The Golden Boy of Chiswick

Emma Brophy meets Olympic medalist and rowing world champion Pete Reed

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Pete Reed at High Road House


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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arranged to meet Pete Reed. Olympic Gold Medal Winner, Double World Rowing Champion, Royal Navy Officer, Oxford Graduate, his achievements are admirable and many but perhaps the most surprising is his humility.

Aged 27 Chiswick resident Pete Reed was catapulted into the public eye when he became one Great Britain’s gold medal winners at this year’s Beijing Olympics. Despite only taking up rowing in his second year of university, he reached the top of his sport just three years later, winning senior trials and replacing James Cracknell following his retirement.

He suggested that we meet after work at High Road House which confused me. Did he mean after rowing or being an officer in the Navy neither of which are 9 to 5 jobs. “Oh I meant after your work,” he explained “I thought that would be the easiest for you.” And so my enthrallment with this young, talented and remarkably self-effacing sporting hero began.

Pete has lived in Chiswick for the past two years with his girlfriend Sally but feels he spends most of his time on the M4 travelling to and from his training ground on the Redgrave Pinsent Lake in Caversham.

“Sally works in the City as a lawyer so Chiswick is kind of a middle ground. We love it here; everyone smiles at you and says hello and you actually know your neighbours,” he says. “I know my dry cleaner and the butcher. It’s full of nice shops, it’s not overrun with chains, that’s what attracted us to Chiswick.”

When he has the time, which is rare, Pete likes to potter around town. “I love Whisk,” he tells me but adds quickly, “I can’t really cook but they’re nice people in there and they know their stuff. I like The Old Cinema too and American Pie and we love La Trompette as a treat.” He’s clearly chuffed when I tell him that Ronnie Wood was recently photographed in The Old Cinema and that fellow Chiswickian Mark Sargeant is also fond of La Trompette “That’s great that someone like him likes the same place as me!” he says of Sargeant.

Has anything changed much since you won your gold medal? “Our attitude to local life hasn’t changed we feel it’s important to get involved with the community. It’s great when people stop me in the street and want to chat, I like hearing about what they were doing when we won the gold. One man told me about how his wife went into labour during the race. People cared; they showed that it mattered to them.”

How does he feel about being compared to rowing greats like James Cracknell whose shoes he stepped into? “He’s a tough guy and very well known and I came along without international pedigree. Being compared to those guys [Redgrave, Cracknell and Pinsent] is a very special thing but I just want to be the best I can be and there’s more to come.”

Pete is open about his admiration of his mentors, especially Matthew Pinsent. “He and Steve were great. They gave us an insight into what competing in the Olympics is really like, the fears, the feeling sick. So I thought if Matthew felt like I do at this moment then that’s ok. They’re great guys to have behind us.”

The blood sweat and tears that went into preparing for the 2008 Olympics were just the beginning for Pete who already has his eye on 2012 with the full support of the Royal Navy, “With their support, it was an easy decision to continue to row for the next four years to aim for another gold medal at my home Olympics. But I know how hard I’m going to have to work, how many sessions on the ergo I have to do, how many weights that need to be lifted and miles done on the river. It’ll be 2-3 training sessions everyday.”

“Life is cool at the moment but if I think back six months ago to all the hard work I was so tired all the time. I would leave home in the dark and then would often be asleep by the time Sally got home. It’s a really scary prospect the thought of going back to all. I love the sport, training and racing, I enjoy seeing my teammates and coaches every day, and as much as it can be extremely tough at times, there's a side of me that almost enjoys the pain and seeing how far I can push myself.

“Saying that, it has been brilliant to have a bit of time off to reflect on what we’ve achieved, enjoy ourselves and see my friends and family who have been so supportive over such a long time. The last few weeks have been the very best of my life.”

Is it all worth it? “By a country mile.” He says emphatically. “The next 4 years will be psychologically easier, as I know now what I'm fighting for. Before Beijing, Steve told me about what the Olympics is like and how fantastic it feels to win. Now I know for myself what it takes and I'll have to do even more to win in London because sport moves on. Fortunately, I honestly think there is more to come from me.”

Any advice for aspiring Olympians? “I wasn’t particularly sporty when I was young. I was very average at rugby and football but I found myself with rowing. I suppose I would say that don’t think that rowing is reserved for anyone special.”

He says this with great conviction and I find myself struck yet again by his modesty because Pete Reed is nothing if not special.

Emma Brophy

November 18, 2008