Sam Bosworth calls time on his elite rowing career
Sam has had an incredible career from the coxswain’s seat, an international career that’s come to an end with an Olympic gold medal and now time to start the next stage of his life. It’s just over a year since he was part of the men’s eight in Tokyo that left everyone in awe, some in tears. Sam’s had a golden run in a boat, his timing’s impeccable, it seems to work on a four-year cycle which isn’t a bad thing for an Olympic athlete.
After starting with Christ’s College in 2009, he coxed their Maadi Cup winning eight in 2012. That led to selection in the New Zealand Junior squad and a gold medal at the world champs in Bulgaria the same year. It set him and two of his crewmates in that four on a journey to unprecedented international success. And their paths would keep crossing for the next 10 years in a black boat.
In 2013, Sam was picked for an Under 23 coxed four. Over the next four years the boat won three consecutive world championship silver medals before claiming gold in 2016 in the Netherlands. If his juniors win had sparked a desire to continue rowing, the U23 campaigns now had him targeting the next step.
In 2017, he became the first male coxswain at international level to be picked for a female crew when he was selected in the women’s eight. Since beginning in the sport Sam’s always enjoyed the challenge of taking different crews and the women’s boat was no different. “Honestly, I loved it. Coxing’s coxing you know, the same kind of fundamentals. There was obviously a difference in speed and the way we rowed but the athletes were incredible to work with.”
After finishing fourth at Rio the previous year, the 2017 group proved the women’s eight programme was starting to fly. “We managed to get third at the world champs and we had some great World Cup regattas before that, we won Henley which was an amazing race and an amazing experience in itself. An incredible group of ladies to work with,” he says. Sam stayed with the women’s eight in 2018 where they finished 1st in the B final at the world champs. “That was a bit of a changing point for a lot of us. We realised we needed to do something different, and I learnt a lot that year, which I took into 2019 when I switched to the men’s eight.”
The move brought Sam back alongside coach Tony O’Connor, the man who first mentored him at Christ’s College. “It's such a special thing that we started together at school when I was 14 years old. He’s coached me, he's been a great friend to me, we've coached together at Christ’s College when I left school to then come up and coach me at the elite level and then take me through to winning the gold medal. He’s had a huge impact on myself and everyone in the rowing community. He’s a bit of a legend really. “ The respect goes both ways. “Sometimes coxswains can be on the periphery,” say Tony, who puts much of the success for Tokyo down to Sam. “People talk about an eight, but they don’t talk about a nine because it kind of slips off the tongue very easily. But in a way the boys themselves were the periphery and Sam was the core to it.” He recalls training at Karāpiro when the eight would break down into smaller boats. “Anytime the boys were in the pairs or the coxless fours and Sam and I were in the speedboat together and quite often he’d do the coaching and I’d do the driving. “When he talked, everyone else shut up, I don’t ever remember him coming up with a suggestion or an observation that was disagreed on by the boys. Surrounded by a big bunch of A-type personalities… he was just the bedrock of the whole thing.”
Sam says there was huge buy-in from everyone in the crew from 2019 onwards. After failing to qualify for the Olympics by finishing last in the A-final at the world champs the crew came home, unpacked then unpicked everything they did. Hours on the water were matched by open and honest discussions off it in the boardroom of Rowing NZ, where they thrashed out every idea, so they could to make the boat go faster. “We outlined our goals, how we were rowing, our day-to-day training, the little things down to nutrition and sleeping and just holding each other accountable. “It was led by Tom Mackintosh, one of the youngest members of the crew, and him and Hamish [Bond] started making a plan and from that day onwards everyone brought into it. As Hamish said: ‘We can’t just turn up and hope we’re going to win, it’s about turning up and making sure we can win’.” Sam says the crew only got better as the world shut down through Covid and the Olympics being delayed only strengthened their ambition.
Winning at the qualification regatta in Lucerne in May 2021 only built their belief. Barely four weeks after getting home they were off again, this time to the real deal. “Once we arrived in Tokyo, I remember the boat just flying. It was just moving really well. From my seat it was just bubbling underneath me, and you always know that's a good sign. “ After a patchy heat the crew then rowed what Sam calls “one of the best races I’ve ever had as a coxswain”. It’s where crew, coxswain and coach all reckon they found their ‘Big Boy Rhythm’. Sam remembers the final like this:
“The crew was so relaxed, I was relaxed. As the buzzer goes it was hectic like every eights race is, there were six coxswains yelling, all the men grunting… absolutely going for it. “We got onto our winning rhythm… once we hit that the boat just started to fly, I guess we got ‘On the Wave’ as we called it. “Coming through the 750 is when we started to really kick…we started to move away and Hamish yelled something from the bow like, ‘we’ve gotta go now,’ maybe not quite those words! “Crossing the finish line was the most incredible feeling. It was shock, it was excitement, it was, ‘did that actually happen?’ “It didn’t sink in ‘until I was standing on the podium with a medal around my neck.” There’s a YouTube video where Tony O’Connor asks his crew after the medal ceremony, their golds proudly held up for the camera, something like: “What did you just do?” Sam’s there with thumbs up for his special coach, Michael Brake’s there, so is Tom Murray, the two young oarsmen whose journey also started with that Junior world championship gold in 2012.
For Sam that’s been the best part of it all. The friends he’s made, the incredible crewmates and coaches he’s worked with over the years that have helped shape him. He reserves special thanks to them all and to all his sponsors, friends, and his family who have made it possible. In January he’s heading to the UK to start a career as a development manager and excited to take on a new opportunity.