Katherine Grainger becomes Britain’s most successful female Olympian
Grainger and Vicky Thornley win double sculls silver at Rio 2016
Grainger wins fifth Olympic medal at age 40
Katharine Grainger became Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian when she and Vicky Thornley won a gutsy silver in the women’s double sculls in Rio – but on Thursday she admitted there were times earlier in the summer that “it seemed like the furthest thing from reality”.
The 40-year-old from Glasgow became the first British woman to win five medals in separate Olympic Games – a feat only previously achieved by Steve Redgrave – as she finished a career stretching back to the 2000 Sydney Olympics with one gold and four silvers to her name. That pips the tennis player Kitty McKane Godfree, who also has five medals but won a gold, two silvers and two bronzes in the 1920s.
Yet for a long while Grainger and Thornley’s silver looked like being gold. The British pair led for 1,900m of the 2,000m course, only to tire in the last 100m and be pipped by Poland rowers Magdalena Fularczyk-Kozlowska and Natalia Madaj, who came through to win in 7min 40.10sec, with Great Britain second in 7:41.05 and Lithuania third in 7:43.76.
When asked what she thought about being the greatest British female of all, Grainger said it hadn’t sunk in. “I don’t know, I’ve never been that before,” she said. “It’s unreal. It’s not something you set off to do. I started off as a student and at my first Olympic Games, it was just incredible to be selected for and to get a medal back in Sydney, which is now 16 years ago.
“I continued it because I love this sport and I love being in a boat with people like Vicky and the passion and the excitement, the pressure of these big Olympic moments. That’s what drives me every single day. By following that dream, it’s got me to this place but I never set out to do it”
Yet Grainger admitted she feared the worst when she and her partner were left out of the original selection for Rio, amid accusations that Thornley and women’s coach Paul Thompson had suffered a huge falling out. “Obviously I don’t like leaving an Olympics without a medal so it was genuinely what we were aiming for, but there have been so many hard days in the last year or two when it seemed the furthest thing from reality that wouldn’t come away with anything” she admitted. “I’m very proud of the way Vicky and I have handled the last 12 months. I think we both knew were capable of one more outstanding performance and we could bring it in the Olympic final.”
During the tough times, Grainger admitted that she used the memories of previous Games to keep her dream alive. “I’ve been to the Olympics before so I know how special and how worthwhile it is,” she said. “I am bit of an eternal optimist and I felt that it would work out if we could find our way through those low times. In a way it makes all the results more sweet if you’ve been through the mill and come out.”
Thornley, too, said she was delighted to win a medal after missing out in London 2012. “It has changed my life,” she said. “This result means the world to me. It’s been difficult these last few years so I’m just going to enjoy this moment.”