Grainger and Watkins hope X-Factor seals elusive gold

GB Rowing’s women’s coach Paul Thompson is not often compared to Simon Cowell but, in putting Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins in the same double scull, he has hit upon “the X-Factor”. And the prize on offer in 99 days’ time is far greater than a recording contract and a naff number one hit.

Grainger and Watkins are double world champions, they are unbeaten for two years and head into the Olympic season strong favourites to deliver gold for Great Britain.

If they succeed on the waters of Eton Dorney, then Grainger will finally have the Olympic gold medal she craves, having won three successive silvers.

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Grainger almost retired in 2008 after Britain’s quad were reeled in over the last 200 metres of the Beijing Olympic final and edged into second place by China. But she could not walk away. The Scot accepted that her destiny was far from certain but committed to competing through to London 2012, vowing to do so without any fear of failure.

After a successful experimental year in the single scull, Grainger and Watkins were paired together by Thompson in a routine training session. The chemistry was immediate.

“I genuinely think there is a bit of an X-factor. The first time we sat in a boat together, it worked, from the first moment,” Grainger said. “When it first clicks, it’s a bit magical. It’s hard to explain.

“We had been on the team for five years and yet never rowed together. On a training camp in Portugal, everyone swapped round and we were put together in a double. It was just a normal day in the middle of a training camp, and we wondered how this would go.

“From that first day, we knew there was something. When our boat works and it flies, it’s the only place I want to be.”

Grainger had agonised over whether to continue. Despite what her supporters said, she considered silver in Beijing to be a failure. The tears she shed that day said it all.

On her return home, Grainger sat down with Thompson in a Marlow cafe. Her motivation for continuing had to be about the thrill of the journey, not a four-year project to bury some ghosts. “We talked through it,” Thompson said. “I said ‘This is not a fairytale, there is not necessarily a happy ending, you might get another silver or might not get a medal’. That is sport.”

Grainger not only accepted that but she embraced it and her reward was finding Watkins, two world titles and now a genuine fourth shot at Olympic gold.

“Since 2010 I’ve been in a double with Anna. We’ve been unbeaten the whole time,” Grainger said. “It’s not just about being successful, it’s a fun crew to be part of. We have a lot of enjoyment and we appreciate it, we don’t take anything for granted. I have enjoyed the journey. And I will enjoy it more if there’s that end result.”