Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with rowing star Moe Sbihi...

It will be at the Eton Dorney Rowing Centre on Dorney Lake near Windsor Castle that 550 rowers – 353 men and 197 women – will compete in the 14 medal events at the 2012 Olympics. Given Great Britain’s pedigree in previous Olympics Games – a medal-table topping two gold, two silver and two bronze in Beijing – the pressure will be on Team GB’s men and women to deliver on home water.

There are eight rowing events for men at the Olympics and six for women, with two different types of boat used (heavyweight and lightweight) as well as two different types of rowing (sweep and sculling). You are likely to find lifelong Arsenal supporter Mohamed Sbihi involved at the ‘power seat’ (number five) in the men’s eights, having been part of the team that has won silver at the last two World Rowing Championships.

Sbihi has enjoyed great success in the sport, which he took up as recently as 2003, also winning a silver medal at the World Cup Series in Germany and a bronze in Switzerland this year.

With the Olympics getting ever closer, how are your preparations for 2012 going?
Preparations for 2012 are coming along well. I train on the Thames with my teammates and it’s really coming to a crucial phase ahead of the Olympics, where we have to be getting our training spot on. Training can be tough and you need your team-mates to help get you through some of the mental and physical barriers you will come up against and likewise, you have to be as supportive as you can of them in return.

How did you get involved in rowing?
When I was at the Hollyfield School in Surbiton a scout from the GB Rowing Team came to visit us, and after doing some tests I was told there and then that I had the physical potential to make a top rower. It was a surprise to me, because I’d only ever thought about football when I was a kid when it came to sport and suddenly this opportunity presented itself. I quickly got involved in the sport and won the Great Britain Indoor Rowing Championships in the under-15 category later that year (2003).

How did you become an Arsenal supporter?
I’ve been an Arsenal supporter ever since I was a little boy. When my dad moved to London from Morocco he lived in the Finsbury Park area. Therefore, Arsenal was the natural team for him to support and thankfully he passed that tradition down to me.

I have memories of going to Highbury as a kid, though I probably couldn’t tell you too much about the games I saw when I was young. The whole experience and environment was what I loved being a part of when I was a kid. My first ever Arsenal game was a match against Liverpool sometime in the mid-1990s, but I can’t be any more specific than that.

How often do you make it to Arsenal matches these days?
I get to Emirates a couple of times a season at least. As you’ll hear time and time again from other athletes, you don’t get a great deal of free time around training. I did make it to the 3-1 win against Stoke. I went with my dad and we had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. It was a good solid win. I train on Saturdays, so I can’t make matches then and mid-week games are also hard as I need to be in bed early. Sunday is the best day for me to visit.

Where do you usually sit at Emirates Stadium?
Given that I don’t get to matches that regularly, I’m happy to get a seat wherever I can! I’ve sat in the North Bank a few times, but generally tend to watch from the Clock End. Going to the Emirates is such a fantastic experience – it’s a beautiful stadium and being there on a matchday is something else. There’s certainly not a bad view in the house.

What have been the highlights for you being an Arsenal fan?
I’d class the whole time we’ve been managed by Arsène Wenger as my highlight being an Arsenal supporter. It’s been so refreshing to see the number of young players we’ve signed and developed and I count myself very lucky to have watched greats over this period like Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.

What have been your personal career highlights to date?
My career highlights to date most definitely include getting a silver medal at the 2010 World Rowing Championships, which was held on New Zealand’s Lake Karapiro. We followed up with the silver medal once again in the World Championships this year in Bled, Slovenia, finishing just behind the Germans. It was disappointing not to get the gold, but equally it was so satisfying to put in consistent performances two years in a row.

How do you prepare for an event like the Olympics mentally?
I think you have to take every event as it comes and with the intensity of training, look to take every day as it comes too. Of course we know the Olympics is on the horizon and that’s the big motivation for doing what we are doing, but you can’t be complacent in your mind to think you’ve already done enough to get a medal. You have to keep working and working.

What kind of host city do you think London will be for the Games?
The Olympics is going to be a great sporting occasion and an event people will remember for a long, long time. London is a great world city where there is always something going on. What is really exciting is so many global visitors will get to experience this city for themselves and hopefully enjoy some fantastic sporting action too. I’m so excited about potentially being a part of it.


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18 Jul 2012