Sir Clive Woodward: I’ve got no plans after 2012
Sir Clive Woodward talks exclusively to Andrew Magee about preparations, inspiration and his plans for the future
While his name might be more closely linked with a famous night in Sydney, Sir Clive Woodward is adamant that his future lies with Britain’s Olympic legacy.
“As far as I know there are no jobs in English rugby, so I don’t know where this comes from,” he says, with a knowing smile.
The man who built his reputation as a world cup winning coach has been at the heart of Team GB since his appointment as the British Olympic Association’s director of elite performance in 2006, and was a key part of Britain’s successes in Beijing and Vancouver.
But Sir Clive now faces a new challenge: managing Britain’s best young winter athletes at the first ever Winter Youth Olympic Games.
“The age doesn’t make too much difference for me. You can have a very young person who has an incredibly mature outlook on life and what they do. Or you can have an older person, as we’ve seen recently in other sports, who have a very immature way of looking at things.
“There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm, as you can imagine, but it’s no different from the preparations we did for Vancouver. We have to make sure that everything is right for them but also that they have a lot of fun and that’s a really enjoyable tournament.”
Sir Clive has departed for Innsbruck, Austria, along with 24 of the country’s best young sports stars for 10 days of competition against over 1,000 athletes from all corners of the globe.
Team GB is well represented, with athletes competing in 10 disciplines across both snow and ice, but in his role as Chef de Mission, the 55-year-old is keen to promote off-piste activities as much as competition.
“I think events like this are huge. I look at it from an Olympic view and for so many athletes to attend and perform to Olympic standards is fantastic.
“But it’s important they understand the culture and the value of the Olympic Games and hopefully they’ll all come away and spread the word even more. Part of being out there is teaching them what Olympism really is.”
The young stars can look forward to education programmes and cultural exchanges organised by the International Olympic Committee, with mixed gender teams and even mixed nations assembling to compete.
Britain’s Eve Muirhead, who recently won gold at the European Curling Championships, is one of several Athlete Role Models appointed by the IOC and will hope to inspire Britain’s next generation, especially younger brother Thomas, who is in the curling team.
Sir Clive resorted to his own tried and tested brand of inspiration when speaking to the young athletes and their families at the team’s pre-departure meeting yesterday.
“My favourite line in sport is “˜how do you want to be remembered?’ I’ve always used that, with the England rugby team, with everyone, because I think any athlete is remembered for two things.
“You want to be remembered for what you do within your sport, whether that be on the field, the ice or the snow. But equally you want to be remembered by your friends and teammates for how you conduct yourself off the field of play.
“It’s a strong message, which I wanted to reiterate to them, and even to a bunch of young athletes it means a lot.
“You want to be remembered for being outstanding, for throwing the kitchen sink at something to try and be successful, because that’s all you can do. You haven’t got to win to be a success, but you’ve got to throw everything at it.”
His message has rubbed off. Freestyle skier Katie Summerhayes is one of Britain’s best medal prospects at the Games and is delighted to be managed by one of the best.
“Having Sir Clive is pretty cool,” she said. “He knows what he’s doing and he’s an amazing coach too. We all listen to him, even my coach, and though he might not be able to help me too much with the technical side of skiing he can definitely help me mentally.
“He’s a great role model for all of us to have.”
Britain might not have the necessary mountains or climate to seriously challenge most winter sport nations, but Sir Clive is adamant there is room for improvement.
“Obviously we’re not a winter sports country, just because of where we are, but we’re producing some great athletes in curling, speed skating and skeleton and some of our freestyle skiers and snowboarders are up there with the best in the world. They are going to be competing, big time.
“They may not live in Britain because they train abroad, but that’s no different to training at altitude if you’re an athlete. If you want it bad enough you’ll find ways to get out there and do it.”
Looking beyond Innsbruck, the former England coach is ready for Britain to be the centre of the world’s attention during the 2012 Olympics, and feels that Britain is ready for it.
“I think we were all pretty pleased when the clock struck 2012 a few days ago. I think everybody should be proud about the way the Brits have put it on.
“It’s ahead of schedule and ahead of budget in pretty tough times and I just hope it’s a successful Games in every single way. I obviously hope we get some medals but it’s also pretty important for the whole country that we put on something pretty special, which I think we can do.”
Sochi and Rio are next on the Olympic horizon for Sir Clive, though a return to rugby for the 2015 World Cup in England seems out of the question, for now at least.
“I’ve got no plans after 2012. I’ve never planned my career, it tends to just happen.
“I’m totally committed to 2012 and after that we’ve got Sochi two years later and Rio in four years’ time, so I’ve no reason to think I won’t be involved in those two.”
It seems England will have to wait for its hero to return, but for now the focus is on the winter stars of the future and ensuring they have the best time possible at what will surely be the highlight of their young careers.
“It’s a big thing for these kids, the first ever Winter Youth Olympics, so they’re very lucky.
“I’m sure they’ll do well but for me it’s about making sure they come back having had a great experience and come back better athletes.”