Helen Glover’s reaction to Olympics fourth place is so refreshing

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Photo credit: Naomi Baker - Getty Images
Photo credit: Naomi Baker - Getty Images

In the early hours of this morning, Helen Glover and Polly Swann came fourth in their Olympic rowing final. It’s a result that many athletes lament in post-event interviews – in fact, we’re very used to seeing competitors with silver and bronze medals tell us they can’t celebrate their achievement because they were purely going for gold. But after her fourth place finish, Helen’s reaction was so refreshing and hit home some important lessons about success and so-called failure.

Helen’s lead up to the games undoubtedly gave her a different perspective than most athletes. She’s a hugely decorated rowing champion who claimed gold medals in the London and Rio Olympics before retiring from the sport to focus on starting a family. With three young children, she decided during the pandemic to attempt a comeback, which was documented in a special BBC programme. In The Mother of All Comebacks, Helen’s goal was to make the Olympic squad, something she wasn’t sure she’d be able to do when her training schedule was sneaking in hours of rowing on her machine at home while her babies and toddler slept.

So the fact Helen made it to the games, reached a final and came fourth is simply massive, and she articulated that so well after her race.

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“What does success look like for you? It looks different for everybody. It looked different for me in Rio and London, where I left with golds around my neck that I knew were mine for the taking. This time we came in excited, not knowing what we could do in such a short space of time and [tried] to put together a final we could be proud of,” Helen told the BBC.

The mum-of-three reflected that ultimately, she’d given it her all, and that was enough.

“I’m pleased that we put everything on the line. We knew it was always going to be a tough final to be in and it was a tough route [to get there]. We knew that if we crossed the line having spent everything - looking back on the way we got here - [we’d be] pleased with that result. It shows a lot of our hard work,” she added.

Photo credit: Justin Setterfield - Getty Images
Photo credit: Justin Setterfield - Getty Images

The athlete made the important point that she and Polly – who’s also had an unconventional route to the games as she’s been working almost full-time as a doctor in the NHS during the pandemic – executed their race plan as they had hoped to. Their Canadian rivals performed better than expected, something out of their control.

And so the pair feel - rightly - that they can leave with their heads held high. In an emotional message first directed to her three young children, but then to everyone, Helen said:

“Trying and failing is no problem as long as you try, and that goes out not just to my children but everyone out there.”

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Helen’s pride in her achievement is a lesson to us all for a few reasons. First, she’s highlighted that success is subjective and relative, and that we shouldn’t compare it directly between each other. We’re all on our own race that no one else can truly know.

Then, of course, she’s made clear that life isn’t all about winning – it’s about getting stuck in and doing your best. If it doesn’t quite work out, but you gave it your best shot, isn’t that always enough?

In the same week that Simone Biles taught us all an important lesson in saying ‘no’ to pressure when we need to prioritise our mental health, this is just another inspiring example of the Olympics being about so much more than a gold medal.

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