TP TALKS TO... John Collins

by Travelling Peach

In honesty, I love rowing now but initially I started because I had to. I was doing the Duke Of Edinburgh (DOE) Award at school and, to pass, I had to do a sport. I’m not great at running and I can’t catch so that ruled out most sports. Then my dad suggested rowing. He used to row so thought I might like it too. It all happened from there.

There’s a very linear relationship between how much work you put into it and how much you improve. Even after years of training and applying myself daily, if I keep training harder and smarter, I keep improving. Other sports (e.g. football) require a huge level of natural talent but, personally, I have far more respect for athletes who have had to work very hard for what they’ve achieved. That’s what I like about rowing: everyone who’s succeeded has had to put a hell of a lot of work into it.

The DOE Award plays an important role in encouraging teenagers to get, and stay, active. When you’re young, it’s difficult to get involved with new things and to commit to them because let’s face it nobody’s good at something when they first start so it’s easy to want to give up. For me, almost being forced to think ‘Right, I’ve actually got to give this a go, even if it’s just to complete the qualification’ was strong enough motivation to allow me time to think ‘Actually, I might be good at this. I actually enjoy it’ because, to start with, I was awful and I hated it - mainly because every kid hates things that they’re rubbish at. You want to be great at everything instantly but life doesn’t work like that.


The people who inspire me the most are my teammates. When I first joined Team GB, most of the crew had already won Olympic silver and gold medals. I joined their journey to win another one (or, for others, to win their first) but many of the guys had to go through a hell of a lot to get all of the success I saw. They had to fight through so many bad results before they started achieving the good ones that we experienced together.

When I first joined the team, rowing was quite a tough event. It was very difficult for us to get good results. Looking back at how the guys had struggled to rank anywhere for so long, their determination and dedication and then how they finally won encourages me to keep trying whatever happens. There were times when Johnny Walton (who I rowed with at the Olympics) and I were the only guys on the men’s team to return without a medal - that was really tough - so to be a part of the team and see how they kept going themselves inspired me because, at the time, it’s hard to inspire yourself.

For a while, I’d really been struggling. I was putting in so much effort but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere; then we raced our final trials and I won. That result ranked me the number 1 rower in the country and things started to get better. I’ve competed at 2 World Cups so far this year and won a medal each time. The last one was a gold medal so that was a game-changer. I’d finally gone from scraping into the final to consistently being on the podium.

The Olympics definitely surprised me. I underestimated it. I expected it to be important but, when the time comes to race, you suddenly feel the gravity of the event you’re competing in. It’s impossible to put it into words because, for us, we turned up thinking it was just going to be another race but, sitting at the start of the Olympic final, it’s like your whole life’s ambition is condensed into 6 minutes. Sitting on the start line, you realise that the next 6 minutes can define or destroy everything. It’s completely overwhelming. I’ve done a lot of major events: 2 World Championships, multiple World Cups and more but nothing could have ever prepared me for that. That was big.

At Rio 2016, we held a party at the Team GB house. We’d finished racing and I was in the queue for the bar when this guy started talking to me. I had no idea what he was talking about and was thinking ‘Oh, who’s this d***…’ then I realised… it was Bradley Wiggins!! We started talking about a documentary he’d filmed leading up to the Olympics where he discussed coping with pre-race nerves. I told him ‘It was really interesting to hear how someone else feels about these things’ and he said ‘When you say ‘someone else’, are you implying that you feel differently?’ I said ‘Oh well, yes, I do feel quite differently. There’s so much ‘noise’ that comes with competitive sport but I find that if I just sit quietly and rationalise things - tell myself that it’s just another race because it is just another race - that clears any pre-race nerves. Then, when it’s time to race I’m not nervous at all’ He just stared and said ‘Oh man! That’s a really cool way of looking at it… You’re a really cool bloke.’ I was a little bit tipsy and in my head, I was laughing thinking ‘Hehehe Bradley Wiggins just said I’m a cool bloke. That is probably my life. That’s the best thing I’ve ever achieved in life.’ Then Chris Hoy came over and I was like ‘Yaaahhhhyyy.’ I got a picture with the two of them and it was great. Total ‘tipsy’ fan moment!

‘The boxer Conor McGregor once said ‘There is no talent here; this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist; we are all equal as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.’ I can really relate to that.’




LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND. We race at Lake Lucerne every year. It’s called the ‘Lake of the Gods’ and you can see why. The town is stunning. It must be the most expensive place in the world but it’s such a beautiful lake. I’ve never had a bad race there so it’s one of my favourites.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA. Racing in Moscow is both amazing and interesting. It feels weird because you can still feel the communism about the city. There are huge tower blocks dotted around and a huge concrete grandstand that’s completely falling to bits. It’s quite symbolic in a way as you can see the history around you crumbling to bits, just like communism itself fell. It’s very weird but also quite special.

THE TIDEWAY, UK is one of my favourite places to race. It’s where the annual Oxford Cambridge boat race is held and we regularly race there. Not only are you rowing through the heart of London, which is always really cool, but it’s also where I learnt to row so it holds a special place in my heart.


‘Our coach worked out that each member of our team lifts several millions of kilos in the gym over the course of the Olympiad’


Balance and core stability dramatically influence the boat’s speed for several reasons. People don’t realise but they’re key components of rowing, especially in our boat. I’m in the heavyweight quad and the boat’s almost the same width as my hips, meaning that we’re almost sitting on top of it rather than in it. The more solid your core is, the more stable and the better your body awareness and control will be, the more steady your technique and the faster your boat will travel. Core stability exercises are great for this.

Rowing is all about rhythm and relaxation. Working hard is a given - no one at a high level of rowing will not work hard - but the ones who succeed are those who can work hard whilst relaxing and creating a rhythm, and enjoying themselves. If you’re relaxed, breathing properly (in time with the boat) and enjoying rowing then, even if you’re working hard, you’ll notice that you become more efficient. For a while, ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin was my pre-race song. Don’t ask me why but it definitely worked.

I recently read a book by Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab called ‘The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success.’ Essentially they’re saying that the reason why higher performing people in society tend to do well is because they manage to pour their lives into something whilst remaining emotionally detached from it. Having learned that, I’ve been able to emotionally detach myself from rowing and it’s true; my performance has improved massively.

Rowing is still a big part of me but I’ve put so much of myself into it. My body is exhausted from years of training, I’ve got a bulging disc in my back, torn hips, torn shoulders and more. However, without the negative emotions, I’m now able to perform at a higher level because, ultimately, emotions are a negative in rowing. They result in so much wasted energy because worrying or feeling upset won’t change anything.

I hear so many coaches talking about doing things quickly - even in the national team! For example, for the catch (i.e. when you’re putting your blade in the water), they’ll call ‘Quick catches.’ Then, when you finish the stroke, you move your hands away before sliding. In theory, if you move your hands slightly faster, you can slide slower and exhibit less force in the wrong direction as you slide forward. The coaches say ‘Quick catches, quick hands’ but, actually, rowing’s all about timing and rhythm. It’s not about doing something quickly. If you’re doing something quickly, you’re doing it out of sync with the speed of the boat and the whole movement will suffer. That always frustrates me because it makes people tense and slow. That’s definitely a pet hate of mine actually, as well as terrible advice.


Olaf Tufte from Norway is definitely my favourite athlete to race against when I’ve won but, at the same time, he’s beaten me when it matters. He beat me at the Olympics so that was tough but, when I was a child, I remember watching him win his Olympic silver medal and then in 2004 - the year before I started rowing – he won the gold in the men’s single, which is THE one to win, and he won it again in Beijing. I’ve raced him for the last few years and he’s an absolute legend. I can’t say I like him that much as a person but you can’t help but have so much respect for everything he’s achieved so it’s quite cool to race him. I’d also love to run the 100m against Usain Bolt too, just to see how much he beats me by.

Before training, I always eat a bowl of cereal. I really like Tesco’s mini Blueberry Wheats. They’re almost like mini Weetabix but even better because they’ve got little bits of jam. I could eat those all day.


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