London 2012 Olympics: Grainger’s on target for gold as record is smashed
AFTER an unbeaten run of 21 races, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins must be supremely confident of their ability to win gold in the double sculls on Friday.
But if even the slightest doubt remained, it was surely obliterated at Eton Dorney yesterday morning, when the British pair broke the Olympic record by almost five seconds.
The world champions won their heat in a time of 6min 44.33sec slowing down, having established a commanding lead over the second-placed New Zealand boat by the halfway stage of the 2,000-metre course.
There is every prospect of them going several seconds faster in the final, and it now seems that only a super-
human effort from hitherto mortal
opponents will deny Grainger her dream of winning an Olympic title after taking silver at the last three Games.
“I’m really pleased with our first event,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed with the result. You can hear the crowd, but you feel it in your body, pulsing through you. We’re very lucky to have this incredible support from around the country. It lifts you like nothing else.”
The record had been held since the Barcelona Games of 1992, when it was set by a German crew. Grainger explained that the aim had been simply to stretch themselves and see what they could do, and there had been no specific plan to get a new Olympic time.
“To be honest, we were surprised we got the Olympic record,” the 36-year-old Scot said. “We knew that if there were very fast conditions, we would go for a fast time, but it didn’t feel fast.
“Anna deliberately held us steady. We’ve got a lot more steps we’ll put in when we want to do the full race. There’s quite a big amount to come still.
“I’m just doing what Anna tells me to do. There’s part of me that would have loved to lift the roof off the boat and see how fast we can go. We know we’ll have that for us in the final, and today was just about getting ourselves in the final in the best possible position. I think we’ll play a little more on Friday.”
Having been a world-class athlete for some time, Grainger has long been
accustomed to receiving the adulation of the crowd. But she explained that the reception she and her English colleague received yesterday eclipsed anything she had experienced before.
“We were looking forward to the Olympic start line. All we’d hear from everyone around us was the effect that the crowds have. And what we’ve never experienced before is that they start with 100m gone. The whole way down the course, you’ve got this incredible support.
“Both Anna and I enjoy that. I don’t think it distracts or affects us in a negative way. It’s a wonderful buoyancy you get.”
In many ways, today and the following two are the most trying part of the Olympic cycle for Grainger. It is not as if back-breaking effort is required; rather, she must avoid the unnecessary expenditure of energy – no easy matter when you are excited by what you have achieved, and by the greater achievement which lies not too far ahead.
“We did come off buzzing,” she said. “Tonight it’s going to be feet back on the ground: we’ve got a job to do.
“The heat is wonderful to win, but it’s the heat. No-one’s going to remember who won the heat come Friday. It’s about bringing it all right back down tomorrow. It’s like a new job on Friday to do.
“We’ve got an adrenalin high now, and we’re both aware we can enjoy it for the next few hours, but we need to bring it back down. We’ll head back to training and a dull lifestyle to get everything in place.”
There is always a certain fear which is attached to the status of favourites, and it is a fear which Grainger and Watkins know well.
Last week, the former talked of the “sheer terror” which can set in, almost at random, when the pressure momentarily threatens to become too much, It is a doubt which, in one way or another, almost everyone feels at some time: the fear of being unable to cope with the demands of the job, or worries about the scale of the approaching occasion and the weight of expectation which is bearing down on you. But it is also a worry which Grainger has had a long time to deal with.
It may be present as little more than a background nagging fear – a small voice in her head which whispers “What if you don’t win? What if another four years of toil all turn out to have been for nothing?” But it is still there, and the more she tries to remain serene over the coming days, the more it may make itself heard.
But she will be able to still it today, and tomorrow, and Thursday. And on Friday she should silence it for good.
For Grainger not only remains a great athlete, she is one who is still improving – as no less an authority than Sir Steve Redgrave stated yesterday.
“Grainger and Anna Watkins seem so relaxed,” the five-time gold medallist said after watching their heat. “They are ready for this. “That was the best I have ever seen them scull. They are favourites for this, and they are looking a class above
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