London 2012 Olympics: Katherine Grainger stands on the cusp of greatness
JUST after midday, six boats will arrive at the starting line for the final of the women’s double sculls at Eton Dorney. Five of them will be largely irrelevant.
To the 30,000 crowd, all eyes will be on Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins, the greatest favourite in a sporting event since Arkle won the second of his Gold Cups almost half a century ago
Fair enough, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it would be a shock to beat all shocks if the British pair don’t win the gold that Grainger has waited so long for. As the world knows, her odyssey has brought her three silver medals in the last three Games. This is her greatest chance. This, surely, is her day.
What points to the colour being gold today? Everything, frankly. Grainger and Watkins have not been beaten in over two years. They have laid waste to the circuit, making quality crews like the Australians and the New Zealanders look ordinary. In their qualifying heat on Monday their time of 6:44.33 was more than four seconds quicker than the Aussies managed when winning the other heat. It also demolished an Olympic record held by the Germans since the Barcelona Games in 1992. “It didn’t even feel fast,” said Grainger afterwards.
This could be one of the great stories of these Games. Certainly one of the great stories among Team GB and without question one of the high points in the history of Scottish sport if Grainger can finally hunt down that elusive medal. Remember her in Beijing? Her boat was ahead for most of the race only for her crew to lose late on. “Always the bridesmaid,” she said later.
Grainger has different emotions when she looks at her Olympic medals. Her silver from Sydney in 2000 evokes a joyous response because it was so unexpected. “When I think back, everything is in technicolour,” she said. Onwards to Athens in 2004 and the reaction changes slightly. The abiding feeling is disappointment but also acceptance that they were up against one of the most storied partnerships in women’s rowing history that day, the Romanian behemoths Georgeta Damian and Viorica Susana.
Beijing is an entirely different story.She was a member of the quadruple sculls who were triple world champions. Other girls in the boat also had Olympic silvers, but no gold. Only first would have been good enough. They were second. When she looks at that silver medal how does she feel? “Like a child who’s slightly embarrassed. I don’t really like taking it out and showing it to people. When I go to visit schools, I tend to take the one from Sydney.”
Nothing could have prepared her for the disappointment in Beijing. It doesn’t matter how razor sharp her intellect is – she has a degree in law, a masters in medical ethics and will soon have a PhD in criminology – the dejection was incapable of rationalisation. She escaped to South Africa and Namibia, where she knew nobody and nobody knew her. The break re-energised her and now here she is, on the cusp of greatness.
She talks about the two of them having a target on their back given their imperious form over the past few years. However, Grainger preaches caution about celebrating too early.
“We don’t start 100m ahead of everyone else just because we’re unbeaten,” she said. “Some people will be intimidated by a crew that’s never been beaten and there will be some who won’t care and will see it as a brilliant challenge.”
The crews she feels sure are in the latter category are the New Zealanders, Fiona Paterson and Anna Reymer, and the Aussies, Kim Crow and Brooke Pratley. It’s impossible to see how they can get close to Grainger and Watkins, though. Short of a desperate mishap, they are the closest thing you are going to get to a certainty at these Games.
Grainger wouldn’t appreciate such confident talk. She’ll let others do the predicting while she focuses on the job in hand. A short while ago she spoke about her silver medals. “You never know what you’re going to do with one when you get it,” she said. “You read about big American celebrities and they put things in a vault, but I think they should be seen, they should be felt, they should be worn. As many people as possible should have a moment with an Olympic medal.”
If their form holds and there is justice done, Grainger will finally have her moment, not with silver, but with gold. To her, it’s the only colour that counts now.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east