Mark Hunter MBE
Filed: Thursday, 16th August 2012
By: Graeme Howlett
As I write, it's less than 48 hours since Kim Gavin's extravagant closing ceremony signalled the end of a triumphant Olympic games for London and Great Britain as a whole. With 29 gold medals won - 65 medals in total - it was the nation's best performance in the games for more than a century.
One of those medal winners, the rowing team's Mark Hunter - a long-term West Ham supporter who was awarded the MBE after taking gold at the Beijing games in 2008 - was at the Boleyn Ground in order to spread some of the goodwill that was generated by the games to the local schoolchildren.
We managed to grab ten minutes with him to have a brief chat about two very different sports. Firing the questions on behalf of KUMB.com was Graeme Howlett...
KUMB: Hi Mark. So you're here today to meet some of the players and local children?
MH: Definitely. We've got some local kids from the area here so I'm catching up with them and sharing some of my Olympic experiences. Most of them have been watching it and it's about inspiring them now to use that, to be something that they will be passionate about and carry on that legacy.
KUMB: How do you see that going? Obviously there's a lot of talk about legacy at the moment but delivering that is another thing entirely?
MH: As an athlete it's our job now to give back. We've had so much support from the public, from the media, from everyone. It's about us going out there now, doing our part and making sure that legacy does start now and continues.
We had a really good talk from David Cameron the other day about being an athlete at the Olympics and having something called gold dust, and sprinkling that on communities and schools. What better place to start doing that than at West Ham with the kids here today?
KUMB: The effect you and the other Team GB medal winners have had on the country has been phenomenal, it's galvanised everyone in a way. Do you think that positivity can be maintained, or do you think it'll just disappear now the Olympics has finished?
MH: No, I think it's captured everybody in some way or another. People who didn't want the Olympics to come have been blown away by Olympic fever and I knew that was going to happen. I've been talking about it for years, that all these kind of negative people would come on board and love every minute of it!
You know, seeing those images on TV of people going to those extremes; the emotions, the tears of joy and disappointment. Seeing people winning gold, silver or bronze medals and giving performances of a lifetime. How can you not be inspired by that?
It's just been amazing to feel when you go out of the [Olympic] village and go on the underground; people smiling, communicating, talking. The country just got behind it and you just don't want it to end. And it is about now, continuing that. It shows that London can be a fun place to be in 24/7 - and why can't it be like that all the time? Why does there need to be an event going on?
KUMB: On a personal level, do you find you're being recognised a lot more just going about your daily business?
MH: Yeah. I walk down the street and people want to take pictures - and I'm not used to that sort of thing! People wanting to have autographs, to have pictures taken. Normally I have to go to an event and for people to be told "this is Mark Hunter, he's an Olympic gold and silver medallist" - but now I haven't needed that, it's been very strange. I'm sure that will die away.
KUMB: And how are you finding that? Is it okay or getting you down a little bit yet?
MH: I love it. It's about meeting people, the public and chatting with them because we're just normal people. Okay, what we did is exceptional, unique and special but behind that we're just normal people who come from normal backgrounds who've just worked hard and been passionate about something and wanted to get to the top.
KUMB: What lies ahead for you in the next 12 months or so?
MH: For me personally it's about having some time out and getting involved in some stuff in the community with schools and kids; corporate stuff, sponsors, charity work. It's just about having some time away to do the things I don't necessarily have the time to do when I'm training. Then in six months or so I'll sit down and work out where I go from there.
But it's too early to think about anything beyond the next week or two, in regard to doing the sort of exercise we were leading up to the Olympics.
KUMB: So what about Rio [in 2016]? Would that be a potential aim?
MH: I'm not thinking about Rio yet, I've still got a lot of work to do first! But it's not something I'm thinking about right now, I'm still trying to deal with what happened and not winning. That's quite tough but the support and messages from everyone are really helping me with that at the moment, so that's been really nice.
KUMB: The interview you gave immediately after the race was incredibly moving, and I think it summed up the British attitude in a way...
MH: Yeah. That was talked about as 'Super Saturday' and it was Super Saturday, it was amazing and I wanted to be part of that gold rush. We told everybody "this is the day we're going to do this, we're going to win this thing". And then to give everything I possibly had and have the best race we could have had and then not to do it...
KUMB: And to come so close as well?
MH: Yeah; it was heartbreaking to be on that podium and not have your national anthem but someone else's played. So yeah, that's going to take a lot of time to deal with and itís still raw.
KUMB: In terms of the football, will you be getting over here [to the Boleyn Ground] at all? Will you have the time to come and watch the boys?
MH: Definitely. As I said, I'm kind of an open diary now so I'll definitely be coming on Saturdays to home games and as much as I can. You know, just getting involved like with these kids here, just talking to them and inspiring them because you talk to them and most of them are really into other sports now because of the Olympics. That's what special about it.
KUMB: And in terms of supporting West Ham, have you been a fan since you were a child yourself? Who were your idols?
MH: Yeah, when I was a kid I used to live in East Ham and walk to the stadium to watch a great team with Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie. Tony Cottee was kind of the idol, being a striker because as a kid you always look towards a striker.
He was the one you wanted to be like, you'd stand there behind the goal and you wanted to be like him. But then I got to meet him and he was just like we are as athletes, just normal people and great people to chat with and become friends with.
KUMB: So it must have been a bit heartbreaking for you when Tony went to Everton?
MH: Yeah, it was a bit!
KUMB: But you have to get used to that as a West Ham fan, right?
MH: Yeah. But we do have such a good youth system that so many good players come through and then do get bought by the bigger clubs. I guess that's just developing our national development. But we've had some amazing players come though so it's been pretty exceptional what the club's managed to produce.
KUMB: Presumably when you're over here in the next few months you won't have to buy a drink if you go down to the bar at half time...
MH: Yeah, hopefully not! That's what it's been like at the Olympics. It's kind of weird, I went out last night and had to pay for dinner!
KUMB: Going back to rowing and in terms of funding, are you part of the lottery system or do you have to fund yourself?
MH: No, we're very lucky as athletes with the national lottery now. We owe it to the nation for buying their tickets; they're all part of our success in that way as well. I used to have to go to work and train and you can't get the right recovery rest time and you're not going to keep improving in the right manner.
So to be a professional athlete really you need to make sure you can train 100 per cent as well as recover and rest to the best of your abilities. So it's made a massive difference and I think that's why Team GB has been so successful, because of the lottery funding.
KUMB: It's been phenomenal. Everybody refers to Atlanta as the real low point...
MH: 30-something in the medal table there..?
KUMB: And one gold? It's absolutely incredible, the improvement that we've achieved?
MH: And that just shows the funding that's been put there made those performances possible. I'm sure back in the day they were possible, but things weren't in place to help people where now you can get the best out of people because they've got the best facilities, the best equipment, the best support staff and the best coaches. They have money so they can eat the best quality food and look after themselves.
KUMB: How were you introduced to rowing if you were a football fan?
MH: I grew up in the East End, I loved playing football but I realised I wasn't going to be out there like these guys play. I enjoyed other sports and my dad introduced me to rowing.
KUMB: So was your dad a rower too?
MH: He was a coach; he was a teacher at George Green Secondary School on the Isle of Dogs. The rowing club was next door, I went down there a few times and when I started actually coincided with the Olympics being on television in 1992.
Watching the Olympics, watching the rowing and winning gold medals [Pinsent & Redgrave, Herbert & the Searle brothers] captured me and I wanted to do that. So I understand the power of the TV and the images that come with the Olympics games, what it can do and how it can transform people's lives.
KUMB: Well thank you for talking to us Mark, it's been a pleasure.
MH: No worries.
GOLD & SILVER: Mark and Hammers Chairman David Gold treat the kids to a display of exhibition tennis