Greg Whyte

This month, sports sci­en­tist and for­mer Olympian Greg Whyte talks to Helen Pilcher about fenc­ing skul­dug­gery, Comic Re­lief and why dough­nuts are no bad thing…

Focus-Science and Technology - - My Life Scientific -

Have you al­ways loved sport?

It’s been a life­long ob­ses­sion. My pas­sion at school was swim­ming, then when I was 14 there was a scan­dal that trans­formed my life. It was 1976, the height of the Cold War. The British pen­tathlon team was fenc­ing the Rus­sians in the Mon­treal Olympics. The British cap­tain got hit by a Rus­sian fencer, but he com­plained. They checked the Rus­sian’s sword and found it had a se­cret but­ton. The Rus­sians were thrown out for cheat­ing and Bri­tain went on to win. It raised the pro­file of British mod­ern pen­tathlon.

So you took up pen­tathlon?

It be­came the next 15 years of my life. It took me to the Olympics, and Euro­pean and World Cham­pi­onships. I had an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer. You learn to cope with fail­ure and with suc­cess.

How did you move into sport sci­ence?

When I was com­pet­ing, there was no money, so you ei­ther worked or stud­ied. I did one of the first de­grees in sport sci­ence, then be­came in­volved in re­search. I’m run­ning a study for pa­tients with oe­sophageal can­cer. Surgery is a phys­i­o­log­i­cal in­sult, so ex­er­cise can help pre­pare the body. It’s fan­tas­tic work.

You are known for your work with Comic Re­lief. How did that come about?

I re­mem­ber it vividly. It was a driz­zly day when I got a phone call from the CEO of Comic Re­lief. He’d just re­turned from Ethiopia with David Wal­liams, and they wanted to set up a big chal­lenge. David said he would swim the English Chan­nel. Two days later he was in my lab be­ing tested.

Did you swim the Chan­nel with him?

I trained him every stroke of the way, and on the day I was in the wa­ter pac­ing him. We had a good time, but it was tough. This was real TV, not re­al­ity TV – there’s a huge dif­fer­ence. Since, I’ve worked on 30 chal­lenges for Sport and Comic Re­lief.

What was the tough­est chal­lenge?

David swim­ming the Chan­nel was re­mark­able, but Jo Brand walk­ing 20 miles a day for 7 days was an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment for where she had come from, which was vir­tu­ally in­ac­tive. It’s not about the size of the chal­lenge. Her jour­ney to that point was truly amaz­ing.

Of what are you most proud?

I’ve helped raise over £40m for Comic Re­lief, re­ceived an OBE for ser­vices to sport sci­ence and got to meet the Queen, but my proud­est mo­ments are the ones that are un­seen. I’m re­ally proud of the work I do with can­cer pa­tients be­cause it makes such a big dif­fer­ence to their lives.

Do you have any vices?

I en­joy a glass of wine, a straw­berry sug­ared dough­nut and a bag of chips. Bal­ance is im­por­tant. I don’t want to be a health zealot, be­cause it’s not the way peo­ple live their lives.

One mes­sage for our read­ers?

Move more. It’s that sim­ple.

Greg Whyte is a pro­fes­sor of ap­plied sport and ex­er­cise sci­ence at Liver­pool John Moores Univer­sity, and direc­tor of per­for­mance at Lon­don’s Cen­tre for Health and Hu­man Per­for­mance.


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