It says everything about Rowan McKellar’s standards that only a silver medal at a major championship induces feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction.

McKellar has been a mainstay of GB’s rowing squad for eight years and having had one of the stand-out seasons of any British athlete last year, going the entire season unbeaten, the consequence is that losing in any way, shape or form has become a bitter pill to swallow.

After such an exceptional run of form in 2022, during which McKellar and her teammates in the women’s four became world and European champions, the feeling of being beaten was something McKellar began to find unfamiliar.

So second place at the European Rowing Championships earlier this year was a sore reminder of what defeat tasted like but 29-year-old McKellar has been in this game long enough to realise that, as disheartening as the loss was at the time, positives can often be gleaned from such disappointment.

“This season has been not as straightforward as last but it’s been a decent season.

“You can’t complain too much when you’re winning medals, it’s just not been the right colour of medal yet,” she says. 

“How we felt about that European silver says a lot about what we expect from ourselves. And someone said to me it’s a privilege to be disappointed with second place and that’s definitely true. 

“But we’re keeping our standards really high and defeat makes you hungry. We are looking for gold medals and we don’t want anything less.”

McKellar will take that fire into the World Championships, which begin today in Serbia’s capital of Belgrade. 

Alongside her crew mates, Helen Glover, Heidi Long and Rebecca Shorten, McKellar will take to the water mindful of the fact they’re defending their world title but is, she insists, unfazed by the pressure that brings, which is another positive that’s come about as a result of the few defeats her boat has suffered this season.

“The feeling of pressure, for me anyway, was more present at the beginning of the season. I felt like everyone was looking at us to see how we were doing but then not winning the Europeans changed that,” the Lochwinnoch native says.

“But it is nice going in as defending world champions because it gives me that extra confidence.

“We want to finish the highest we can but really, the goal is to win. If you don’t go in with the aim of finishing first, you’re not going to be anywhere near it.”

McKellar was long destined to become a rower, although she admits she’s had a few moments along the way where she’s doubted her ability to reach the very top of her sport.

Having been born to two keen rowers, McKellar first got involved in the sport during her school days at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh. It was, however, a sports scholarship to the University of California in Berkley where it first dawned upon her that a career as a rower may not be as distant a prospect as she once feared.

“I wasn’t particularly good as a junior but I always had a pipe-dream of becoming a professional athlete,” she says. 

“And when I was in America, I found out what real fitness was. I could row quite well but I didn’t know what real training was. The team was awesome and we had 40 or 50 people competing every day to get one up on the rest and I absolutely loved it. That’s where I got fit and began to be able to get the scores I needed to get into the GB Rowing squad.”

McKellar is one of several Scots who are included in GB’s 62-strong squad for these World Championships, which also includes world and Olympic medallist, Karen Bennett from Glasgow, who will be part of the women’s eight. And there is particular significance of this regatta for all of GB’s athletes as a result of Olympic qualification as well as world titles being on the line.

For McKellar and her crew, a top-7 finish will ensure their boat is qualified for Paris 2024 and having already had a taste of Olympic action in 2021, when McKellar was in the women’s four that finished in fourth place in Tokyo, she’s in little doubt she wants to be in on the action in Paris next summer as she attempts to improve on that placing.

“Olympic qualification being on the line adds another layer for the whole team,” she says. 

“If we execute things properly, we should be able to qualify but it’s always in the back of your mind that you can’t mess this one up. 

“Last Olympic cycle, we scraped through in the last qualifying spot and that was extremely stressful - I still have that in my mind and I definitely don’t want to be in that position again.”