Helen Glover heads to the Tokyo Olympics excited to add to her gold medal haul

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Helen Glover will head for Tokyo excited about what she may be able to do rather than worrying about what she may not.

The 34-year-old double Olympic champion will become the first mother to represent the Great Britain rowing team in Japan having emerged from retirement almost by accident.

Glover, who has had three children since claiming her second gold in Rio in 2016, and her partner Polly Swann will compete in the women’s pair after being named in a 45-strong team on Wednesday, the latest chapter in a remarkable career.

Great Britain’s Helen Glover (left) and Heather Stanning pose with the Olympic gold medals they won in Rio in 2016
Great Britain’s Helen Glover (left) and Heather Stanning pose with the Olympic gold medals they won in Rio in 2016 (John Walton/PA)

Identified as a potential talent under UK Sport’s Sporting Giants scheme, she took up rowing in 2008 as a recruit to the GB Rowing Team Start Programme at the University of Bath.

Within four years and with two World silver medals already banked, she and Heather Stanning propelled themselves into the headlines by securing Great Britain’s first gold of London 2012 – and the first for a British women’s boat at an Olympic Games – on a memorable morning at Eton Dorney, in the process earning MBEs in the New Year’s Honours List.

Paired with Swann as Stanning, a serving Major with the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery took a break from rowing to concentrate on her military career, Glover added the World Championship success to her rapidly growing roll of honour in 2013 and the European crown the following year, the first women to hold all three major titles at the same time.

Stanning’s return to the boat in 2014 brought a second and then a third world gold as well as European triumph, and in emphatic fashion in Rio, a second taste of Olympic glory as they extended their unbeaten run as a partnership to 39 races in the final.

Helen Glover and her husband Steve Backshall
Glover and her husband Steve Backshall (David Parry/PA)

That, it seemed, was that.

Stanning announced her retirement in November 2016 and Glover married Steve Backshall and having given birth to son Logan, who will be three years old in July, produced twins Bo and Kit, ensuring rowing had to take a back seat.

Or at least that was the case until lockdown and her quest for fitness intervened.

Returning to the rowing machine, she discovered she was fitter than she had expected, and the seed was sown.

Sir Steve Redgrave celebrates his fifth Olympic title in Sydney
Sir Steve Redgrave celebrates his fifth Olympic title in Sydney (John Giles/PA)

Glover told the PA news agency: “There was probably one point around November where I did a 2km test on the rowing machine and I produced a score that I was actually quite pleased with.

“It wasn’t at my personal best, but I was kind of thinking, ‘Well, I’m not at my personal best, but I’ve been training for five months and had three babies in the last two years, and I feel like I’ve got loads more to go and I’m way fitter than I thought I would be’.

“It was probably a month or so before Christmas that I actually started thinking, ‘This isn’t just a pipe dream’.”

Five-times Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave very publicly called time on his career after winning his fourth gold in Atlanta in 1996, saying: “Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me” before ultimately going again in Sydney four years later, and Glover admits she can understand that thought-process.

She said: “That could have been me after Rio. Now I see what happened to him.

“Although very, very different circumstances brought us back into the sport, I think once an athlete, there’s always that potential to question whether you’ve still got it in you, that little ‘I wonder’.”

Now back in harness with Swann – they claimed another European title in April – Glover will attempt to turn back the clock in Tokyo, although with a very different dynamic to the one she once enjoyed with Stanning.

She said: “Heather is incredibly tidy and incredibly organised, doesn’t show her emotions too much, is quite stoic and just can be quite quiet and calming, whereas Polly and I are quite messy, much more wear our hearts on our sleeves.

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“We have to keep that in check a little bit.”

Her time out of the sport, coupled with the fact that they have only raced European crews heading into the regatta, means Glover does not know quite what to expect, but even that is not tempering her anticipation.

She said: “Rather than finding that worrying, the uncertainty, I’m hoping to find that exciting about what we could do.”