Olympic Torch Relay

Katherine Grainger will today come face to face with the man who began her career in sport – in the unusual context of the Olympic Torch Relay. The rower, who is aiming for a gold medal in London to add to the silvers she won at the three previous Games, will be back in her home town of Glasgow to take part in the relay, and will receive the flame from Ken Davis, one of her former teachers.

Davis taught Grainger art at Bearsden Academy, but he also taught her karate, the sport in which she specialised until switching to rowing at university. When invited to nominate someone to carry the torch, the 36-year-old had no hesitation in choosing him.

“My journey towards becoming a three-time Olympic silver medallist didn’t start with a boat or paddles,” she said. “Strangely it started at Bearsden Academy where I was taught karate by Ken, or Mr Davis as he was then.

“He was such an inspirational teacher and the things I learnt in karate with him helped me develop hugely as a person – from him having a huge amount of faith in me at a stage when I didn’t yet have that in myself, to teaching me about dedication, focus and achieving my goal while still having fun. Ken means a lot to me and he couldn’t be a more worthy person to carry the Olympic Flame.”

Davis, Grainger and wheelchair rugby player Mike Kerr will take part in the relay as it approaches Toryglen Football Centre, where over 750 will be taking part in an event to mark the start of Bank of Scotland National School Sport Week. The return to Scotland represents a rare trip home for Grainger, who is based in Buckinghamshire, but she will still have to fit in an early-morning training session before catching a flight to Glasgow.

Although her selection for Team GB was only made official earlier this week, Grainger has known for some time that, barring some freak mishap, she and Anna Watkins would compete in the double sculls. Indeed, since late 2008 she has been determined to take part in her fourth Olympic Games, and this time make it the one in which she comes first, not second.

Winning silver in Sydney in 2000 was a cause for celebration, but silver eight years later in Beijing brought disappointment.

And the feeling lingered for some time, with the dejection of defeat being brought back to her most graphically the first time she watched her race again.

“I don’t remember when I thought ‘Actually, it’s okay now’,” she recalled. “It was months. You come back from the Olympic Games and the whole country is gripped by them. So there are lots of events on afterwards, from visits to clubs to Buckingham Palace and parades. They go on for weeks and weeks. Nice to be part of, but after Beijing each one was a painful reminder of the disappointment.

“Talking about it wasn’t very easy, but I hadn’t watched the video of it and I went to a school when they showed a clip of the Beijing race, which I hadn’t seen. I didn’t realise they were going to show it, and I found that really emotionally difficult to watch and then I had to compose myself to speak about it.

“After that I made myself watch the race so I wouldn’t be caught out again. I was welling up, but it would have looked too embarrassing to have cried in front of all these children. At the end of the day I don’t want the message to be that competing in an Olympic Games and winning a medal is in any way something to be upset about. That is not the right message.

“When you come back it feels as if nothing else in your life matters and everybody wants to ask what the Olympics were like, or what Beijing was like. I can understand that. It was a very personal disappointment and I didn’t want to share that with everybody. It’s an inspiring thing to do, and you set yourself incredibly high standards and goals, so I would never want to put anybody off it.”

As she will be over 40 by the time Rio comes around, London may be Grainger’s last crack at gold. But, apart from having a PhD on homicide to complete by the end of the year, she does not know what she will do after this summer’s Games.

“I genuinely don’t know if I will retire from rowing. There are numerous options. I could continue with rowing if I really wanted to, I could continue in the sport in a different role, I could do something connected with my studies which I’ve been doing for the last 15 years.

“I could do something completely different. I don’t think I’ll have any clear idea until August has come and gone. There is almost no way I could know now.”

Article by Stuart Bathgate, The Scotsman