graeme. I remember calling my dad, and I was so upset because I knew Graeme was somewhere in the same hotel and would have recently heard the same news, and would be devastated. My dad told me ‘Jack, there are three other people in that boat, of course, it’s awful for Graeme, but they have the most significant event of your lives coming up and you must do your best for them’.
Q: How did you feel this experience impacted your mindset? As you are at the Rio Olympics, the biggest stage of the sport. What did you want to happen next?
A: Well, if you are a part of Team GB you’re not there just to take part, you’re there to try and win a gold medal. That was the target, and it always will be. We also knew we were up against it as we only had four days to train together, when most teams have four years! We gave it our best shot, and were very proud to qualify for the final. I remember waking up on the day of the Olympic final and thinking that on that day, in around six minutes, I could win everything I’ve ever dreamed of and that I’ve worked so hard for. It was an exciting thought!
Other than that, the race at the Olympic games compared to any other race is not hugely different. There are six lanes, each two thousand metres long, and those lanes are full of others who want to beat you. However, the enormity of the Olympics and the media presence certainly reminds you that there is a lot at stake.
Q: Did you experience an increase in pressure at the Olympics compared to National competitions?
A: In terms of pressure, I did not feel any different to racing at Maidenhead Regatta as a 12 year old because, at the time, that was the most significant occasion I had experienced as a rower and felt immense pressure. I think that every race is always the most important race of your career so far, so I always feel the same level of pressure and nerves.
Q: Throughout COVID-19, what advice can you give to aspiring athletes/current athletes to keep themselves in the best condition physically and mentally?
A: Our Team have been incredibly supportive and have given everyone a rowing machine to keep home. Thankfully I also live in an area where it is nice to go cycling, so I have that as an opportunity to do a different form of exercise. My timescale has been impacted enormously. I was training for Tokyo 2020 this year which has been postponed until 2021. I was expected to be rowing in a world cup in Switzerland this week. But instead I am training in a garage.
I have seen this as an opportunity, as I now have a year to get better for Tokyo 2021. I have not had the best performances over the past year, so now I have a chance to put that right. For me it is also nice to be training in a different environment. Usually I am training in national training centres, which operate quite strictly. It is refreshing to have the freedom to do things differently and to have a change of scene. I am doing more cross-training, and I am confident that I will come back as a faster rower for it.
I haven’t found it hard to stay positive. I am staying with my Dad at the moment and we have space. We have a garage and a garden and live in the countryside. I appreciate it is harder when living in a smaller environment. My first bit of advice for dealing with the lockdown is to stay in touch with your teammates. Use them to help motivate you and share training ideas. Also, see what you can get from this situation. We cannot control this situation. What we can control is how we can behave in this situation. I am trying my best to see this situation as an opportunity rather than a problem.
Q: Reflecting on your experience in professional sport, who have been the key role models to getting you where you are today?
A: My role models have always been my parents. They are great supporters, and they live their lives in an inspiring way. My teammates are my role models as well. In rowing, everyone is interdependent and plays an equal role. Rowing is not like other sports such as football where different players add different values, I see my teammates as equals. We all do the same training, in the same boat, and help each other to improve. We are competitive, but we also have a healthy level of respect for one another.
Q: When you experience failure or setbacks, what approach do you take to obtain a positive mindset? Also, how important is that mindset to achieving sporting success?
A: I recently thought about this as I have had many tough times this year when I have not performed as well as I would like. When I have a setback, I try to reflect on what I have done well. I keep my logs of training data as a resource to review my performance and critically analyse and evaluate what the trends are when I am performing well, and when I am not. My training data always shows that after my bad performances, there are also good performances. This shows the bad times are not forever. Through looking as my training diary and summaries I can pick up patterns of what works well for me. This pandemic has left me with more time on my hands which has allowed me to reflect more on my training to understand what I can be doing better.
Q: About using data to support your performance, how have you managed to deal with the responsibility to take care of your ‘media image’?
A: The Team is always supportive of this; I used to spend more time posting on social media than I do now. I often think that it is a bit artificial, and I feel most athlete’s use it to actively market their sponsors. Currently, I am using my account from a more personal standpoint with a hint of rowing which has been fun. I would rather use my platform to showcase rowing, rather than to showcase brands. I want my pages to be informative, fun, and inspiring to people interested in rowing. I would be happy to promote a brand, but only if they align with my values.
However, my lottery grant has been decreased this year, so maybe I should be focusing more on finding a sponsor! I guess it’s all about balance.
Q: Based on your development as an athlete, would there be anything you feel the industry should change to encourage more young people to consider taking up professional sport, mainly rowing?
A: I feel rowing is in a good place; the participation numbers are good, especially for young kids. I want rowing to lose the ‘public school image’ type of sport and for it to be more inclusive. I want to be seeing more people in boats from different backgrounds. This is improving, but the image to people outside the sport is that rowing is just for people from wealthier and more privileged backgrounds. What I would love to see more of is rowing being recognised nationwide as an inclusive and fun sport.
Elite sport is just a part of sport. It is the part which receives high coverage, but your normal sportsperson is those playing tennis at the park, running on the street, those doing parkrun and going to the gym.
Our role as elite sportspeople, is to win medals on the world stage. But if we can encourage people take up an activity and get the physical, mental, and social benefits from that exercise, that is important too. It is more than just trying to win medals.
Q: I understand you have been involved in multiple community-supporting causes; would you mind touching on some of these? Also, how important is it to you to give back when you are in a position as an athlete?
A: I can talk about this in the context of COVID-19. I sometimes visit local schools and clubs to do a coaching session and discuss my journey to support them on their adventures. During COVID19, I have been doing this via Zoom calls which is fantastic! It is a great way we can all learn from each other.
I have always enjoyed supporting the community. When I have time, I help at swimming club for children with learning disabilities. I like having different things going on in my life. It is why I became a director of British Rowing and the captain of Leander Club. I got involved in these roles because I want to make a difference, and to help people enjoy sport.
I feel it is essential for other athletes to do the same; it is not hard to find opportunities to give back in your spare time. There is no better feeling than having an impact on a young person through doing what you love, and you never know, the impact could be life changing.
Q: Throughout your life, whether that is in or outside of sport, would you have done anything differently? And how do you feel this would have changed your career?
A: I would have tried a little bit harder at school, I did okay, but I never got any of my predicted grades because I did not, they were that important. Despite this not changing the course of my life, it annoys me slightly knowing that I could have done something better.
However, the big decisions I have made have turned out to be the right ones.
On another note, I want to be the best I can be but also to have a great time doing it. I am always smiling and laughing, and this is the most important value for me.
Q: I am aware you attended the sports personality of the year in 2018, what was the atmosphere like being surrounded by many icons in sport? Including your teammates?
A: It is quite weird to see so many famous athletes in one place and letting their hair down. There were people like Tyson Fury, Mo Farah, and Anthony Joshua, who are massive names in sport. To see them in a social setting was quite something. It was a fun event to attend, and hopefully I get the opportunity to go again.
Q: What has been your favourite sporting memory, whether that is internal or external to your career?
A: Winning a silver medal at the world championships in 2017 was terrific. Of course, I was disappointed that it was not gold, but I was so proud of myself even to get a medal. I was in a boat with three of my best mates, we performed better than anyone expected us to all season. We were rowing brilliantly and got the best out of each other.
As a spectator, seeing Alan Campbell winning bronze at the London 2012 Olympics was inspiring for me as an 18-year-old. Other than that, watching Arsenal win the league at Old Trafford in 2002 is up on my list as well.
Q: Final question buddy, where do you see yourself in five years?
A: Hopefully with 2 Olympic medals around my neck. Besides that, I would like to be starting to create my own family as well.