25 May 2017
Clive Radley, who is a member of the Henley 100 Club at the River & Rowing Museum, writes:
On 18 March, Alex Gregory gave an inspiring presentation of his rowing career at the Henley 100 Club at the River & Rowing Museum’s Spring Dinner. The members of the 100 Club are patrons of the River & Rowing Museum and their fees are used to support the education foundation of the museum. Appropriately, Alex’s talk took place in the museum’s Rowing Gallery, which contains the coxless four in which another inspiring rowing figure, Sir Steve Redgrave, won his fifth Olympic Gold Medal at the Sydney Games in 2000.
Alex, who was born in 1984, was educated at Brendon Middle School, a comprehensive school in Ashton under Hill, Worcestershire, which was followed by Richard Bates in Cheltenham and later Prince Henry’s High School. Initially, he was a keen swimmer at school and showed no interest in the sport of rowing.
Then one day, Alex’s best friend at school went on a rowing course and told Alex what a great sport it was. Alex took this on board and started rowing. As a young teenager, Alex was very tall and strong – the physique required for high level rowing and sculling. Pretty soon, he began to win some local sculling races. When Alex attended the University of Reading, he continued to row at the university’s boat club, which is based on the Thames at Caversham, near the site where the GB Rowing Team train.
Alex had a chequered early sculling and rowing career with nerves and health issues, which led to a number of disappointing results. At one time, he passed out and capsized in a single scull race.
However, he was identified as a rower with promise and competed for Great Britain at an international regatta in Lithuania in a double scull with a close friend. Sadly, Alex told us, the race was a great disappointment as they came fourth – no medal. Crossing the finish line, Alex virtually passed out and had to be lifted out of the boat.
At the World U23 Rowing Championships in Poland in 2004, Alex competed in the GB quad, which proved to be another failure as the crew finished in twelfth place. However, he continued competing for GB, but won no medals.
Then for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Alex was selected by coach Jürgen Gröbler to be the spare man in the GB coxless four with Tom James, Steve Williams, Pete Reed and Andrew Triggs Hodge, who won a gold medal.
This was a career changing occasion, but also when he saw the GB lightweight double sculls’ Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter’s gold medal winning race, how their parents and family members were so involved, cheering and jumping up and down. Alex felt that he had let his own family down when they watched him racing, and he became determined to win for them in the future.
Alex did win: he went on to take gold medals both at the Olympics and World Championships: gold in the coxless fours at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, and world championship titles in the coxless fours in 2009, 2010 and 2014 and in the eights in 2013 and 2015.
At the end of his talk, Alex had his two Olympic gold medals passed around among the dinner guests – a real treat for everyone in the room.
At the age of 33, Alex has now retired from the GB Team, which gives him more time to be involved in bringing up his two children. As he lives in Henley, he often brings the children to the museum for snacks in the café and to visit the Wind in the Willows exhibit and others.
It was a great pleasure to listen to Alex talking about his rowing career. I also have to mention the fantastic meal, which was produced by Wild Fork. Among other interesting things during the event were the talks given by the outgoing and incoming chairpersons of the 100 Club.