Matt Gotrel: ‘The America’s Cup suffering is all part of the journey’


t is not uncommon at GB Rowing’s headquarters in Cavesham to find rowers slumped, their feet still attached to the ergo after a particularly brutal session.

Matt Gotrel experienced his share of suffering on the road to gold in the men’s eight at the Rio Olympics, and it could be argued the 31-year-old is a sucker for punishment with his latest career change.

Instead of his oar scything through the Tokyo waters this summer, as one of the grinders for Ben Ainslie, he is effectively the engine room of Ineos Team UK’s America’s Cup ambitions.

At the suggestion he perhaps seeks out pain for the day job, Gotrel said: “On paper, I guess it looks like that, and you kind of learn to enjoy it. One of my strengths is my ability to push myself. But it’s the same with any environment, you do it with a group of people and you’re invested in the same outcome so it makes it a lot easier pushing yourself to the limits.

“You look at the guys around you and you’re doing it for each other. I’ve made a habit of it over the last 10 years but it comes with the territory. You train for it so the suffering is all part of the journey.”

Gotrel likens the intensity of grinding on an America’s Cup boat to perpetually teetering on the edge of a red line, so intense is the physical effort that he can get close to blacking out all the while trying to keep aware of his part in any give race.

“It’s a very different world to anything you can replicate in a gym,” he said. “The whole thing is moving about, you’re having to stay in focus but stay as close to the red line as possible. But you have to think your way around the course while doing your job to the best of your ability.

“The hardest bit is being close to the red line and making sure you’re physically right. If you get it wrong, these boats will come back and bite you. You don’t want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

After Rio, Gotrel first took time out from the sport before eventually retiring and then taking up a job with Rolls Royce and pursuing a career as an engineer.

C Gregory/Ineos Team UK

While there, an opportunity arose to join Sail GP – Gotrel had been an adept sailor in his youth before his first sporting switch – before eventually being snapped up by Ainslie’s £110million America’s Cup operation.

And any suggestion it was a risk bringing in someone from another sport is quickly dispelled by Ainslie: “The fact that Matt is a successful sailor de-risked that. We did want to bring in other people from sporting backgrounds and there’s no more professional sports team than British Rowing and what they’ve proved that over the last 20 years or more.

“And anyway it’s been quite common in America’s Cup teams to bring in top sports people from different backgrounds. Steve Redgrave sailed in 1987 with Fremantle, the British team, and quite a few rowers over the years have got involved in America’s Cup challenges – it’s quite a natural transition.”

Ainslie describes Gotrel as bringing quiet leadership to the team, and credits him with improving the grinders’ numbers collectively in the gym.

For Gotrel, there is no intention to shift back to rowing nor any envy that crew mate Giles Scott will head off to Tokyo to go for gold when the America’s Cup is over.

© COR 36 | Studio Borlenghi

But he said: “My goal a few years ago was to go to Rio and that went as good as it could. Hopefully in a few days, weeks’ time I can look back on this in the same way.

“The rowing’s definitely in the past for me but I’m still in touch with a lot of them. A lot are getting into the America’s Cup and hopefully we can provide a bit of pride on the way to Tokyo. We’ll be doing the best we can for everyone back at home.”

In rowing, Gotrel likened his role in an eight to “tunnel vision”, so focused on his job and the boat that he rarely ever had a chance to digest a race.

In the America’s Cup, everything happens more quickly – roughly five times – and his perspective is entirely changed.

“The races are a lot longer so you get to understand more the ebbs and flows of a race so you pace yourself for that peak.”

Immaterial of the sport, the goal is the same.

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