Never once when Katherine Grainger stuck one foot in a boat on the Union Canal as something to pass the time during her law degree at Edinburgh University did she imagine where it might lead.
An extraordinary journey that started in the Capital ended in Rio yesterday as the 40-year-old became the UK’s most successful Olympian of the modern era with a silver medal – the fifth successive Games in which she has made the podium – in the double sculls in Rio.
It was against all the odds – as astonishing as the gold she landed in London four years ago. But, with partner Vicky Thornley, Grainger came so very close to defending her title in what is likely to be the last race of her career with the British pair leading for most of the race before being pipped by less than a second by Poland’s Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj. Six weeks ago, the duo weren’t even selected for the squad for Brazil. Their form suggested they would go nowhere fast. But they regrouped and bounced back and accomplished the unexpected.
“It’s unreal,” Grainger said. “I started off as a student and at my first Olympic Games, it was just incredible to be selected 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 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.”
It validated her decision to come out of a brief retirement two years ago with a sense of unfinished business in the boat and the selectors’ decision to put aside their doubts and give her a shot at cementing her legend in Rio. “When we finally got put in a double and we knew we only had a matter of weeks until the Olympics, it simplified everything. All the extra things that can be distracting round that time just disappeared. Our coach Paul Thompson and us have been on a mission to get to this point and I’m really proud of what we’ve done in a short space of time.”