KATHERINE Grainger has taken the first steps towards competing at her fifth Olympic Games by resuming training with the Great Britain squad after a two-year break from rowing.
The 38-year-old Scot, a gold medallist at London 2012 after three successive silvers, said she would always be left asking ‘What if?’ had she decided not to attempt a return, but had also asked herself if she was “insane” to try to make a comeback.
Grainger deliberated for some time before deciding to go back to training and, at this stage, she is making no presumption that she will be good enough to take part in the Rio Games in two years’ time. But she has maintained a high level of general fitness during her time out of the sport, and she was cautiously encouraged by how well she performed on the water during her first session on Monday.
“Considering it has been well over two years since I’ve been in my single-scull boat, my first session back was surprisingly okay,” she said. “I’m not really making long-term plans. A lot has to go well and fall into place.
“I have to get my fitness and my boat feel back, and make sure I’m mentally where I want to be. The end point would be going all the way through to Rio but I’m not making a commitment to that one just yet. If I don’t try, I’ll always wonder ‘What if?’, and for me that will be so much harder to live with.”
While any number of friends and well-wishers were on hand to offer Grainger advice, she concluded that she had to find out for herself if she would be up to competing at another Olympics.
She said: “It’s been a long, agonising decision – I’ll be the first to admit that.
“I had to come back here. I had to come back and see how it feels.
“It’s very good sitting at home making lists of pros and cons and talking to people. I’ve talked to loads of people over the years. But, in a way, you need to see how it actually feels.
“You need to sit in a boat, be in the gym, be in the changing room, and all the things that are very familiar but also remind you what it’s like.
“The day job is tough. It’s just relentless. it’s exhausting, it’s hard – it’s not the glamour and excitement of the Olympics, which is the most recent and distinct memory for me now.
“I have missed it. I’ve missed the people, the environment, the training routine and regime. At the moment I’m very aware it’s quite a novelty.
“Of course it’s fun to come back and [say] ‘I remember doing all this. I used to be good at this’. And I think in a few years’ time it’ll really hit, that actually it’s head down, it’s hard work, it’s living with the disappointments and not being good enough, and grinding my way back up a very steep mountain that I have left myself to climb.
“Of course I think, ‘Am I absolutely insane?’ Yeah, of course I do. I do think that. I do wonder. All the logical, rational things would be, ‘Don’t come back’. Yet here I am.”
Anna Watkins, with whom Grainger won gold in London, is pregnant with her second child and unlikely to try to be part of the British team in Rio. As yet, Grainger is unsure whether to try to find a new partner for the double sculls or compete in the singles or as part of a four. That will fall into place if and when she and the GB coaches decide she merits a place on the team.
“I’m not making any promises to anyone right now,” she explained. “If it goes well, if I’m going well, if I’m loving it, if the coaches are happy, if it’s all going great, then the end goal would certainly be the Rio Olympics, my fifth Olympics, which would be quite a thing. But I think at the moment I need to take one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time. Then I’ll start thinking longer term.”