Helen Glover, who won Great Britain’s first gold medal of the London 2012 Olympics alongside Heather Stanning, bids for a spot at the Tokyo Games; 34-year-old wants to become the first woman in British rowing history to make an Olympic team after having children.
By Mathieu Wood
Last Updated: 28/01/21 5:59am
Double Olympic champion Helen Glover says a desire to break down barriers for athletes returning to sport following pregnancy is motivation to compete at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games.
Glover won pairs gold at the 2012 and 2016 Games alongside Heather Stanning and has not competed for more than four years.
But the 34-year-old mother-of-three to Logan (2), Bo and Kit (1) now wants to become the first woman in British rowing history to make an Olympic team after having children.
“Hand on heart I don’t know if it is possible,” Glover told Sky Sports News.
“I am juggling two things; one I am juggling the time out of the boat, the time out of the sport and two my return is not in the same vein as when I was a full-time athlete.
“I am juggling a family life and that is always my priority. The kids come first, they come ahead of training sessions, they come over everything. So, is it possible? I really don’t know.”
“I’m finding the journey exciting and extremely challenging. Trying to be an elite sportswoman and also the best mother I can be to young babies is certainly teaching me a lot.”
British Rowing director of performance Brendan Purcell has said “all options are open”.
Glover, who has re-joined the British team at their Caversham training base, added: “If it hasn’t been done before the pathway won’t be there. With a sport like rowing you have got to be in a boat with other people and running on a schedule that other people run by.
“As a mum that is something I am starting to challenge.”
Glover says she sought advice from 2012 Olympic gold medallist Anna Watkins, who attempted to make the Great Britain squad for Rio 2016 following the birth of two children.
Watkins, who partnered Katherine Grainger to double sculls gold in London, ultimately withdrew from the British programme because she felt she was not at the required level.
Glover, who hopes she can help to inspire young girls and mums alike to achieve their goals, added: “Even if I am not the one to do it, even if it isn’t me who makes it I could be the next person to break down a few more barriers and give a bit more advice to the next person.
“Because there will be another person after me who wants to do it. That is really important.”
Glover, who is married to naturalist Steve Backshall, says her decision to resume her career came from a desire to build up her fitness, following the birth of twins in January 2020.
“I started seeing numbers and scores that reminded me of what I was like four or five years ago,” she said.
“I looked at my kids and thought what I could do this year that makes you really proud.
“My husband Steve did point out most people take up crochet as a lockdown project and for me I took up trying to get to another Olympic Games! It is what motivated me and got me in a good head space.”
Glover concedes she had “essentially retired” from rowing before the Games in Japan was postponed by a year last March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I hadn’t officially retired but I hadn’t rowed for four to five years,” she said.
“Another four years to Paris would have been too long. The six months towards Tokyo wasn’t enough after having the twins. It wasn’t really on my horizon.”
Glover and Stanning, who retired in November 2016, became the first British female rowers to defend their Olympic title, which sealed an imperious unbeaten run which stretched across five years and 39 races.
Glover is determined to ensure her experience can prove an asset to the British team as they aim to finish a fourth Olympics in a row as the most successful nation in rowing.
“If I don’t make it in a boat, I really hope the people that get on the plane that I have rowed with will be stronger for it,” she said.
Amid mounting uncertainty over the delayed Tokyo Games, Glover is confident the right decisions will be reached amid the potential for crushing disappointment for athletes across the world.
Glover also believes athletes should not be given priority to receive a vaccination and says expectations must be “realistic” over whether spectators will be present at the Games, set to take place between July 23 and August 8.
“For a long time, I have seen Olympians and sports people hailed as heroes and that has never sat comfortably with me,” she said.
“We are really seeing the true heroes and those are the people who should be getting the vaccine [first]. If and when the time comes, I would happily be prepared to take that vaccine.
“My thoughts about how I physically go to the Olympics haven’t really happened yet because I wait until I am in that boat before I start thinking about that start line.”