Olympic champions: Spencer Turrin, Jack Hargreaves (second and third from left) and their crew mates at the podium on Sea Forest Waterway.

At the Tokyo Olympic Games Spencer Turrin (2009) and Jack Hargreaves (2011) created College history by becoming the first Joeys Old Boys to win rowing gold medals.

When the bow of Australia’s boat crossed the finish line at Sea Forest Waterway, it was the culmination of years of hard work for the coxless IVs crew. For half a decade they had rowed more than 200 kilometres a week, building the power and endurance needed to become world champions.

Their victory broke the 21-year stranglehold the British had on the event, and was the first time Joeys Old Boys had mounted the top rowing podium.

Spencer and Jack occupied the two and three seats. Their long journey to rowing’s summit had begun many years before at the College. Both country boys – Spencer hails from Dungog and Jack from Nyngan – neither had lifted an oar before coming to Hunters Hill. Joeys gave them the opportunity to realise talents they didn’t know they had.

For Spencer, whose mum Catherine wanted him to be a Wallaby, rowing was a way of getting fit – and losing his baby fat.

“I was a bigger kid and rowing helped me strip the weight off. I thought it looked like a cool sport and it was Joeys that really gave me a love for it.”

Damien Mitchelmore (1997) was Spencer’s school coach when he rowed in the first VIII from 2007 to 2009. He remembers a dedicated young man who left nothing in the tank, a man with the potential to row for Australia.

Joeys spirit: Spencer Turrin and Jack Hargreaves both boarded at the College and are now Olympic gold medallists.

“Like a lot of country boys he had a great work ethic,” Mitchelmore says. “He got on with it and never shirked a challenge and he became a real leadership model that boys at the boatshed looked up to.”

One of those boys was Jack. Jack’s College rowing career was character building – he was dropped from the first VIII in 2010 and won just the one regatta in Year 11. It steeled him for the ups and downs of elite level sport.

“Being dropped and losing just spurs you on to train harder, he says.

His year 10 coach, College Head of Boarding, John Reading (1972), witnessed Jack’s never-say-die attitude firsthand. It’s what separated him from boys with a similar talent.

“He was a very good schoolboy rower like many of the boys I’ve see come through Joeys but it was his attitude and perseverance that took him to a level of greatness and transformed him into a champion,” Mr Reading says.

Both men made huge sacrifices on their path to the podium. Their six-day week training regime meant late nights and partying were out.

Jacks’ mum Jenny says it got the point where “he would be getting up for training and some of his friends would still be coming back from the night before!”

“To win gold with one of your best mates – a fellow Joeys boy – was just fantastic.”

Jack Hargreaves

They had to relocate to the National Training Centre in Canberra to focus on their rowing careers fulltime, and now share a house, affectionately known as the “Deakin Backpackers”, with Old Boy and Olympic VIIIs rower Jack O’Brien (2016).

“We all come from the country and we all boarded at Joeys so there’s a great bond between us,” Spencer says.

Their deep Joeys bond has translated to the boat where teamwork is of the essence. Jack says there is a great chemistry between the crew, and even before the Olympic final he was employing preparation techniques he learnt at Joeys.

“I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck, but when I woke up I felt quite calm,” he says. “At Joeys we were taught to focus on what you’re doing at that point in time, so you don’t put extra pressure on yourself and get ahead of yourself before the race. If you’re warming up, just focus on that.”

Spencer likes to keep the mood light. A veteran of the 2016 Rio Olympics, he says he and Jack enjoyed playing up the GPS rivalry with their Shore teammate Alex Purnell.

In the final, the Australians took command from the start, pulling ahead of the pack early while reigning champions Great Britain struggled. At times it seemed like they were cruising as they glided to victory in an Olympic record time of 5:42.76, half a second ahead of the Romanian team, who finished with a flourish.

Hard work: Spencer Turrin and Jack Hargreaves (second and third from left) trained six days a week to reach their goal.

The Australians’ plan to assert their dominance early had worked to the letter.

“We wanted to take the race from everyone else, to make a statement, get out in front and lead from the front,” Jack says.

Spencer agrees. 

“I thought we had the race pretty early on. It wasn’t until I saw the replay that I realised it was much closer.”

Having realised their sporting ambitions, both men are now weighing up their futures. Jack, 28, has his sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics while Spencer, 29, is taking time out to decide on his next career move.

(From left) Spencer Turrin, followed by Jack Hargreaves, both rowed in the College first VIII.

They feel a huge sense of gratitude to the College and hope their feats will inspire the next generation of Joeys Olympic rowers.

But they warn there is no easy road to success.

“There is no secret,” Spencer says. “It’s all about hard work and persistence. Back yourself and chase your dreams.”

“You don’t have to be the most naturally gifted, you just have to persevere,” Jack adds. “To win gold with one of your best mates – a fellow Joeys boy – was just fantastic.”