When I meet Constantine Louloudis at 10am on a windy and wet Tuesday morning he tells me has already been up since 6am. He had an early morning training session, followed by a 9am tutorial on politicians in Classical Athens (arranged to give him enough time to row again that afternoon). Having only dragged myself out of bed thirty minutes earlier, I already feel inadequate. Reassuringly for my sense of self-worth, however, he declares that this is the “most intense time of the year” as the Oxford crew is in the final phase of selection and, since it is term time too, he still has a lot going on academically.
Constantine is a third year Classicist at Trinity College. He is also a bronze medal winning Olympic rower, having participated in the men’s Eights at the London 2012 Olympics. He won the Boat Race of 2011 in his first year at Oxford and again in 2013 after rusticating for a year.
Achieving a position on the Blues boat in his first year is something Constantine modestly tries to argue was because “it wasn’t a very competitive year. I might have been flattered a bit.” But being a fresher in the Boat Race already puts him in the esteemed company of rowers like Tom James, who rowed for Cambridge as a fresher and has gone on to win two Olympic gold medals in the coxless fours at Beijing and London.
Louloudis rusticated for his second year to spend time as a full-time athlete in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. This decision was “pretty easy once I realised I had a good shot at the Olympics; a home Olympics doesn’t come round very often.” His college and tutors were sympathetic to the idea of him taking a year out to pursue Olympic glory. Louloudis remarks, “Trinity were very supportive; our president certainly wasn’t adverse to the concept of having an Olympian in the college.” Certainly the prestige Constantine has gained seems to more than justify the decision.
The dream Olympic medal Constantine earned at the end of his year off didn’t come without difficulties. There was always a risk he wouldn’t compete and this became a frighteningly realistic possibility when he damaged his fifth lumbar vertebrae in late April 2012. This injury put his Olympic dream in doubt.
Constantine remembers, “if I’d been out for another couple of weeks it all would have over. That was the darkest period I’ve been through.” British Rowing left Constantine’s seat unannounced for the Olympics when all the other positions had been released on 6th June 2012, a testament to the faith they had in his ability. It was only in mid-June that his injury improved enough for his selection to be confirmed.
Whilst Constantine still ranks the Olympic final as the moment he is most proud of in rowing, it could have been even more impressive, something Louloudis acknowledges, “Crossing the line there was such mixed emotions. We had wanted gold. In my mind I think I had made my peace with silver and to get bronze was kind of a kick in the teeth. But at the same time when we crossed the line I thought we had come last.”
Constantine reveals that in the final Team GB “had a plan to just go for it. We expected the race to be over in about five minutes twenty seconds but there was a significant headwind and instead the race took around five minutes fifty seconds. That extra twenty or thirty seconds really showed. Even with 30,000 people shouting and screaming it’s a bit of a myth that they can bring more out of you than you knew you had; when your legs are gone, your legs are gone.”
Constantine believes he can improve on Bronze in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. He says, “I’m stronger now that I was then and the national team still looks in good health.”
Any men’s Eight boat for Rio 2016 will be much changed from 2012 but Constantine is likely to be a continuing presence. Preparation for 2016 is already under way in his absence and after completing his degree at Oxford in June 2015 he intends to train as a full-time professional rower again in the year preceding the next Olympics.
However the prospect of remaining a fulltime rower indefinitely is something Constantine reveals is “not very appealing”. In his year out, he says, he “didn’t enjoy the break from academic studies.”
Moreover, there’s something about the Oxford rowing lifestyle that Constantine particularly enjoys. He tells me that, “I love rowing at Oxford because there is so much else going on. You can find loads of other things to do socially and academically but that’s not the case when you’re a full-time athlete. I’d like to emphasise how much I enjoy the Oxford bit more than the national team bit. I just feel really privileged that I can row to a high-level but also go out in the evenings in Oxford and almost forget that I do it.”
Ten to twelve training sessions a week totalling around thirty five hours of rowing is enough to keep the Oxford rowers at an international standard. Constantine says, “the programme is a really high standard here. It’s testament to how good the Oxford University Boat Club is and how well it’s run.”
However, thirty five hours of rowing a week does take its toll, and on his social life as he realises. “I try my best; it’s sleep that suffers,” he says. When I ask him how many hours he spends on his academic work he laughs and jokes, “I probably better not put a figure on that one”.
Clearly sacrifices have to be made to keep up rowing but Constantine believes “Whilst there are more things I could do socially and it does take time out of academics, it is all worth it.
“It’s not the Olympic medals or winning the races – it’s being in a team with guys you get on with really well and who you’ll count as friends for a really long time.”
On the Boat Race Louloudis says that it is “almost comparable” to the Olympic final in terms of intensity. He has his sights firmly set on this year’s race which he says he is “guardedly confident” for.
Constantine aims to guide Oxford to victory again. He confesses, “I’d like to be able to look back at four years at Oxford with four boat race wins. And I’m halfway there