London Olympics 2012: Calm Grainger ready to deal with ‘sheer terror’
THIS time next week, Katherine Grainger should have an Olympic gold medal in her grasp at last. Twelve years of toil will have ended in elation, as she and Anna Watkins, the hot favourites, at home, with a 21-race unbeaten run behind them win the double sculls.
After taking silver at the last three Games, the 36-year-old from Glasgow will become one of the most deserving champions of London 2012 provided everything goes to form. The tears of despair she shed in Beijing, when gold was snatched away from her in the last seconds, will be replaced by tears of joy.
But between now and what she hopes is the realisation of a dream, Grainger knows she and Watkins, perhaps singly, perhaps together, could experience what she calls ‘sheer terror’. Call it stage fright, call it that sinking feeling, call it a sudden fear that all will go horribly wrong, it doesn’t matter. What matters is dealing with it and triumphing anyway.
“It’s not impossible for the terror moment to hit,” Grainger said yesterday at Eton Dorney, the venue for the Olympic regatta. “But that’s not a bad thing or a negative thing. It doesn’t mean you will underperform or change how you perform. It’s about bringing it into your normal routine and dealing with it, then getting your head focused on what you need to.
“We’re not going to dwell on any terror that might strike. Anna and I know each other well and one of us can say ‘I feel horrific right now’ and we can laugh about it and get on with it.
“We discussed this yesterday, actually, Anna and myself. There’s absolutely no doubt that the excitement and the nerves will come. Right now, they’re not here. Right now, it’s very comfortable walking around this environment. I think there’s no doubt when the alarm goes off on the morning of your heat, the thumping of your heart will be there and your nerves will be there. You don’t need to go looking for that. We don’t need to wonder if we’ll get ourselves up for the heat. That comes whether or not you want it.
“It’s the most uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling to experience as an athlete. But it’s utterly necessary. It’s what we need to get ourselves up for it.”
The British pair are good enough to almost literally cruise through their heat on Monday, but then comes the wait. Four days from then until the final. Four days in which they have to put aside terror or any more positive type of excitement, and live as if everything were just normal.
“This is the crucial thing,” said Grainger. “There’s no way we can live at that level of adrenalin and excitement for four days.
“You’d just be exhausted by the time you get to the final. Getting one race done, especially if it’s successful, almost lets you switch off again. Everything settles down and you get back into your routine, and then it cranks up again to the final.”
Handling a period not of four days but of four years is routine for Grainger now. After each of her three Olympics to date, she has had to reassess her goals, from that day in 2000 when, as an unheralded competitor, the junior member of a quartet, she positively revelled in coming second.
“In a wonderful way I was very wide-eyed and naïve about everything in Sydney,” she recalled. “I was the youngest and I was not expected to know what I was supposed to be doing. That’s nice – you can soak that up and go with the excitement and look up to the experienced people in your crew. All of us were taken by surprise by our success in Sydney. And, in a way, I look back and there were aspects of that which were lovely – back in those days when I was happy with a silver medal.
“But a lot has changed. Here it’s different. I am older and wiser. It’s a little less naivety, a little less wide-eyed. It’s probably more professional in that I know how to perform now.
“In Sydney we had no expectation, which was perfect. Here we have huge expectation, but that’s what I want. I think it’s an honour going in as the favourite. You are very lucky when you get all that pressure, because it means you’ve been successful.
“I don’t know if I could have coped with that 12 years ago. I doubt I would have as well. Whereas now it sits far more comfortably with me.”
As the burden of expectation has increased, so has Grainger’s ability to deal with it, which is just as well given the number of supporters she has acquired along the way, and who are now desperate to see her claim the ultimate prize at last.
“So many people are coming to watch this race. People I started off rowing with at university, people I knew before I went to university, people I’ve met since then, people who have never watched rowing in their life but know who I am.
“This dream, this goal, this quest, whatever it is, that I began, that you feel is a very personal thing, has grown into this wonderful source of interest and inspiration for other people. It’s very flattering that other people want to be part of that, and want to witness it, or play whatever role they can within it. As an athlete it doesn’t get much better than that.
“Although of course I’ve been very successful, there’s an obvious success missing from my rowing results, and I think a lot of people would like to see that happen for me, which is wonderful. But none more than ourselves. Anna and I, when it comes to the day, we won’t be living off our history and what we’ve done. It will be about that race and getting it right.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West