A silver medallist for Great Britain in the coxless fours at Tokyo 1964, Bill Barry, has always embodied the values and spirit of the Olympics. In the latest video interview for our Words of Olympians series, Barry, now a leading coach, talks about why the Games mean so much to him.
On 15 October 1964, day five of the Summer Olympic Games, Great Britain’s coxless four of John Russell, Hugh Wardell-Yerburgh, John James and William ‘Bill’ Barry, finished a second behind the Danish crew on Tokyo’s Toda rowing course to secure a silver medal, seeing off the challenge of the USA.
It was a moment that Bill Barry would cherish for the rest of his life. “For me, competing and participating in the Games is the pinnacle of any athlete’s career,” he says. “Winning a medal is something extra. It says you are among the best. If you get gold, you are the best; silver means you’re close, but still among the best.”
Born in 1940, Barry seemed destined to excel at rowing. His uncle Bert was the world sculling champion in the 1920s and the Queen’s barge-master, while his great uncle and grandfather - also a renowned rower - were both Thames Watermen.
Despite the Barrys’ strong rowing tradition, Bill remains the only family member to have taken part in the Games.
At the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games, he followed in the footsteps of his forebears by taking to the Thames, as he joined 17 other British Olympic medallists to row Gloriana, the Queen’s Barge, down London’s iconic river between Hampton Court and Tower Bridge, with the Olympic torch in tow.
After hanging up his oars, Barry turned his hand to coaching, and guided his compatriot, Alan Campbell, to a bronze medal in the men’s single sculls at London 2012. And he made sure that his young charge was fully aware of the significance of the occasion.
“The Olympic Games are so different, because once you’ve taken part, you are always an Olympian,” he explains. “I’ve always had that feeling, and with all the people that I’ve coached, I’ve tried to explain to them the importance, the values and the spirit of the Games. It has some real meaning beyond the sport.”
Over the years, what has had the greatest impact on Barry is the atmosphere of peace and harmony in which the Games are held.
“I do feel very strongly that the 12,000 athletes who gather at the Olympic Games are the best United Nations in the world,” he contends.
“You can be eating and talking to each other and making lifelong friendships, and then the next day, you can go out and fight each other on the pitch, in the swimming pool, and on the rowing lake. And that’s OK; afterwards, once again, you are friends,” he adds.
“If the world operated that way, it would be a much better place.”