AS a junior rower, Alan Sinclair describes himself as having been average. “Maybe below average,” he adds. His story is one of perseverance and determination and it is testament to his work ethic that in just a few weeks he will travel to Rio with a real chance of returning with an Olympic medal around his neck.

Sinclair, from Inverness, will compete in the men’s pair alongside Oxfordshire’s Stewart Innes – but they left it late in securing their spot in Team GB.

Going into the final regatta of the season, the World Cup in Poznan, Sinclair and Innes were told that whoever was fastest between themselves and their compatriots, Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Matt Tarrant, would gain selection for Rio. Sinclair and Innes pipped their team-mates to the bronze medal by just 0.2 seconds to ensure that they will be on the plane to Brazil. It was not, says Sinclair, an easy time.

“It feels absolutely fantastic to have been selected,” says the 30-year-old. “It was such an elongated selection process, so when we got it confirmed, I just felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It felt great though, if slightly surreal. When we went to the kitting out day a couple of weeks ago, that was when it started to feel more real.”

When we speak, Sinclair is midway through a high-altitude training camp in the Austrian Alps. With just 19 days until the Opening Ceremony, this is when athletes, particularly first-time Olympians, can get twitchy. Not Sinclair though.

“It’s quite calming to be on our last training camp,” he says. “The last few months have been pretty stressful for both myself and Stew, so to come up here and just get back to basics has been calming for me. We’ve just got to think about the process – make sure that we’re doing the right training and not think about the outcome too much. It’s taken me a while to be able to do that successfully but this whole season has been very process driven so I’m getting there.”

Some athletes describe having had the ambition to become an Olympian for as long as they can remember, but not Sinclair.

“I don’t think many people realised how good I could be,” he says. “When I was a junior, I lost a lot. Nine times out of 10 my dad would be driving me back from a regatta and I’d be empty handed. It took me a long while to develop a competitive nature. A couple of years ago, someone asked me what it would mean to get to an Olympics and it was strange because I never thought I’d be a GB athlete. Going to an Olympics or World Championships was way beyond my expectations. The driving force for me has just been the enjoyment I get from rowing.”

Four years ago, as his team-mates were preparing for the London Olympics, Sinclair was competing at his first European Championships. But it did not go to plan – he broke his leg playing football and on his return to the UK, he was left with a difficult choice.

“I could go home to Inverness and feel sorry for myself or stay down south and train,” he recalls. “I decided to stay and train. It was some of the hardest but most worthwhile training I’ve ever done. I’d work on a machine where you sit on a box and pull on ropes, so for however long the other guys were on the water, I’d do that machine. I was on crutches and I was in constant agony but it paid dividends because when I got back on my feet, I was invited to train with the full squad. So it would be fair to say my broken leg went at least part of the way to getting me to where I am now.”

This season, Sinclair and Innes won silver at the European Championships. It is a result many would be happy with but the pair were disappointed with their performance and re-evaluated their approach.

“We had a chat with the team’s sports psychologist and what came from that was to make sure that we got the very best out of ourselves,” he explains. “So I said we don’t ‘need’ to go to the Olympics but we both want to. The word need implies desperation and I’ve never been in a race where the feeling of desperation has got me a good result, whereas the feeling of want is far more positive. That simple change of wording made training much more enjoyable and we began just appreciating the position we were in.”

The British rowing squad, based at Leander Club on the River Thames, is one of the world’s most prolific sports teams in terms of winning medals. Sinclair trains alongside some of the planet’s best rowers, which he admits is a huge motivation.

“Someone asked me recently who my British sporting hero is and to be honest, the majority of them are my team-mates,” he says. “It’s phenomenal to see some of the guys training. I find them really inspiring. The strength in depth of the team is such that there’s guys who would have a very good chance of getting an Olympic medal who haven’t made it into the team for Rio.”

GB’s rowing team will travel to Brazil with the expectations of a nation on its shoulders after nine medals in London 2012. Nine medals at London 2012 means another significant haul is predicted.

“I personally don’t feel extra pressure to get a medal but I know it’s there,” he says. “I want to get a medal but I also want to measure myself against the best in the world. We’re in an event that has the two best athletes in world rowing – Hamish Bond and Eric Murray from New Zealand. They’re the Olympic champions and are unbeaten since 2009.

“They’re phenomenal. So if we get as close to them as possible, if not beat them, then, for me that’s more of an achievement than getting a specific colour of medal around my neck.”