Olympic bronze medallist Jon Schofield focussing on the future

OLYMPIC BRONZE: Liam Heath and Sawley's Jon Schofield (right)
OLYMPIC BRONZE: Liam Heath and Sawley's Jon Schofield (right)
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WITH Eton Dorney returning to its former tranquillity, Olympic bronze medallist Jon Schofield is focussing on the future.

The Sawley kayak star was part of the Team GB rowing squad that earned unprecedented success at the home Games, accumulating 13 medals in the various disciplines on the man-made Olympic home of British flat-water canoeing.

Alongside K2 200m partner Liam Heath, the 27-year-old frantically paddled to the line in the sprint final only to be pipped to Silver as they approached the final few strokes by the fast-finishing Belarus crew of Raman Piatrushenka and Vadzim Makhneu. Dominant Russian duo Yuri Postrigay and Alexander Dyachenko deservedly took the Gold medal.

After finishing second in the heats to Belarus, the British pairing endured another slow start in the semi-final as the powerful physiques of their Russian rivals stormed to victory. But they made a vastly improved start in the final, rising to the support of the vociferous home crowd, which included Prime Minister David Cameron, and ploughing ahead of the French double world champions duo to take a Bronze medal, creating history in the process.

“It was just unbelievable and something I’ll never experience again,” beamed Schofield. “It was so special as an athlete to be a part of that generation, it was incredible. I enjoyed every minute of it. I can’t get enough of these Olympic montages because it brings back so many happy memories of those few weeks. If I don’t do anything else in my career I can look back on that with happiness and pride.

“I was part of a home Games and to top it off with a medal was amazing. My initial ambition was to become an Olympian but to be afforded the opportunity to compete against the best in the world at the biggest sporting event in the world and to come away from that experience with a medal was just a double whammy for me, it was absolutely fantastic.”

It was a whirlwind 2012 for Schofield, magnified by an invitation among the country’s supreme athletes at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event at the ExCel Arena in London Docklands - one of the Olympic venues.

And the triple European champion has been astonished by the recent lifestyle change, and the reception of other sportsmen and women towards his spectacular achievement.

“It was a really fun evening because it was one of the first times that most of the Olympic squads were in one place in an informal atmosphere to meet each other along with sporting superstars from outside the Olympics,” said Schofield.

“It’s hard work. I had a nice routine of waking up early and training all day so all these late nights and champagne receptions take their toll. It’s been a lot of fun and it wasn’t something I was expecting to happen after the Games. It’s been nice to live a different life for a couple of months. It’s been a great experience, I’ve met some fantastic people, been to plenty of places and had some cool opportunities.”

Schofield added: “When you speak to people they just love hearing about the journey to an Olympic medal, the process behind what we did and getting the background story. With it being the home Olympics everyone has just been so excited because the majority watched it on TV, you meet few people that didn’t watch any of it. You feel that engagement with it wherever you go.”

It’s been a journey of unfathomable progression for Schofield from his days as a novice with Chatburn, St Mary’s and St Paul’s cubs as well as First Bowland Scouts. It’s been a long, arduous development process to get to where he is today, years of graft and commitment have been dedicated to the cause, but Schofield admits he’ll forever be in the debt of his coaches.

“I started aged between nine and 10 at Ribblesdale baths in Clitheroe with the scouts’ canoe club,” he said. “I did a little bit of paddling with them and from there I got introduced to white water racing, literally with just the support of my parents, and I just went to races every weekend. I gradually got more deeply immersed in the sport and almost without realising it I found myself competing nationally and internationally.

“There’s quite a few coaches to thank because anybody who gets to compete at a high level get quite lucky with people they meet along the way. A guy called John Royle, who lived in Rishton at the time, just took it upon himself to coach me.

“He put a lot of time in to bettering me and teaching me how to paddle white water rivers. He had the belief that I could become a champion so it was through him that I became junior world champion in 2002. Everything he taught me and the time he invested in me back then has been key to my success.”

Schofield added: “There’s been a succession of good coaches. With the Olympic cycle we’re extremely lucky as a squad with the coach we’ve got - a guy called Alex Nikonorov who is a Russian coach who has been in the UK for about 12 years. “He’s been coaching us for the past three years. He’s totally turned our careers around, he’s been absolutely fantastic. He’s been a leader, role model and technical coach. Many athletes fall by the wayside because they haven’t had good direction and that could’ve easily happened to me if it wasn’t for those people.”

However, like any other sports star immersed in his trade, Schofield still has an inextinguishable, burning ambition to further enhance his prestigious medal collection. Last year saw dynamic duo Schofield and Heath retain their European Canoe Sprint Championship crown for the third year in succession on Lake Jarun in Zagreb, Croatia, beating German pairing Ronald Rauhe and Jonas Ems by the finest of margins, with just 0.00184 separating them. Poland’s Sebastian Szypula and Dawid Putto beat world champions France (Arnoud Hybois and Sebastien Jouve) for third spot.

That emphatic triumph, coupled with a podium finish at the Greatest Show on Earth, saw the prolific pairing extend their medal haul to 15 races. “Ever since 200m became an Olympic discipline, changing from 500m, nobody else has won the European title,” smiled Schofield. “So in the Olympic era of 200m racing nobody else has had one of those so I’d like that to continue as long as possible.

“It’s a good claim to fame but it also puts a lot of pressure on you because we’re the only boat that has been on the podium in every race. We’ve never been without a medal in a race so that was quite scary going in to the Olympics with that kind of record although it gave us a lot of confidence. We know we’re the most consistent boat in the world so we didn’t want to lose that record in an Olympic final.”

There’s no doubt that Schofield has enjoyed a decorated career to date but there’s still one specific medal that’s eluded him - a World Championship Gold. That will be the main aim for 2013 when Duisburg, Germany, hosts the competition in September.

Schofield said: “I’m absolutely over the moon with my achievements so far but I’ve still got a burning ambition to become world champion having come third and second. That is what we’ll be striving for in 2013 because no matter how many achievements you’ve made as an athlete you’re always aiming for more.

“We’ve never been world champions before and they are in Duisburg, Germany, in September so that will be our main focus. We’ll be trying to improve a few things in a bid to catch those Russians and become the best in the world.

“Our first competition will be April so we’ll be getting together as a squad again in January. In February we’ve got a training camp in Cuba, in March we’ll be training in Spain and then we’ll compete in small races. The majority of our training is at Eton Dorney on the Olympic course so we get to experience that day in, day out. It’s completely different now because all the stands and the atmosphere has obviously gone. It’s hard to believe it’s the same place.”

Schofield and Heath, alongside the remainder of the Olympic rowing team, started the legacy back in August, and now, with the pledge of funding, it looks set to continue. Schofield is determined to keep laying the foundations to build the sport’s reputation in a bid to help himself, and other prospective young paddlers, make Rio 2016.

He said: “We’ve received an 18 per cent increase in funding over the previous cycle so we’re in a great position. In real terms we’ve got a similar amount of money to spend so we can build on our success from London. On top of that we’ve got great plans in place to develop the sport and afford more people the opportunity that I was lucky enough to have.

“The funding comes from UK Sport, the National Lottery and Government investment. I want to go to the Olympics and have a shot of winning that gold. I also want to see the sport that I love grow and give other deserving paddlers the opportunity I had because it was amazing, completely out of this world.”