Jurgen Grobler is accused of ‘destroying’ Team GB athletes after Britain’s worst Olympic regatta since 1976 having left as rowing head coach last year as former oarsmen Josh Bugajski admits he had ‘complete power’
Legendary rowing coach Jurgen Grobler was accused of ‘destroying’ his athletes in the bloodletting that followed Britain’s worst Olympic regatta since 1976.
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.
This disastrous return is a massive hit after topping the table in both London and Rio, when Grobler was still chief coach.
Former Team GB rowing head coach Jurgen Grobler has been accused of ‘destroying’ his athletes by former oarsmen Josh Bugajski
The East German coached gold medal crews at every Olympics he attended since 1972 – a record without equal in the history of the sport. But he left the British programme last August after failing to agree the terms of an extended contract amid a war over the culture of the organisation.
One of his former oarsmen, Josh Bugajski, who won bronze in the men’s eight on Friday, hit out at the 74-year-old’s methods, saying: ‘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
‘He had complete power. If you didn’t get funding for a boat, your funding was never going to go up. I was pretty much broke for a year or so. My relationship suffered, my friendships suffered. Everything suffered. I’m very grateful to have a wonderful fiancée, a wonderful family back home. They look after me whenever they can.
‘I cracked open a bottle of champagne when Jurgen retired. I had three very dark years under him. And I think I’d be a coward if I didn’t say that on behalf of the guys who are stuck at home because they got a darker side of Jurgen and aren’t in the team. We were made to jump through hoops that other people were not made to go through and we suffered as a result.
‘It is the end of an era but in a good way. It is a satisfying relief.’
However, Olympic champion from 2016 Mo Sbihi, who also rowed in the eight, dedicated his medal to Grobler, who turns 75 on Saturday. ‘I respect him as a human being and I spoke to him this week,’ said Sbihi, who carried the flag at the opening ceremony a week ago.
And Vicky Thornley, who finished fourth in the single sculls at the Sea Forest Seaway on Friday after winning a gold medal in the double sculls four years ago, also stuck up for her Grobler, saying: ‘I don’t know why Jurgen left at that point. I was gutted. He was a great mentor my whole career. I am grateful for his advice and I still hear his voice in my head.’
The split in the camp comes 48 hours after the men’s coxless four finished an ignominious fourth, surrendering a title Britain had held stretching back to 2000, when Sir Steve Redgrave won the last of his five gold medals. That led to one of the losing crew members Matt Rossiter accusing legendary rowers Sir Matt Pinsent and James Cracknell of being ‘smug’ about the defeat.
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.’