Aggar seeks Paralympic redemption

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Aggar disappointed with 'tough' 2012

British rower Tom Aggar lines up in lane three, ready to defend both his Paralympic arms and trunk single sculls title and an unbeaten record in major championships which goes back to his international debut in 2007.

Eton Dorney is a course he knows well and has spent many hours training on in the build-up to this moment - the biggest of his career and one which is being watched by a sell-out crowd including many of his friends and family members.

But five minutes and 1,000m later, Aggar's dreams are in tatters as Chinese newcomer Huang Cheng springs a massive surprise with victory in his first major international regatta. The 29-year-old Briton finishes without a medal in fourth place.

Aggar, who was widely tipped as a cert to win gold in his home Games, admits he was "devastated" afterwards but is now back in a boat and hoping for redemption when he returns to the Buckinghamshire lake for this week's World Cup event.

"In some ways this is a second opportunity to try to perform on home soil, and hopefully it will be a chance to put right where I went wrong last year," he told BBC Sport.

"I still feel like I have unfinished business from the Games and believe I have the ability to get back to the top of the event. This year I've set about trying to do that - I'm still as motivated and as hungry for success as last year."

The former University of Warwick rugby player came to the sport after a fall in 2005 left him paralysed from the waist down. His power and strength from his rugby days helped quickly make him a star when rowing made its Paralympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.

After success in China, Aggar went on to win World Championship gold in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and was named adaptive rower of the year by the international governing body Fisa in 2010.

Past achievement is no guarantee of future success, however. Reflecting back on London 2012, Aggar admits the pressure may have got to him.

"The year building up to the Games maybe wasn't the best year in terms of training. It was physically tough and we were training harder and more frequently than any other year," he explained.

"There was also the expectation and pressure and although you try to shrug it off, you still feel it and maybe try to do too much to win and perhaps it backfired.

"This year is a bit more relaxed - the training is still tough but without that expectation I am more relaxed about training and hopefully it will bring more relaxation into the racing as well.

"The unbeaten record was a nice thing to have and did give me confidence but having been beaten now, there is less pressure on me and it is nice not having to think about the outcome so much and I can just focus on rowing and rowing well."

Rather than retreating away for the rest of the Games following his disappointment, Aggar travelled back to the Athletes' Village and enjoyed the atmosphere and the experience of watching British stars Jonnie Peacock and David Weir win gold at the Olympic Stadium.

Although he admits to having had thoughts of retirement, the lure of the water proved too much and after a break of about six weeks, Aggar was back in training again.

"I remember waking up the morning after the final and wanting to row the race again," he admits. "Since then I looked at what went wrong and changed a few things around so I have a different approach and we will see if it pays off."

He started the road back with a win in Varese, Italy, last month, beating London bronze medallist Aleksey Chuvashev of Russia as well as British training partner Andy Houghton, but Eton Dorney is just another test before the World Championships in South Korea at the end of August where Aggar, if he secures selection, has one thing on his mind.

"This World Cup is just a stepping stone to the World Championships. I am still reigning world champion so it would be nice to get back on top and win a world title but it is getting tougher and tougher every year with the fields now being split by just a couple of seconds."