The world’s top ranked female rower, Cookham’s Helen Glover is going for gold again at this month’s Olympic Games in Rio. She talks to Jessica Jonzen…
It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since the London 2012 Olympic Games and yet this month, the world looks to Rio for another spectacle of sporting achievement. Someone who has keenly felt every single day of those four years, however, is one of rowing’s most decorated athletes, Helen Glover.
Together with Heather Stanning, she won the first British gold medal of the London Games in the coxless pairs despite only having discovered rowing four years earlier. This time around, expectations are riding high. ‘It’s a really different feeling to before London,’ says the three-times World Champion from her home in Cookham, Berkshire. ‘Before London everything happened really quickly. I started rowing in 2008, two years later I got onto the GB rowing team and then the next year I was chosen for my first Olympics. It was a lot to get my head around. This time it’s been four years of training for the Olympics, so it’s different to just really hoping that it will happen.’
Always sporty as a child, Glover, 29, ran cross country for England whilst still at school in Cornwall and was an excellent hockey player. After leaving Cardiff university where she studied Sport and Exercise Science, she heard about Sporting Giants, a talent identification programme, and decided to have one last shot at being a professional athlete. She was tested with 3000 other people and funnelled in to rowing. ‘I’d never even thought of it,’ she laughs. At the time she was doing her teacher training and so accepting the place was a gamble: ‘I was broke, I’d been a student and I wondered if I was just trying to pursue a dream which was never going to happen. But I knew that I would have hated to watch the London Olympics and have been thinking “What could have been?’
Glover and Stanning are the favourites for gold at Rio, and they won’t be happy with anything less. To prepare, they have done two to three daily training sessions on the water, in the gym and on the rowing machine and have had just one day off every three to six weeks. That’s got to be a challenge for any working relationship. ‘We’ve been rowing together for six years now and we’re incredibly fortunate that we get on really well. I’d say 90 per cent of our communication now is non verbal, there is just an understanding between us and our coach, Robin Williams.’ Despite the rigours of training, Glover has also found time for a relationship and lives with TV naturalist Steve Backshall. The couple are getting married in Cornwall in September, on her (hopefully) triumphant return from Rio. How has she found time to plan a wedding? ‘My mum has been amazing at planning the whole thing because Steve and I are so busy,’ she says. ‘She’s feeling under pressure but she doesn’t have to because we’re very relaxed about it.’
Glover admits that it’s hard for the partners of Olympic athletes. ‘Your social life is totally different to other couples. We can’t go to weddings or parties as they finish too late, so all these social events have to be crossed out of your diary. Also your personality changes according to how training is going. Steve is very understanding and has a little more flexibility so he’s generally managed to make sure that he’s away when I’m at a training camp so that we have as much time together in the country as possible.’
And what do they like to do on that precious day off? ‘Steve loves a good Sunday roast. We live by the river so, if it’s a nice day we’ll go for a paddle board. I definitely like to keep it quite chilled and low key; Steve sometimes gets really excited and says: ‘Right, it’s your day off, we can go and do something!’ He’ll probably only get the advantage of me being so sporty once I’ve retired, because then we will actually be able to go and do some active stuff together!’ Until then, Glover is fully focused on standing on top of the podium in Rio. And we’ve no doubt she’ll get there.
Catch Glover and Stanning as they defend their pairs title from 4:30pm today [Monday 8 August]!