Since returning from New Zealand as world champion along with her double sculls partners Anna Watkins at the end of last year, life for Katherine has been full of contrasts – the grind and focus involved in training and preparation for the defence of their title, lightened by a couple of off-water highlights.
In January, Katherine and Anna were named as the rowing world governing body’s female crew of 2010, in recognition of their undefeated season in the double sculls category, as well as their dominant performance in the world championship final itself.
Over and above that, the British Olympic Association picked Katherine – who now has five world titles as well as three Olympic silver medals – as the top British female athlete of the year in the sport of rowing.
Speaking about these accolades, Katherine says, “it’s wonderful to be given this recognition. While it’s great to have all of our world cup and world championship wins in the bag, it’s also nice for these special things to happen. It helps to make all the hard work feel worthwhile”.
On the water, while training is going well, the lead-up to the 2011 season has not been straightforward.
For a start, at the main GB team trials – held on the course at Eton which will stage the 2012 Olympic rowing regatta – Katherine failed to win the single sculls final for the first time in seven years – losing out to Anna in a tough-fought race. All through the 2010 season, Anna had been declaring that it was a privilege and a big learning opportunity for her to be sitting behind Katherine. She’s now proved she’s a good learner. About that loss, Katherine said at the time, “I got beaten – goddamnit, that’s a disappointment, we are incredibly competitive within the squad and this is the race we all want to win. But on the positive side I need to remember I was beaten by my partner, and she did a fantastic job. If you have to be beaten by someone it’s good that it’s the person who sits in your boat with you!”, adding, “it’ll be good for me; it’ll lift my competitive nature and I think having such close racing has undoubtedly pushed us both on which can only help our double when we go back and race internationally”.
And Katherine’s competitive nature was tested indeed as she went into the first Rowing World Cup of the year in Munich at the end of May. Partner Anna had suffered a “back tweak” in the build-up to this event, and it was decided to take no chances with this injury, meaning that Anna would be substituted by Mel Wilson – another talented GB squad member – to race with Katherine in the double. Regardless of this upheaval, Katherine and Mel proved their mettle together. In the final, after a brief show off the line by Austria, Katherine and Mel moved into a lead they were never to give up and they comfortably sat ahead of the field as the race unfolded. At the line, they had over a length of clear water ahead of USA and Belarus.
“That was a good race” was Katherine’s matter-of-fact summary. “It was enjoyable because we felt no pressure but we knew we could be fast. We hadn’t raced together before but we still had high expectations for ourselves. We simply worked on the important things, not the tiny little adjustments you make when you have been together longer. Mel was impressive on every level and it was a great start to the season”.
Katherine’s season was then supposed to move onto the second Rowing World Cup event, in Hamburg, in the middle of June. However, having assessed the risks involved because of the e-coli outbreak in the area, the GB management withdrew the whole British team from this event.
This leaves Anna to concentrate on getting back to full fitness while, together, Katherine and Anna will now focus on the third and final Rowing World Cup in Lucerne during July and then get ready for the defence of their title at the World Championships in Bled, Slovenia at the start of September.