It must be bad enough going through your adult life sharing your name with a loud and uber-famous Hollywood actor – you spend your entire time explaining to people that you’re “not that Robin Williams”. A bit like happening to be called Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt but not beingthat Tom / Brad. But rowing coach Robin Williams has taken it a step further and chosen a job that means he’s always the least well-known member of a very famous team.
Everybody knows rowing stars Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, and loves them for winning our first gold medal in the London 2012 Olympics, but how many people could name their coach?
Williams doesn’t deny that at times it’s hard now that his girls have become public property. From the moment their final started and he was cycling wildly along the towpath, he lost them to the public, as he told a rapt audience in Monmouth last night. That intense and crucial relationship had always been private and largely out of sight. Suddenly the girls belonged to all of us.
It hit home the moment they crossed the line and he was mobbed by other coaches. As soon as he escaped the scrum, Stanning and Glover – whom he described as having “no airs and graces”- were surrounded by cameras. Instead of the quiet pub lunch where they’d planned to celebrate (or commiserate) with Williams and their parents, the pair were whisked off in a limo to conduct interviews and, as Williams wryly put it, commentate on Tae Kwon-Do. So busy have the last few months been, that the lunch only finally took place a couple of weeks ago.
Yet for all that, Williams is thrilled for them – and perhaps a lifetime of being the other Robin Williams is all the preparation he needed for it. He can’t disguise his joy and pride when he talks about the two girls who won our hearts.
What he loves most about them, apart from their cheerfulness and complete absence of starriness, is the way they have overcome the obstacles to success. Neither is particularly tall or particularly heavy, and Glover only started rowing in 2008 (think about it – that’s four years ago. Now think about the people in your club who started rowing four years ago. Exactly). They came together at Bath, a small club on a winding stretch of river, rather than one of the well-endowed, glamorous clubs on the Thames. And just weeks before their GB trials, Glover had never done anything but sculling, and their square blading was “pretty terrible – they were splashy and couldn’t balance the boat”.
Yet through sheer determination and hard work, with a lot of chemistry between them, and Williams determined to make training fun, they powered through to become the darlings of the rowing world.
I’m quite certain that if you asked Glover and Stanning who or what was responsible for their success, Williams would be right up there on the list. He may not be that Robin Williams, but in British rowing, he can rightly claim to be the Robin Williams. And Monmouth is very, very proud of him.