SPORTS

After 3 straight silvers, British rower Katherine Grainger desperate for gold at London Games

07/27/2012 11:58 EDT | Updated 09/26/2012 05:12 EDT
WINDSOR, England - She's the Steve Redgrave of British women's rowing — just with a bunch of silvers instead of golds.

Katherine Grainger is Britain's most successful female rower, the person the rest of the squad look up to and admire. The ultimate professional on the water and off it.

Yet there's one thing lacking on her resume.

"The gold's the missing piece," said Britain women's coach Paul Thompson. "And if anyone deserves to win one, she does."

Grainger's Olympic odyssey is a heartbreaking one. She won a silver medal in the quadruple sculls in 2000 before moving to the pair for the Athens Games, where she again finished second with Cath Bishop.

Returning to the quad sculls, Grainger's boat was favourite in Beijing but Britain was overhauled in the last 250 metres by a Chinese crew inspired by competing on home soil. The margin of victory was two-tenths of a second.

Britain's wait for a first women's rowing gold continued and Grainger sobbed uncontrollably.

"I thought I'd failed," she said. "Which I had."

After a period of introspection, Grainger decided her career couldn't finish on such a low note and she'll have another shot at gold at the London Olympics in the double sculls with Anna Watkins, who was alongside Grainger in the quad in Beijing.

Again, Grainger comes in as favourite and the rowing-loving British public would like nothing more than to see the Scot end 12 years of hurt.

"It's very much part of my history and as an athlete, all those moments where you are successful, unsuccessful, disappointed, whatever they are. They all become part of you and part of your journey," Grainger said. "You can't help but take all these with you but I'm not going to be sitting on the start line using Beijing as my motivation.

"It's there, it's in me. I know how painful it is to lose when you're in a winning position. I know how painful it is when you go in as favourite. But that's not my drive, I'm not going in to put things right. It's very much about this boat now."

Grainger, who is from Scotland, is doing a PhD in homicide as part of a degree in criminology, and there is a killer instinct in her combination with Watkins that has blown everyone away since they first got together at the start of 2010.

They haven't lost a race — in fact, they haven't even come close to losing — and it would be a major surprise if they failed to cross the line first in the final on Aug. 3, like they have in the last two world championships and all three World Cup regattas this summer.

"We jumped into a boat together at the start of 2010, just in a training session," the chatty Grainger recalls. "It wasn't anything special, wasn't billed as anything. But we both within minutes thought, 'Hang on, this is something special.' It grew from there.

"It was an obvious combination really. Physically we are incredibly well-matched, which definitely helps. But on a better level, we are matched mentally and technically."

Thompson has noticed a steely determination in Grainger during practice this week on Dorney Lake. She's been focused and, at age 37, is too experienced to let the occasion get to her. Even if it is her home Olympics, and with expectation levels soaring.

"I think she's in the right place to take the challenge that's ahead this week," Thompson told The Associated Press as he looked over the six-lane course 15 miles west of London.

"She's held in huge respect and regard by the whole team. She leads by example — she's the oldest on the women's team but she doesn't miss a training session and prides herself on doing more training than the youngsters. She's a real role model to them all."

Grainger has been at the forefront of a major improvement in fortunes of Britain's women.

Before 2000, no female British crew had won a medal at an Olympics. This year, the women are sharing the limelight with the men and may even win as many medals.

As with Grainger and Watkins, Heather Stanning and Helen Glover are seen as bankers for gold in the women's pair while the eight have also been tipped for a bronze.

"Winning that first medal in Sydney has given us belief," Grainger said. "Everything from funding to the sponsors, it's all equal now between the men and women.

"I think the women's team will be at our absolute best."

With Grainger leading them all the way.

"I wouldn't have come back," she says, "if I wasn't prepared to go through the whole rollercoaster all over again."

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