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Future is bright for Olympic hero Grainger . . . on land or on water

KATHERINE Grainger is rather enjoying being on dry land.

Katherine Grainger hasn't ruled out a return to rowing
Katherine Grainger hasn't ruled out a return to rowing

Whether she will stay there is the proverbial million dollar question that's been left hanging in the air unanswered ever since the Glasgow-born rower took Olympic gold in London last August.

Grainger, currently on a year out from competition, has steadfastly refused to be drawn on the topic of retirement. But, as the months pass, making the decision doesn't appear to be getting any easier.

"In all honesty, I still don't know," she said. "I think people assume I must know by now. For me the break was mainly to finish my PhD, but also partly physical and partly mental. I've tried not to think about rowing too much to give myself that space.

"It's such a hard decision because everything is still an option. Continuing is a realistic option, but then so are many other things that suddenly life opens up to you. I've done rowing for so long now, pretty much my entire adult life, so to finally decide to leave that is a big moment."

Speaking as she launched the 2013 World Youth Netball Championships in Glasgow – Grainger is patron of Netball Scotland – the veteran of four Olympic Games said that whatever decision she made it would be hers alone.

"It shouldn't be whether it's an age thing, a public thing or press thing: it's a personal thing to you," she said. "The balance swings almost every day. Some days you talk about the Olympics, re-live it and watch the videos; you realise it's an incredibly special environment to be in.

"But the reality isn't that one day in the sunshine with all the glory and 30,000 people shouting. The reality is three years and 11 months of blood, sweat, tears, exhaustion and disappointments.

"All of that is worth it when you are chasing this incredible goal, but you have to decide if it's what you still want to do every day."

Grainger's more immediate focus has been on the pressing deadline of finishing her PhD. With an honours degree in law and masters in medical law, her path in academia has continued in a similar vein.

“My PhD is looking at the concept of life meaning life for murder: the extreme end of criminal law,” she said. “The subject matter and cases are incredibly serious. It’s thankfully very rare instances. What’s interesting, though, is the problems it throws up for the criminal justice system, politicians, press and society and how we deal with that.”

So, hardly lying on a beach with a cocktail and chick lit novel then. Grainger, 37, will submit her thesis this month with the next potential looming D-Day in September when the British rowing team is due to reunite. Already confirmed to be absent will be
crew-mate and fellow gold medallist Anna Watkins, who is pregnant with her first child.

Grainger’s face lights up. “Anna will be an absolutely wonderful mother,” she said. “It’s lovely going from the success and amazing excitement we had last year to see her move on to this very different and equally exciting new project for her.

“She is due in September and that will take her out for a while. She herself doesn’t know how she will feel after she has the baby and there is certainly no pressure.”

Grainger admits that, after the intense build-up to London, it initially felt a wrench when she and Watkins went their separate ways. “We went from August 3, seeing each other every day, spending hours together and sharing a room, to August 4 and doing completely different things.

“We were still sharing a room for the second week, but it wasn’t quite the same. Then as we moved away from the Olympics, we often didn’t see each other for days. It felt odd. We now make sure we book in to see each other as that’s important to us.

“Neither Anna or I know what the future holds,” she added. “We might be back as a team or we might never be in a boat together again. Either way we will still be massively in each other’s lives.”

Whatever happens next, Grainger’s ambition and formidable drive hasn’t waned. “Sometimes you wish it would,” she said, almost ruefully. “That you could subdue it a bit more than you can. I still, of all the things I do, get most passionate talking about my sport. Even the couple of times I’ve subbed into a boat for fun, I still want to perform.”

Grainger said she had enjoyed spending time with Scotland’s aspiring netball stars ahead of the forthcoming youth championships and 2014 Commonwealth Games.

“It’s nice to chat and share some of my experiences of competing in front of a home crowd,” she said. “It’s a huge amount of pressure and I’m hoping that between now and then I will be able to sit down with them all.

“Some people genuinely love the pressure of performing in front of a big crowd; others know they will dread it to some extent and feel daunted. There is no right or wrong way: the key thing as an athlete is thinking it through beforehand so it doesn’t take you by surprise.”

But Grainger admits her own future is unlikely to lie on the netball field. “We have actually talked for years about getting a netball team within the GB rowing squad because it’s something everyone loved at school and haven’t had a chance to play since.

“The only problem was something like 80% of us wanted to play goal defence so it would have ended up a bit of a lopsided team.”

The 2013 World Youth Netball Championships are at the Emirates Arena, Glasgow, from August 22-31.

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