“Rowing is unbelievably hard – but you get hooked”

Katherine Grainger says that if she does return to the sport it will be for fun — even though the Olympic champion knows the punishing training regime will be agony for her…


You’re talking about winning the gold medal at the London Sports Writing Festival next week. Do you ever tire of telling the story?

Not at all. It’s 14 months on since I won it with Anna Watkins and people are still excited. I hope I never tire of telling it. Every time I talk about it, it’s actually quite invigorating as I always remember either something new or something I’ve not thought about for a while.

Being favourites, How hard was the pressure and expectation, particularly with three silvers at the last three Olympics?

It was hard — we had to try to separate ourselves from the expectation of a nation. I think we did that quite well because we were genuinely surprised by the support in the race and afterwards. I guess I didn’t really know how many people were supporting us, and I guess in some ways they could relate to me as I’d not achieved my goal of Olympic gold up to London, and so many people never get to achieve their dreams.

Do you think you would have felt incomplete as an athlete or even a person without that gold?

Certainly as an athlete. All my medals and memories are very special to me but the gold was the one I didn’t have, so I would have felt that was missing. I hope that long term it wouldn’t have affected me as a person.

There’s been talk about you possibly coming back to rowing. It seems such a brutal sport, why would you do that to yourself?

Haha! I genuinely haven’t made a decision, partly because I’ve been so busy. When it comes, I think it’ll be an easy decision because it will be without pressure as I’ve got that gold now so I’ll be doing it for the fun if I go back. I know that’s hard to believe but us rowers are a strange bunch because you sort of get hooked on the training and how unbelievably hard it is. Most people aren’t mad enough to do it.

Have you finally completed your PhD in homicide? And which gave you greater satisfaction, that or the gold?

I have indeed. That was completed in May and I graduated in July. It’s difficult to compare the two but I think the Olympic experience beats it as it was more emotional. However, it was very tough to do both at the same time. And so many times I was told I should give it up but I was like “there’s no way I’m giving up”. So there’s an immense amount of pride in the PhD, too. If I hadn’t completed it, I would have been very disappointed.

So without the PhD and the rowing, do you suddenly have free time on your hands?

I wish. Actually, it’s the other way round. I thought I’d go on holiday more, pack my bags and see all my friends and family that I’d ignored with years of training, but that’s not really happened.

How was the process of writing the book — cathartic, emotional . . . ?

I found myself getting emotional at the things I didn’t see coming. Not the heartache of, say, Beijing because I’d thought and talked about it so much but more things from my childhood. I’m not sure I’d call it cathartic thought as I didn’t feel I needed to put myself through that process to find myself.

Was it odd seeing the book for the first time?

I don’t like looking at myself on the cover! And it was also odd seeing loads of them in a warehouse alongside some of the authors I’d grown up with and look up to. But I loved the process of taking myself to Loch Lomond and writing, just taking myself away from everything.

Katherine Grainger will be speaking at the London Sports Writing Festival at Lord’s from 2- 3pm on Saturday October 19.For more information and tickets log on to londonsportswritingfestival.com and @lswf2013
Her autobiography, Dreams Do Come True, is published by Andre Deutsch, priced £20

Article from the London Evening Standard 11 October 2013