MARK HUNTER. MBE

  • MARK 1
  • MARK 2

Photography by Eddie Bovingdon

The Olympics have finally arrived and for the elite few, the blood, sweat and tears shed in pursuit of a gold medal will soon be justified. However, for every champion there will be those who fall short, left to wonder what went wrong and nagged by a sense of unfinished business. One such athlete is Mark Hunter MBE. He has experienced both the exquisite taste of victory and the humiliation of defeat. In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, along with his partner Zac Purchase, he won Great Britain’s first ever lightweight rowing medal. Four years prior in Greece the story had been very different…

“I had come last and it was the lowest point of my life. I came back from Athens and people were pretty much laughing in my face, saying I had wasted my time and, the thing is, it was hard to argue that I hadn’t. At that point there is only one way to show them they were wrong about me. I had to turn it around.”

He took three months away to reflect on his failure and, with the support of his family and the coaching team, he began to come back armed with a new weapon, “I developed a burning desire to win everything. I wanted to be the best at everything.” His confidence snowballed and with every victory, came further belief. “It builds and builds and before you know it everyone is looking up to you. Behind closed doors, I knew what things I needed to do differently. The way I trained and the way I recovered. Making sure I didn’t go out partying as much. I was more sensible and mature.”

“There is more to life than soaking up Californian sun…”

The story culminated in 2008 when he realised his dream and for many, including Hunter, it had a fairy tale ending that meant he could retire and enjoy the success he had dreamed of. “I just wanted to party hard. I was in the best shape of my life the Sunday we won and by the following weekend I was probably in the worst shape of my life! We were invited to every party and the deal was always the same: turn up with a gold medal, go straight in, sign stuff and get pissed.” But was he ever worried the medal would vanish in the drunken haze that followed his crowning moment? “The medal always comes back, you give it to people then it comes back. You never really worry about it. People have a big respect for it and understand the work that goes into having one and what it means to you to achieve that.”

Once the dust settled, he moved to Santa Monica, Los Angeles and enjoyed a lifestyle that few experience. “The medal opened doors everywhere.” But then something happened. “I had the realisation that there is more to life than soaking up Californian sun and started to think about coming back. People started to tell me I’d be foolish to miss out on competing in a home Olympics. So I started training again.”

After months of gruelling training, he won the World Championship, which gave him the belief to carry on towards London and retain his title as Olympic champion. If he does succeed, it would be an amazing accomplishment for the East Londoner and few would bet against him. But for all his successes there has been the odd reminder that he is still mortal.  “A few years back, some mates and I were hammered in Vegas and ended up on a black Jack table at 5am. The medal had been out all night and now it sat on the table. The pit boss came over and asked us to put it away. The lads refused and after a back and forth the pit boss said ‘Look, you might have one gold medal, but that guy over there has eight.’ We looked up and saw Michael Phelps.  The medal went back in its box.

@julianokines

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