This summer was meant to be Jurgen Grobler’s Olympic swansong but the global coronavirus crisis means his retirement plans may temporarily be put on hold, writes Sam Blitz.
The 73-year-old is Great Britain’s greatest ever Olympic coach, having helped Team GB to at least one gold medal in every Olympic Games since 1992. His overall record stands at 33 medals - 22 of which are gold - making him the most successful Olympic coach by some distance.
Yet while the German was keen on stepping down from Team GB after the culmination of this summer’s spectacle in Tokyo, the postponement of the Games to 2021 means some difficult decisions lie ahead for British Rowing chiefs.
British Rowing chief executive Andy Parkinson said: “Brendan Purcell [BR’s Director of Performance] is in constant communication with Jurgen but given the remote-working nature of things right now, it’s difficult to have that face-to-face conversation.
“At the moment we’re just working out what the implications of a 2021 Games are for the programme - for our athletes and for our staff.
“I think it’s a little bit too early to say what we’re going to be doing but we are in ongoing conversations with all of our programme staff and we are coming up with a plan that works for us and our athletes and one which enables us to perform for when we eventually get to Tokyo.”
While a decision is yet to be made over Grobler’s immediate future with British Rowing, Parkinson maintains that the organisation are prepared for whatever the legendary coach chooses to do.
British Rowing’s chief executive assures fans of the sport that plans for Paris 2024 had begun even before the Tokyo Games were pushed back, but adds that the unique circumstances make the process a great deal harder.
He added: “We started, as with every sport over the last three or four months, in a Tokyo-delivery mode but also a Paris-planning mode, so clearly we were having conversations about what a post-Tokyo Olympics would look like and those conversations will continue.
“The conversations I’ve had so far is that we can’t approach the Tokyo cycle just with an extra year on. Next year is going to be totally unique so we have to approach it slightly differently and we are working on what that difference looks like.”
Having Grobler on board for the now-2021 Games is paramount to any success Team GB will have over in Tokyo. UK Sport recognises the importance of rowing in the nation’s arsenal during an Olympic campaign, having granted the sport £30m in funding ahead of Tokyo 2020 - more than any other British team.
Those close to Grobler know how much of a difference his coaching has on Team GB’s performances at both Olympic Games and World Championships.
British Rowing coxes Henry Fieldman and Matilda Horn, who were aiming to represent the men’s and women’s eight crews respectively in Tokyo this summer, are privileged enough to work alongside the German in the coaching aspect of British Rowing.
Speaking about Grobler’s character, Fieldman says: “He’s still very driven which is really key because the whole sport is moving on all the time year on year.
“The crews are getting better and records are getting broken and he sees that as a way of learning himself and testing what he can do.”
Horn adds: “He can make decisions and stand by them and he’s not afraid to change his mind.
“His results reflect not only that but how he behaves and acts and how the sport means as much to him as well as everybody else.”
It’s this passion for the sport that makes the decision over Grobler’s future a pivotal moment in the future of British Rowing. The German is a pioneer for rowing in Britain and has helped create both an environment and a legacy which has driven athletes to success both physically and psychologically.
Horn says: “When people are successful and come away from the sport, they don’t come away hating it.
“They come away feeling proud of being part of such a huge team and that’s hugely down to Jurgen.”
On what Grobler’s legacy will mean to British sport, Fieldman states: “The history books will say it all. The only gold medal that Great Britain was winning when he started was one in rowing.
“But now he’s just a machine and keeps pumping out those results. He was one of the first people that coached amazing athletes like Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave to these fantastic results at Olympic level.”