Dame Katherine Grainger knows more than most about the significance of a “home crowd moment”.
The five-time Olympic medallist, back in Glasgow for the announcement that her hometown will be the host of the first-ever combined cycling world championships in 2023, has good readon to have fond memories of the London Olympics in 2012
The special feeling that performing in front of family and friends can bring is something Scottish and British cyclists can really look forward to over the next four years.
Grainger is now happily retired from rowing and filling the role of chair of UK Sport but memories of the 2012 Olympics still burn strong in her mind. After successive runners-up medals in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, London would prove the setting for a special kind of alchemy as Grainger turned silver into gold at the fourth time of asking.
She said: “My biggest home crowd moment was definitely at the Olympic Games in London in 2012. Almost seven years on I’m still trying to find the right words to explain it. But it does make a significant difference to you as an athlete.
“This will be the first time cycling has had world championships in this format and the fact that they’re coming to Scotland will make it even more special for local riders.
“Not everyone gets to compete in a major championships on home soil and it’s so special when you get that chance. Family and friends can be a big part of it. That can bring more pressure and expectation and as an athlete that can be hard to deal with.
“But, if handled correctly, it can also bring out the absolute best in you. And time and time again, you see instances of the home team delivering over and beyond what anyone had expected of them. A lot of that is down the buzz and the thrill you get from performing in front of a home crowd. It does feel like a privilege at the time as you know how rare such opportunities come around.”
Grainger is approaching the midway point of her four-year tenure as Chair of UK Sport.
It has been an eye-opening experience for the 43 year old, who had previously anticipated leaning on her law degree from Edinburgh University when the time came to seek a challenge after retiring from sport.
With issues such as funding shortages and athlete burn-out to deal with, Grainger hopes having lived through it herself means she can offer both answers and empathy.
“I didn’t know what to expect after stepping out of a boat and moving into this life but I’ve adored it so far,” she added. “I hadn’t expected this to be the natural next step in my journey. And it’s been hard and challenging but it feels important to me. I have a responsibility to have the right impact and influence in sport.
“I would never want there to be bad stories coming out of sport but the reality is that there are. There are always examples of things happening not as you would like, or people not having great experiences for whatever reason.
“Because I had a fabulous time in sport you want that for all athletes. I know the difference National Lottery funding has made since it came in and it has transformed sport as we know it in this country. But not everyone can access funding in the way that they would like. I’m really aware of the problems in different sports. I hope I’ve made strong enough relationships that people will talk to me about them so we can bring them to light.”
Treading the line between giving everything for marginal gains at elite level, while still caring for the well-being of athletes is another issue Grainger is aware of. But she believes nobody pushes sportsmen and women harder than themselves.
She added: “That balancing act has always been there.
“From my experiences, athletes will always drive themselves as hard as anyone will. They want to win those medals and have those best experiences.
“It’s very high performance but also high pressure. So things have been built in to make sure athletes get the support, education, and rest and recovery they need to meet those objectives.”