James took the view that he was too small to row as a heavyweight aged 18 so he joined the Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club (in fact he did so the day before he joined the university itself) and embarked upon a personal campaign to make the lightweight blue boat and race Cambridge. In no small part he was motivated by the fact that no one else thought he would.
"The training regime was heavy - typically 2 to 3 sessions per day, but increasing to 4 sessions per day during training camps. It was effective in as much as training in those volumes is inevitably going to make you faster. However looking back I am far from convinced there was a great deal of intelligent planning behind it. It was a case of copying across from the GB lightweight program at the time, but there was no reason to think that each member of the Oxford squad could tolerate the same level of training for optimal improvement. Although we had a Canadian international in the crew, many of athletes were 18 or 19 years old and may not have been ready for that combination of intensity and volume."
These were thoughts that James would come back to explore and benefit from later on in life.
In this first year with the squad James missed the VIII by one place, finishing 5th on stroke side, and stroked the reserve crew. Frustrated but undeterred, James returned to the squad the following year in September 1994.
James trialled successfully for a place in the Great Britain Indoor Rowing Team in 1994 and took part in an international indoor rowing competition in France in December of that year.
"It was a curious experience. There were various Oxford and Cambridge oarsmen in the team sandwiched between various rowing celebrities of the time. As these athletes turned over their V8 engines during the competition, it was in some respects daunting looking up at the levels of performance above where we were, and mildly depressing to accept the reality as to our chances of getting there. However I enjoyed every minute of it and was honoured to take part."
Back in Oxford, and with the assistance of a first class dietician, the 11st 10lbs that had sufficed for making weight in the indoor rowing scene soon became 11st 5lbs, but after that it was a hungry slog down to his race day target of 10st 13lbs (each crew member had his own target based on body composition such that the crew as a whole could make the average weight of 11st ¼lb).
By the time race day came, the crew were as fit as they had even been and were ready to go... watch the video here.