Katherine Grainger on Henley, Lucerne and an MBE

Katherine Grainger MBE anticipates with relish the coming summer – one in which the Camelot-sponsored women’s quadruple scull – will take on all-comers at Henley Royal Regatta, the Lucerne world cup finals and a home World Championships at Eton in August as well as Grainger taking a trip to Buckingham Palace to receive her recently-announced MBE.

First on the agenda for Britain’s most celebrated oarswoman, though, is Henley Royal Regatta which the engaging Scot describes as a piece of “gladiatorial combat”. 

As the twice Olympic silver medallist and current world champion explained:  “It’s totally different to a World Cup or other event where several boats compete in lanes. At Henley there are only two boats involved racing side by side so you are very aware of your opposition rather than focussing on your own boat.  It’s one-on-one”.

Like all other British competitors, Grainger hopes for large crowds at the World Championships at Eton later in the year. Meantime, there is a sense of excitement about the Henley crowd: “The crowds are very close there, almost at the end of your blade. People can almost reach out and touch you. The noise and support is more personal. It’s like being in a proper stadium, if you like”.

Clearly Grainger is not afraid, either, of the challenges facing the Camelot-backed quad at the world cup finals and World Championships from an ever-increasing strength in depth of field in their event.

“I suppose one of your first thoughts is to ask why they have all joined our event but you dismiss that quickly. As an athlete there is not so much satisfaction in winning easily, like we did in Munich and the strength of the opponent hits the target with your competitive drive.  You relish the event more as a competitor. You want to be able to say at the end of the season ‘It took everything we had’ ”.

For someone who exudes confidence about the on-water challenges ahead, Grainger is perhaps surprisingly diffident about the prospect of shopping for clothes to wear to the Palace to collect an MBE as Britain’s first-ever, still-active oarswoman to receive such an honour.

“I haven’t thought about that”, she admits.  Her mum has, though.  That’s the same mum that Grainger describes, alongside her dad and sister, as being “ecstatic, over the moon, really proud” that her efforts on behalf of her country have been recognised in such a way.

Grainger’s achievements on the water have always been held in incredible esteem by all involved in GB Rowing.  The Olympic and world medals are testament to an outstanding athlete who happens to be an extremely engaging personality and great team member, too.

Now, though, the recognition is much broader.  “I don’t know who nominated me but I suppose it’s something you hope for, especially for your sport”, she said. “It’s important for the sport because you see so many other teams winning a one-off like the Ashes and then all receiving MBEs, for instance, whereas with rowing there is maybe a feeling that rowing always delivers medals so there is nothing new in that and people forget the effort and dedication it takes to get where we’ve got”.

“On a personal level it’s been great. People have been so kind.  I’ve had cards and messages from so many people it’s been unbelievable and really great.  There is such a sense of happiness out there about it. Everyone’s been wonderful.

“I didn’t get this success on my own, though.  The MBE is a cumulation of  all those people who have helped and it’s a big plus for women’s rowing”.

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