Breaking a record previously held by Sir Matthew Pinsent and Moe Sbihi is one thing. Doing so in your parents’ garage during a global pandemic is quite another.
But Tom George has made lockdown count for something – breaking the GB Rowing Team 2km indoor rowing record with only paint cans and DIY tools for company.
His time of five minutes, 39.6 seconds – achieved on his own, at his parents’ Gloucestershire home on 30 May – makes him the first British rower, and only the 10th man ever, to dip under the 5.40 barrier.
A Union Flag hangs on the wall, perhaps a reminder of what it’s all about and why he pushes himself to such limits.
“I walked back into the house, my parents asked how it went, I said ‘it was OK, I’m just going to go have a shower’,” George tells BBC Sport.
“After I’d had a shower, I thought I’d better tell them what had just happened in the garage, because it was actually quite big.”
Quite big indeed. Between them, Pinsent and Sbihi have amassed five Olympic gold medals, while George, 25, was scheduled to make his Games debut in Tokyo this summer.
Lockdown means George hasn’t been out on the water since early March, and has instead spent far more time on the rowing machine than he’d probably care for.
But he is reaping the benefits of that and the increased cycling he has added to his training programme, putting him in peak position to attempt to break the record – previously 5.40 held by Sbihi.
“I don’t think I necessarily set out with the aim of doing it,” George says. “I felt I was in pretty good shape and I thought I was putting myself in a position where I was physiologically able to have a crack at it.
“The first kilometre ticked by and I was on exactly the split I wanted to be on, and then at the halfway mark, it was a case of ‘if not now, when?’ This was the opportunity, it was on for me if I could hold it together.
“You never know if you’re just going to completely fall apart but I decided that, in that moment, I was in a good enough position to put in a bit more.”
Doing it on his own, George admits, with nobody there to scream support or congratulate you when it was over, was “a bit weird”. A garage is a far cry from GB’s Caversham base, where 2km tests are done together as a team.
“One of the best things is that everyone is going through it together, and there is so much energy in the room with everyone spurring each other on that you can always find that extra edge,” he says.
Being mentioned in the same breath as Pinsent and Sbihi is great, George says, but he feels he hasn’t quite earned his place yet.
“It won’t mean anything if we don’t succeed next year in following what those athletes achieved on the water as well.”
‘A massive rollercoaster’ – from Olympic selection to null and void
This summer was meant to see the realisation of a dream for George – a maiden Olympics in Tokyo after he was selected in the men’s eight.
Team selection took place in March, earlier than planned, as coronavirus took hold around the world. The squad learned if they were in or out while stood, social distancing of course, outside Caversham.
After that, they were sent home for what they only thought would be two weeks. Just days later, the UK went on lockdown, and the following day, the Olympics were postponed until 2021.
Worse still, those selected for the Games were then told their selection was now null and void. “It was back to square one,” George says.
“It was a massive rollercoaster. Being announced in the team was amazing, training by myself would be a strange challenge but would be fine, and then just a few days later, the Olympics are cancelled.
“That was when the deflated feelings hit, going from such a high of being named for my first Olympics to suddenly being told that it was all postponed.”
For the most part, George has coped well, despite the “massive mental adjustment”. He’s excited for the day he can reunite with his “close knit brotherhood” on the water, knowing that this period may have actually benefitted them in the long run.
Since the Rio 2016 Olympics, where Team GB won three rowing golds, British Rowing has not hit the heights expected.
At the three World Championships since, the men’s eight have twice won bronze after finishing off the podium in 2017, while the flagship coxless fours collected the same colour at all three editions.
“It’s been pretty well documented that British Rowing in the last four years hasn’t reached the standard it has set for itself, so it’s its own worst enemy in that regard,” says George.
“It’s great to be part of a team where success is expected of you, but I think this extra year is going to be huge for us.
“Knowing how hard the guys are training in this period, the fire and the hunger, everyone is just getting fitter and stronger.
“This is the last piece of the puzzle to get there. I think we can turn it into a huge opportunity for ourselves.”