For someone about to battle the tides of history as well as the Thames in the 165th Boat Race, James Cracknell looked remarkably calm on Friday as film crews buzzed around him as he finished his morning row.
On Sunday the 46-year-old will strike a blow for middle-aged men everywhere by becoming the oldest competitor in the event’s history – a story that has attracted journalists from as far afield as China and Turkey to this year’s race.
To add to the pressure, Cracknell has also spent the week answering questions about his personal life after recently announcing his split from his wife, Beverley Turner.
Yet the Cambridge coach, Rob Baker, is confident that the double Olympic champion will deliver when it matters, just like he did so many times during his glittering career.
“I have met no one better at compartmentalising their lives and being able to focus on the task at hand than James,” said Baker. “He is incredibly good at that. He’s been dealing with a lot of stuff, and he has been very open with the squad about that. But he manages himself incredibly well.”
The bookies, incidentally, make Cambridge 1-4 favourites to triumph – and attribute the ‘Cracknell factor’ for 95% of the bets on the race being placed on the Light Blue boat.
Cracknell is used to challenges, having rowed the Atlantic with Ben Fogle and finished 12th in the 156-mile Marathon des Sables. And also adversity: in 2010 he was hit by a petrol tanker while riding his bike from Los Angeles to New York, leaving him with an injury to the frontal lobes of his brain.
However Cracknell, who is studying for a masters degree in human evolution, admits that returning to rowing after being retired since 2006 was one of the hardest challenges of his life.
Throughout nine months of intensive training he has been able to give team-mates, many of whom are half his age, the benefit of all his years of high-level competition. They, meanwhile, have educated him on chemical equations and Tinder.
Cracknell confesses that it has been a hard slog at times. However Cambridge cox Matthew Holland says that the 46-year-old fully deserves his place in the eight-man boat against Oxford.
“I’d be lying if I said that in the first session, when he was sat in the seven seat in front of me that I wasn’t thinking ‘holy crap that is James Cracknell’,” he admitted. “But within a few strokes that was gone. He contributes a lot, but he has had to earn everything that he has got. He has not been given a free ride.”