Big Interview: Scott Durant
Scott Durant had only heaved his oar once through the water when the realisation began to set in that he and his Team GB team-mates were on the way to something good.
It was not that the Lancashire rower had any time to pause for thought in the white hot atmosphere of an Olympic final.
But deep within his subconscious, Durant knew that a gold medal in the men’s eight rowing event, in Rio de Janeiro, was going to be his.
The 28-year-old’s initial good feeling about the GB crew’s chances proved to be right.
Having hit the front from the start, they swept to victory in glorious and comprehensive fashion on the picturesque Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, which is overlooked by the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.
They finished more than a second ahead of silver medal winners Germany over the 2,000-metre course, while the Netherlands claimed the bronze.
“I just knew after the first stroke that it was on – nobody was going to beat us,” said Durant, who hails from Lancaster and was competing in his first Olympic Games.
“I just knew from 200 to 250 metres in, that we would probably win the race.
“You could say we executed our race plan perfectly on the day.
“If you say, ‘How do you want to win a men’s eight race’?
“The best way to do it is to get out in front and lead from the first stroke.
“The boat moves so fast that towards the end of the race, you have to put in a lot of effort just to increase a small amount of speed.
“Our aim was to go out as hard as we could and just keep going and going.”
If Durant was so sure of victory so early in the race, how did he manage to maintain his focus all the way to the finishing line?
“In the build-up to the race, it was all about trying to leave the emotion of the Olympics out of it,” he said.
“It was about focusing on the process of delivering what I knew I was capable of delivering.
“That’s the most important thing as a sportsman – not to focus on the winning, but on your performance.
“So at 250 metres in, the boat was absolutely flying and I could feel we were moving away from everyone. So I knew the start was spot on for what we needed to win the gold medal.
“It felt good and at that point I knew that nobody was probably going to be able to come past us.
“I didn’t really think about the actual winning of the Olympic gold medal until the last 10 strokes of the race.”
The GB men’s eight success was all the more remarkable considering the crew had not in fact won a race all season.
They headed to Rio as slight underdogs, but peaked at the perfect time.
Durant admits there were times in the build-up to the Games when he doubted his own ability as well as the crew’s.
“Going into the Games, we had actually not won a race,” said Durant
“We had got a bronze at the European Championships this year.
“We had finished fourth in the second World Cup meeting in Switzerland and got the silver in the final World Cup event in Poland, which was our last race before the Olympics.
“The first two races of the World Cup series, we did not race well at all.
“We did not perform to what we were capable of as a crew.
“That was quite a testing time for the crew and for me personally because you are in an Olympic year and that means you are thinking about selection.
“The crew had obviously been selected for the World Cup series but not for Rio.
“So having that hanging over my head while trying to perform my best was difficult.
“You’re kind of thinking if this final World Cup race in Poland does not go well, this could be me not in an Olympic boat anymore.
“The selectors could have switched it all around
“I tried to put all that out of mind because we weren’t actually selected for the Olympics until a month before Rio.
“That final race in Poland we did well in, which gave us confidence.
“But I think going into the Olympics, we looked upon ourselves as slight underdogs.
“I don’t think anybody was really talking about us as the favourites.
“People were probably saying the Germans, the Dutch and GB – anyone out of those three could probably win it.
“I think people would have been putting their money on all three of us evenly.
“It was not like we were the stand-out favourites.
“But we definitely had the capability within the boat to win – there was a lot of experience in there.
“There were already nine Olympic medals in the boat.
“There were three – including me – who had not been to an Olympics before and had not won a medal.
“But going into Rio, I was a little bit up and down mentally.
“I knew we could do it, but we had struggled to produce our best in previous races.
“But then it would go in a cycle – I would look at the amount of experience we had in the boat and if everyone brought their ‘A’ game on race day, I knew we had a great chance.
“Other times I would think it just doesn’t seem quite right.
“My mood would swing backwards and forwards.
“In some ways I was confident, but in other ways I wasn’t.
“We had a training camp at altitude in the month before the Games in Austria and Italy, where things went well.
“We were posting some good times, but all the time I just kind of felt something was missing.
“But as soon as we got to Rio, things just stepped up a notch. It just made me think, ‘Okay, we’re viewed as underdogs but we can win this.”
While Durant was confident of victory as the final got under way, even he admits he was surprised at the margin of Team GB’s victory.
The year before at the World Championships,in France, a GB team considered stronger than the one which raced in Rio and did not include Durant, only managed to beat Germany by a split second.
“In the World Championships, the men’s eight boat was considered the top boat,” Durant revealed.
“I was in the men’s four, which was considered the lower ranked out of the two.
“Our best eight athletes went in the men’s eight and only won by three feet against the German boat, which was essentially the same as the one which raced in Rio
“Our coach decided to take four of those top athletes out of the men’s eight and into the men’s four for Rio.
“They were replaced by four others, one of them being me.
“So before the Olympics you’re thinking, ‘Okay the top guys only beat the Germans by three feet – we have got our work cut out here’.
“I was expecting it to be full-on all the way down the course – trading blows stroke for stroke.
“I did not think any crew would lead the race at any point by any more than a quarter of a length. You can definitely say I did not expect to win in the way that we did.
“Looking at it from an outside perspective, it was a very dominant performance
“But if you look at previous men’s eight winners in the Olympics, a lot of them won by a substantial winning margin over the rest of the field.
“The Canadians did it in 2008 and so did the British crew in 2000.
“That’s very often the way to win in the men’s eight – go out hard and lead by a decent margin and then watch the others try to come back at you.”
Since arriving back home from Rio, Durant has been inundated by appearance requests, especially in his home city.
He visited his old schools – Lancaster Royal Grammar and St Wilfrid’s Primary School, in Halton – last week and has been amazed by the reaction to his gold medal-winning exploits.
The former Oxford Brookes University student admits he is still coming to terms with how people perceive him – now that he is an Olympic champion.
“The one thing I am struggling to get my head around is how I am now perceived,” he said.
“Whenever I have met an Olympic champion in the past obviously that title precedes them – whereas I have never had that before.
“Now whenever I meet anyone, I am thinking, ‘What are they thinking of me’?
“How are they looking at me differently to how I see myself and I’m sort of comparing it to how I looked at people who were Olympic champions.
“It’s strange because you are carrying around this new title which means before you meet somebody, they have a preconceived idea of the person you must be.
“That is kind of an odd thing to get your head around.”
“But I haven’t changed as a person.
“I am still the same person I was before winning the gold medal.
Durant – who has yet to decide if he will attempt to win a second Olympic gold in four years’ time in Tokyo – admits he is still coming to terms with his success in Rio.
“It’s funny. It still really hasn’t sunk in,” said Durant, whose twin brother Mason was a potential Team GB Olympic rower until injury scuppered his hopes.
“It’s quite a strange feeling to think that I’m an Olympic champion.
“Winning gold at an Olympics is something that I had always dreamed of doing, but it’s something that I probably thought I was never going to achieve.
“It’s kind of in your wildest dreams.
“So it’s a strange feeling achieving something that you’ve always dreamed of.
“An Olympic gold is the greatest accolade in our sport – it doesn’t get any higher than that.
“Don’t get me wrong, there was complete elation at the time, but now I kind of feel a little bit empty, but I think that has got something to do with the fact that I don’t know what I’m really going to do next.”
Durant, who also has a older brother Kyle, was cheered on in Rio by his proud mum Diane.
“My dad Nicholas passed away when I was nine-year-old,” he said.
“My mum was immensely proud of what I achieved. There were a few tears when she was in Rio.”
“It’s a strange feeling achieving something that you’ve always dreamed of.
“It’s the best achievement you can get in rowing -our sport - so it is a case of what do I do now “That’s the greatest accolade that you can achieve.
“I am not sure. I haven’t given much thought to my rowing after Rio.
“My thoughts have all been on August 13 and the race in Rio.
“In the four years from 2012 to 2016 that’s all I have been thinking about.
“I have not really been thinking about whether I would like to go on to Tokyo.
“I need to have a bit of time, let everything settle down and see whether I have the motivation or if I really want to do another four years.
“The date to go back training is October 4 but I am going to see if I can have another couple more to chill out.
“I would definitely struggle to go back now put it one way. I would struggle for motivation definitely.
“Not friends and family. That’s the thing which is great, they still treat me the same.
“I went back to my old schools and saw all my old teachers and the students.
“They were all clamouring to see the gold medal and have a picture with me.
“That’s something which I have never had before.
“I know two years ago I went back and everybody was pleased to see me and they were congratulating me on my rowing achievements, but last week was a step on from that.
“You kind of can understand how a footballer must feel like because I felt like a bit of a celebrity, which is very odd for me because I don’t particularly like the limelight.
“I am quite happy to sort of get on with my own thing.
“When I’m walking down the street I never get stopped or asked for anything.
“But when we came back from Rio, we came back to the airport, people were lining the way through the airport to the baggage reclaim. That was a very strange feeling.
“I would not say I didn’t enjoy it. It’s nice to have people recognise you for something that you have achieved.
“When somebody comes up to you and says well done or ask for a photo with you, that is always a nice thing.
“It’s great that people want to talk to you and want to hear your story, but I definitely don’t go in search of that.
“Nobody’s recognised me, which I do quite like. I do like the fact that nobody has recognised me in the street.
“That’s a bonus because if I want to go and do my shopping.
“I would say it did live up to my expectations.
“I have been dreaming about going to the Olympics since I was 14 when I started rowing.
“So I have been thinking about it for 14 years and everything I thought it would be, it was.
“The setting in Rio, especially for the rowers, was perfect.
“Everything was perfect for the athletes from the Team GB hotel and the facilities.
“Even though you try to put things out of your mind and try to focus on your event, you can’t help notice that it’s the Olympic Games - the rings are everywhere.