London 2012: Katherine Grainger on turning silver into gold

In the latest part of our weekly #olympicthursday  series profiling leading British hopes, BBC Sport's Piers Newbery speaks to double sculls rower Katherine Grainger.

It does not take much longer than a few seconds looking at her roll of honour  to work out what is driving Katherine Grainger towards a fourth Olympic Games.

"My athletic story is very much the three silver medals, and it's not just been three silvers," she tells BBC Sport.

"The first was a photo finish with the bronze, the second one was a very clear silver, the third one we were leading for most of the race, so each one has got that little bit closer to gold and it's still missing that final step of being in front when you cross the line."

Katherine Grainger

Katherine Grainger
  • Born: 12 November 1975, Glasgow
  • Lives: Marlow, Buckinghamshire
  • Olympic silver: Sydney (quad), Athens (coxless pair), Beijing (quad)
  • World champion: double sculls 2010 & 2011; quad 2005, 2006 & 2007; coxless pair 2003

After second-place finishes in Sydney, Athens and, most agonisingly, Beijing, the Scot might have been forgiven for not putting herself through another tortuous four-year cycle chasing a gold that might never come.

There are few Olympic sports that are more demanding day in, day out than rowing, and the now 36-year-old Grainger currently combines training with studying homicide for a PhD.

On the back of the Masters in medical law and medical ethics that she already had, it's fair to say the Glaswegian probably had options when she took a break after Beijing, but she admits "the fact that it's London 2012 made that decision easier, without a doubt".

Two years down the line Grainger finds herself part of a two-time defending world champion double sculls boat.

Having won her first senior international medal with a bronze as part of the eight at the 1997 World Championships, the Glasgow-born rower finally found the magic formula 13 years later when she first got in a boat with Anna Watkins.

Grainger's studies

PhD in homicide at King's College, University of London

"It's very difficult because without planning it both my Olympic career and my Phd have met at the same time and the culmination for both is 2012 - not by design. The Olympics is utterly my priority, everything falls to that and if there are any distractions it will disappear. I can't afford to let the PhD be a stress or a distraction.

"I watch everything from Murder She Wrote to Law & Order, CSI, Sherlock. I pretend it's work, so if I haven't been to the library or written many chapters, I think 'at least I put some hours in watching those educational programmes'. I spent years studying law and you learn to argue incredibly well. I try to argue that those hours I put in watching a Columbo double-bill mean I need a rest now, although my supervisor isn't quite on board with that yet."

"It was genuinely one of those moments of 'Wow, this is special and this works'," she says. "It was incredibly natural and easy and the boat was effortless to move fast. From that moment on it's been a really exciting mission thinking we've had two years to London, and so far it's been a fantastic ride."

The pair won the world title in a brilliant 2010 season and then repeated the feat as they remained unbeaten in 2011, despite some worrying back issues for Watkins.

Grainger had taken silver in the single sculls at the 2009 World Championships, and although she now has a seat in one of the most formidable boats in the sport, it comes with the burden of constantly fearing for her partner's health.

"There's definitely a part of me that wants to wrap Anna up in cotton wool because we know it's very, very special and our boat is utterly inter-dependent on each other - if one of us isn't right, it's just not going to work; if one of us isn't there, then you don't get to the start line.

"So there is this unbelievable reliance on each other. I'm sure in the next few months there will be, 'Don't take any risks, back off if you've got a bit of a cold, maybe don't go bungee jumping today'."

Anna Watkins

Anna Watkins
  • Born: 13 February 1983, Leek, Staffordshire
  • Lives: Wokingham, Buckinghamshire
  • Olympic bronze: Beijing (double sculls)
  • World champion: double sculls 2010, 2011

The pair's standing within the British rowing team has been enhanced by victories for each of them at the national trials, which pit all the rowers against each other in single sculls.

Watkins topped the timings ahead of Grainger last year before Grainger reversed that result at the Olympic venue of Eton Dorney last month.

"Anna beat me last year with an awesome race and I went away a little bit bruised, licked my wounds, and then we came back together in the double," said Grainger.

"This year we knew it was going to be another tight race between the two of us and I got to finish on top. It's not something we enjoy doing, it's not comfortable racing against each other.

"Given the choice, we much prefer combining our strengths and taking on the rest of the world. That's the fun bit. Racing each other is necessary and pushes up our own standard but we don't enjoy it."

Grainger and Watkins will begin their Olympic season in Belgrade next month with the first of three World Cup races, and another unbeaten season will surely deliver a hammer blow to the likes of their German and Australian rivals.

Three silver medals are a sure way of removing any complacency, however, and Grainger knows that, win or lose, hers is likely to be one of the stories of the Games.

World gold for GB pair in women's double sculls

"I know, having experienced Beijing and other things in my career, that there are no guarantees. Just because you want it or deserve it or people think it's the right thing to happen, it won't happen because of those reasons.

"So I'm aware of the story but I don't get caught up in it because I know the only way I can influence that result is what I do every day and the hard work, all the tiny things behind the scenes. That's got to be my focus and if we get everything right, the result will happen and the ending will be there.

"It is my story - I don't deny it, I don't try and hide from it. It's been an emotional build-up because clearly the fairytale ending is gold at last in front of the home crowd on our home course.

"I'm very aware that if you could write the story, that's how you'd write it, and I think a lot of people around the country would be very relieved that 'she's finally done it!'"