Sports Personality of the Year: Why Katherine Grainger should win

Each of the 12 Sports Personality of the Year contenders has an advocate explaining why they should win. Here, BBC Sport talks to Anna Watkins about her rowing partner Katherine Grainger.

For Katherine Grainger, a six-time world rowing champion, London 2012 offered a chance to finally put her Olympic demons to bed.

A silver medallist at each of the last three Games, Britain's most decorated female rower didn't so much want as need that elusive gold medal.

A silver was a start, a second satisfactory - but a third was a sign that this career was stuck on silver.

  • Finest moment: Crossing the line to win Olympic gold at Eton Dorney after silver medals at each of the last three Games
  • Historical context: She is the first British woman in any sport to win medals at four consecutive Olympics
  • In her own words: "It was worth the wait"

"Had I not won gold would I have felt unfulfilled? In a word, yes," said the 36-year-old. She need not have worried.

After forming a partnership with Anna Watkins in 2010, Grainger became unbeatable, blitzing her way to the world title in the women's double scull in 2010 and 2011 before winning all three World Cups at a canter in the lead-up to London.

Despite that success, the tension was palpable at Dorney Lake for the Olympic regatta, with persistent questions over whether she could finally turn silver into gold still hanging heavy on the Scot's shoulders.

Watkins, Grainger's right-hand lady in the quest for gold, told BBC Sport: "Katherine knew the questions would keep coming, despite her incredible record of winning a gold or silver at every major championships during the last 10 years.

"It was draining and however hard it was for me, it was nothing like it was for her to be continuously pinned back by silver medals. It was like all her world titles had been disregarded.

BBC SPOTY 2012 - The contenders

"The pressure that was heaped on her shoulders hurt her deeply, but she was determined and focused."

Roared on by Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time", the song which she and Watkins woke up to on the morning of the big race, the British pair blasted out of the blocks and, by the midway point, their rivals were broken, the race won.

But after experiencing what she described as the lowest point of her career when her crew led in Beijing in 2008 only to be pipped on the line by China, Grainger kept her head down, not daring to believe until she crossed that line.

On doing so, there was an explosion of emotion, her arms raised aloft as if the burden had finally been lifted.

That victory owed much to their performance in the heats, when the duo delivered arguably the best performance of their careers to set an Olympic record and send out a signal to their rivals that this was their gold to lose.

Watkins said: "We went out and rowed such a relaxed race, so when the time came out and showed how fast we were, it sort of confirmed that we had brought all of the stuff we had done in training to the Olympic lake and we were ready."

Contenders on Twitter

* Katherine Grainger and Bradley Wiggins do not have Twitter accounts

In winning gold, Grainger capped a career which has had many highlights. She was part of the first British female rowing crew to win an Olympic medal - silver in Sydney - and in London became the first British woman in any sport to win medals at four consecutive Games.

She has also completed an extraordinary tour of rowing, winning medals in each of the five Olympic classes for women, from the sweep events (the pair and eight) to the sculling boats (single, double and quad).

"There is a world of difference between competing in a single, which is all silence and psychological grit, and the eight, which is about teamwork, energy and aggression," added Watkins.

Much of the success was built on solid foundations and it is here where Grainger left no stone unturned.

"She would train to exhaustion for a couple of hours, have a 20-minute nap and then do it all over again, three or four times a day," said Watkins.

"We pushed our bodies to the limits over the winter. We weren't interested in tapering and peaking for anything other than that final in the summer.

"Day-in, day-out we would discuss, plan and improve every aspect of our training down to the tiniest detail."

Last 10 winners

  • 2011: Mark Cavendish (cycling)
  • 2010: Tony McCoy (horse racing)
  • 2009: Ryan Giggs (football)
  • 2008: Sir Chris Hoy (cycling)
  • 2007: Joe Calzaghe (boxing)
  • 2006: Zara Phillips (Equestrian)
  • 2005: Andrew Flintoff (cricket)
  • 2004: Dame Kelly Holmes (athletics)
  • 2003: Jonny Wilkinson (rugby union)
  • 2002: Paula Radcliffe (athletics)

Training was punishing, with Wednesday afternoon each week the only time for respite. But rather than relaxing on the sofa, Grainger got the books out and continued working on her PhD in criminal law.

"It's a massive challenge to combine studying with rowing," said Watkins. "But Katherine was very disciplined about bringing stuff away on training camp. So in the time between big sessions, she'd sit down and get to work. She's a bit of a machine."

In Beijing, Grainger cried uncontrollably on the podium when she collected her silver medal but in London, bottom lip quivering, the Scot kept her composure as she soaked up the occasion.

It was not until she saw the footage back a few days later that she finally welled up at the realisation she had achieved the dream she had dedicated the previous 15 years to realising.

"Katherine has obviously achieved the highest peak in winning Olympic gold, but she's explored the breadth of the sport and achieved longevity," added Watkins.

"On top of that she's also a wonderful person and hugely inspirational to adults and children alike. She always takes the time to talk to them individually.

"After winning gold at Dorney Lake she became a huge star, but the next day she made me a cuppa and we hung out. She's not changed, she's lovely."

Grainger was knocked down not once, not twice but three times and, at 36, time was not on her side. But under the immense weight of those three missed opportunities, she made it happen.

"What we are seeing right now is that dreams do come true," BBC Sport commentator Garry Herbert said as Grainger crossed the line. "At long last, Katherine Grainger is the Olympic champion."