London Sports Writing Festival

Katherine Grainger’s discussion with sports writer Ashling O’Connor at the London Sports Writing Festival on Saturday 19th October 2013, titled: ‘What it takes to make it to the top?’ was inspirational and full of advice, for not just aspiring athletes, but anyone from any walk of life. The ultimate of sports personalities, she is a household name and the most open, honest speaker I have heard.

london sports writers festival

Discussing her recent autobiography she delved right into her life straightaway, speaking about how her friends and family gave her instant feedback to the news she was writing a book, saying they feared how they would come across. She spoke emotionally about how her early crew-mates found her telling her story difficult as it brought back tough memories from a particularly difficult time in training. In her book her coaches feature heavily throughout, highlighting the influence they have had on her career. No matter how tough they were with her, she speaks nothing but positively about the respect she has for them.

Hamish Burrell, her coach during her fourth year at Edinburgh University, is a person she spoke about fondly and at great length. In her talk she mentioned that he instilled in her a necessity to have three things in balance throughout her life: University, studies and a social life. This is something anyone can relate to and a lesson any young student athlete should live by. It is clear this is a motto by which she still lives, highlighted by the fact she has gained a PhD and decided to write ‘Dreams Do Come True’ without a ghost-writer.

The moment that Grainger described as the defining moment of her early rowing career was in the beginning of her second year when; after rowing with the club in a novice four and seemingly “doing quite well”; she settled into a meeting where crews were chosen. She seemed sure she was to be in the top 16 with all her crew-mates. But when placed in the fifth boat, the so called “remedial boat”, she cried. She was surprised at the strength of her feelings and what she calls her “Scarlett O’Hara moment” (it’s an emotional read, let alone hearing her talk about it). It was there and then she decided she would never experience that feeling again and that she would become the great rower she wanted to be. Thank goodness for her Scarlett O’Hara moment.

From there we move onto the pinnacle of her career and main focus of the book, a story she recalled in great detail, her win at London 2012. Getting goosebumps and holding back the tears, I listened to her recount the story about the noise of the crowd at Eton Dorney, hearing the cheers all the way from the start line, 2000meters away. When she described the moment her and crew-mate Anna Watkins passed the stands of screaming spectators and how the noise made the water vibrate, I was transported back to a year ago, in my living room cheering them both on.
Grainger says that she hasn’t ruled out Rio 2016, but has yet to make her decision on whether she will compete. She added that she has been informed by the team, and is well aware that the window of opportunity is getting smaller, the longer she takes to make her decision. So here’s hoping she decides soon so we can look forward too perhaps another gold medal and yet more incredible memories at the next Olympics.

Article written by Catherine Maude and thanks to the Sports Gazette