James Cracknell has questioned the ‘institutionalisation’ of the British rowing team after they sank to their worst regatta performance at an Olympics in 45 years.
Olympian James Cracknell, 49, pointed to a lack of leadership within the squad and blasted the decision to let legendary coach Jürgen Gröbler, 74, walk ahead of this summer’s Tokyo games.
Earlier this week, men’s coxless four rower Matt Rossiter, 31, accused his ‘smug’ medal-winning predecessors, Sir Matt Pinsent and James Cracknell of reveling in Team GB’s woes.
Meanwhile, men’s eight rower Josh Bugajski launched an incendiary attack on ousted ex-coach Grobler, admitting he opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the German’s departure from the team.
Cracknell’s comments come amid a furious fallout over the worst British rowing performance at an Olympics since 1976 – despite the team being funded by £24.6million in the last five-year cycle.
Writing in the Telegraph, Cracknell questioned the leadership of those at the 2020 Tokyo Games and asked if the team’s preparations at their Caversham training base may have ‘institutionalised’ them.
Olympian James Cracknell, 49, pointed to a lack of leadership within the squad and blasted the decision to let legendary coach Jürgen Gröbler, 74, walk ahead of this summer’s Tokyo games
He said: ‘I do not see as many leaders as in some Olympics.
‘I do not see enough people thinking for themselves and taking ownership of their crew’s training, which is ultimately the basis for the boat’s performance.
‘I wonder if that is because athletes have been institutionalised by being stationed in Caversham for the whole of their careers.’
Cracknell, a decorated Olympic rower who won gold in 2000 and 2004 under Grobler’s tutelage, described a prevailing ‘teacher-pupil relationship’ at Team GB’s Caversham HQ.
He said: ‘The impression I get is that there is a sort of teacher-pupil relationship at Caversham.
‘Every session is carried out under the watchful eyes of the coaching team. There is no trust that you might be able to manage a number of sessions independently, and no desire to give the athletes some oxygen and freedom away from Caversham.
‘This is important, because people need to be given responsibility if they are to develop into rounded personalities, or to own and take control of their goals.
‘Whatever we might say about the timing of Jurgen’s departure – and personally I think it was badly handled – this is an opportunity to sit down, think about what went wrong, and develop a new culture.
‘I hope British Rowing will come up with an approach that gives the athletes more say. Because if you treat them like schoolkids, they will end up behaving like schoolkids when the 2024 regatta comes around.
British rowing tore itself apart on Friday in the most toxic Olympic bust-up of recent history, with legendary coach Jürgen Gröbler (above) accused of ‘destroying the souls’ of his athletes
Mr Grobler speaks to Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, part of the country’s rowing glitterati who dominated the sport at the highest level
Cracknell also described the outbursts from Team GB rowers Matt Rossiter and Josh Bugajski this week as ‘naive’.
The team – funded by £24.6million of Lottery money over the last five-year cycle – managed just two medals, a silver and a bronze, to finish 14th in the medal table.
British rowing tore itself apart on Friday in the most toxic Olympic bust-up of recent history, with legendary coach Jürgen Gröbler accused of ‘destroying the souls’ of his athletes.
Matt Rossiter, one of the beaten boys, said: ‘It’s just disappointing that those people will be really smug because they are part of the winning legacy. Preventing that was a motivation to do well.
‘I hope they are happy we have not continued the gold run.
‘Sometimes there’s a feeling the Cracknell/Pinsent generation kind of revel in the team not performing as it should.’
The infighting broke out after the sport’s worst Games performance for 45 years, with Gröbler and the tough culture he stood for slammed by men’s eight bronze medallist Josh Bugajski.
Bugajski, who won bronze in the men’s eight on Friday, hit out at the 74-year-old’s methods and admitted he ‘opened a bottle of champagne’ after his departure.
Team GB rowing – funded by £24.6million of Lottery money over the last five-year cycle – managed just two medals, a silver and a bronze, to finish 14th in the medal table
The infighting broke out after the sport’s worst Games performance for 45 years, with Gröbler and the tough culture he stood for slammed by men’s eight bronze medallist Josh Bugajski
He said: ‘I had a very dark three years under him. I will admit, he’s a good coach to some people.
‘But there were some people he just seemed to take a disliking to. What he did to them was just destroy them – destroy their soul, destroy everything they had.’
Losing coxless four crew member Matt Rossiter later accused legendary rowers Sir Matt Pinsent and James Cracknell of being ‘smug’ about the defeat.
Mr Gröbler, who famously forced athletes to swap their Full English breakfasts for prunes and made them train so hard some were sick in their boats in sessions described as ‘going to hell and back’, left his job during the pandemic after the Olympics were postponed by a year.
The fearsome German, 74, raised in Stasi-controlled East Germany after the Second World War, became Team GB’s head coach in 1991 and is the most successful Olympic rowing trainer in history helping 20 British Olympic champions to 33 gold medals.
The legendary rowing coach was accused of ‘destroying’ his athletes in the bloodletting that followed Britain’s worst Olympic regatta since 1976.
Last August, in a shock announcement, it was revealed that the world’s most famous rowing coach would part company with Team GB and would not be running the British team as they prepared for the delayed 2021 games in Tokyo.
Behind this sporting debacle lies a furious debate that now touches on one of the most contentious issues in sport: Are highly-successful coaches with a reputation for pursuing victory at almost any cost simultaneously placing an intolerable (and unacceptable) strain on the young athletes in their care?
Amid the fallout, it has been widely claimed that Gröbler had left after being eased aside as part of an initiative by Team GB to move towards a ‘more holistic’ approach to managing athletes, following bullying controversies in a number of sports.
This has seen them adopt a somewhat lily-livered mantra: ‘Medals and more.’
Bugajski was one of the Team GB members who won bronze in the men’s eight on Friday
But it wasn’t enough to prevent a worst Olympic regatta performance for Britain since 1976
Addressing the crisis, British Rowing performance director Brendan Purcell said: ‘We are a programme in transition. We were talking with Jurgen about where we were moving forward. He decided it was the right time to move on.’
Asked if the old regime was too tough, Purcell said: ‘Reality is, a performance environment needs to achieve exceptional performances. For people to explore their limits needs a balance between support and challenge.
‘For every individual, that’s a difficult mix to find. Some people thrive on challenge 24 hours a day. Some don’t. I don’t think we always got that balance quite right.
‘If you want to be the world’s best, these guys are going to go away and be really frustrated, disappointed, heartbroken and you can’t just go through the motions, you have to go beyond where you think your limits are and sometimes that’s going to mean someone helping to nudge you when you think you can’t do any more.
‘We will ask ourselves some tough questions and I will bring in some external experts like (former cycling boss) Peter Keen who knows more about performance environments in sport than a lot of people. And also bring in athlete mentors.’