Karen Bennett claims the British rowing eight can deliver another first-rate showing in Saturday’s Olympic final in Rio and steal a gold from under the noses of their American rivals.
The 27-year-old from Balerno lapped up her Games debut yesterday at Lagoa by helping the crew to a comprehensive victory in their heats that saw them set the second quickest time behind the reigning world champions.
But it’s what happens in the final, insisted Bennett, who left the Capital four years ago to move to London and pursue her dream of ending up with a gold hanging around her neck – and this was a definite marker laid down.
“Before, we set our sights on winning the race,” she said. “We did want to put out a statement. We did want to go straight through to the final. But we didn’t do anything special or spectacular out there. We just stuck to our race and to win it, that’s great.”
Once a promising basketballer at Lothian League outfit Pentland Star, Bennett now stands just over six minutes away from the slam-dunk result of adding an Olympic medal to the silver gong she scooped at the world championships last year.
“We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain,” she admitted, with a squad that’s been slowly building momentum over the past four seasons unlikely to buckle under the pressure.
“I’m not thinking of this as the Olympics because if you do, you get a bit nervous,” she said. “You might get scared you mess something up. I’m not thinking of the medals or anything after. I’m taking one stroke at a time.”
They will respect the Americans but not let them become an elephant in the room.
“We’ll look at the times and see where we are in comparison,” she added. “But you can’t really take much because they are different races. I don’t know if they had a fight on their hands. Maybe they didn’t. You can’t take much from it. We’ll look at them but we’ll take it with a pinch of salt because you don’t know what will happen in a race until you’re with them.”
The Brits at least know they’ve come closer than anyone over the past three seasons to knocking the USA off their perch with a tight squeeze into second at the World Cup leg in Lucerne.
The systems are in place, Bennett’s Capital crewmate Polly Swann admitted, whether rowing in Rio or in a practice run at home down the Thames.
“Take away the banners, take away the Olympics, we’re a group of nine girls trying to go the fastest from A to B. And I think that’s how we managed it. We didn’t let the atmosphere of what was going on around us affect us.”
The former George Watson’s pupil finally got a taste of the Games after sitting out London 2012 with an injured back and she was determined to lap up the occasion.
“Really this has been six years in the making,” she said. “Maybe I feel it more than the other girls and I really appreciate that I am here. I feel like I’m savouring every moment because it was so brutal four years ago and I really struggled with that loss.
“But it just means this is so much greater: the crew we have is so strong. We’re these sassy incredible girls. And anything is possible for us. Those American girls are just people. And they’re just going to be people on Saturday. We’re people too and we can absolutely demolish them.”