The People's Champion: Three-time 'bridesmaid' Grainger is golden girl for the day
22:20 GMT, 3 August 2012
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Katherine Grainger will open her eyes this morning and check. Yes. It is still there. She will gather her thoughts and look again. Yes. The right colour this time.
The People’s Medal, she called it, but The People will let her keep it. After what Grainger has endured in the name of sporting achievement, nobody would begrudge her if she slept with her latest Olympic medal each day for the rest of her life.
Some have a favourite teddy bear as a bedtime companion, Grainger has Olympic gold. And if, like a favourite toy, age dulls its newly minted shine, she will not part with it, or complain.
What a performance: Katherine Grainger (left) and Anna Watkins show off their gold medals
This reward was too long in the taking,
the precious surface of what came before washed clean with too many
tears, to quibble now.
Silver. And then silver. And then even more silver. And, finally, gold.
There are many at these Games who would be delighted with the prize
Grainger has collected in three past Olympics. But not her.
‘If it had not happened, I’d still be a happy, secure, normal-ish
person,’ she said, sitting next to partner Anne Watkins and sounding a
little uncertain. ‘But unfulfilled In a word, yes. We’ve been the best
in the world for a while now, so at the very least we would have known
we had underperformed. After three silvers, it became all about the
Silver lining: Grainger finally won gold after silver in Sydney (above), Athens (below) and Beijing (bottom)
Best loser is the tag the harshest critics afford silver and if Grainger
had earned it again, the emptiness would have been close to unbearable.
‘In sport you always want to achieve more,’ she explained. ‘So the first
silver in Sydney was great, but the third…’ She did not need to paint
Few can forget the sight of Grainger in Beijing, sobbing uncontrollably on the podium, so near and yet an ocean away.
We've done it: Anna Watkins (left) and Katherine Grainger celebrate their emphatic win in the double sculls
‘I’m always the bridesmaid,’ she wailed, copious tears falling as the
national anthem of China played. There are few more popular individuals
in the Great Britain team than Grainger (few more popular in Great
Britain, now that her winning personality has been showcased so widely
in the post-race interviews). Her anguish hurt us all.
Now it is over. There were no tears on Friday as Grainger and partner
Watkins – whose contribution is often underplayed with the nation
focused on the feelgood narrative around Grainger – came home in
emphatic first place in the woman’s double sculls final at Eton Dorney.
Some cry for joy, but not Grainger. She smiled. Smiled and smiled.
Beamed the way a young woman might on her wedding day, until the muscles
in her cheeks ached.
Her grin looked as if it might break free of the contours of her face,
even much later as she sat with a Union flag still draped around her
‘A bride at last!’ she announced. Having talked about a medal for the
people, she was asked where she would like most to show it off.
‘Everywhere,’ she replied. ‘I’m prepared to go round and round the
country until people are sick of me and my gold medal. Kids to
grandparents, everyone deserves to have a go at it.’
All Olympic gold medallists are happy, but this was different for we knew how desolate was Grainger’s parallel universe.
Had she been beaten here, she would have been beyond reach and, pushing 40 in Rio de Janeiro, so would her most coveted prize.
Go girls: The crowd roared as Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins powered towards the gold medal
So this was her day. This, as competitors are fond of saying, was her
time. And it was faster than Australia’s time. This, in what was very
much a two-horse race, was all that mattered.
Grainger and Watkins won and, like so many British gold medallists in
London, did so in style. Team GB have more than a little in common with
Tiger Woods, who has not triumphed in a major tournament unless at least
tied for the lead on the last day.
Not for the home team the late charge, or victory from nowhere.
They like to be the front runners, they want to be in charge. From
Bradley Wiggins to the rowers, canoeists and even shooter Peter Wilson,
Team GB are best when they set the pace and challenge others to keep up.
Riding the wave: Katherine Grainger (right) and Anna Watkins salute the supporters
What about Watkins
All the cameras have been on Grainger but who’s the woman rowing with her
Anna Watkins, 29, was born in Staffordshire, as Anna Rose Bebington. She went to Westwood College and Cambridge University.
And Mr Watkins
She’s married to Oliver. The pair met at university, where the 34-year-old was studying for a PhD in engineering. He is now an engineer for McLaren Racing.
Has she been rowing for a while then
Watkins didn’t take up the sport until she was 19, while at Newnham College, Cambridge.
How good was she
Two years after starting, Watkins competed in the Under 23 World Championships, winning gold with the coxless four.
When did she start rowing with Grainger
They only paired up in the sculls in 2010.
All this talk of Cambridge, sounds like she’s pretty smart
Alongside all her other commitments, Watkins is studying for a PhD in mathematics at the University of Reading.
Grainger and Watkins’s lead over Australian pair Kim Crow and Brooke
Pratley grew at every milestone: 0.7 seconds a quarter of the way in,
1.4 seconds at halfway, 2.6 seconds at the three-quarter mark, 2.7
seconds crossing the line.
Watkins (who has her own reality show-style back story, having fought
back from glandular fever, an illness that is bad news for all people,
but a debilitating nightmare for top athletes) was asked when she knew
they had won the race.
‘Just before the halfway mark,’ she answered, with sunny honesty. ‘We
were a boat length up and the gap was increasing. We actually had time
to enjoy it, to take it all in, which you don’t usually get winning a
This pair have not lost in 23 races and no gold medal was more widely expected; but do not let that undermine the achievement.
This is still a brutal, physical examination of strength and stamina.
Having completed the race, while conducting interviews Polish rower
Magdelena Fularczyk collapsed and had to receive medical attention.
She was pushed to the podium in a wheelchair. And her pair came third.
Considering this, imagine how much exertion is required to come first.
What Grainger and Watkins did was not actually easy; they are just so
good that they made it look that way.
And so, having never won a gold Olympic medal, Great Britain’s women
rowers now have two (four, actually, as both were pairs wins). Medals
are all, in their own way, special. Yet one imagines the disc now in the
possession of Katherine Grainger feels the most special of all.
The people’s medal It’s a nice thought, but let’s be realistic: Grainger’s gold is hers, all hers.