Helen Glover hopes she inspired her children to 'take risks' after fourth-place finish in Tokyo Olympics

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Helen Glover and Polly Swann reflect on their efforts in Tokyo -  Paul Grover
Helen Glover and Polly Swann reflect on their efforts in Tokyo - Paul Grover

This time, she insisted, she would not be going back on her decision. Helen Glover, one of Team GB’s all-time greats and British Rowing’s most famous mum, bowed out of the Olympics yesterday with fourth place in the women’s coxless pair alongside her partner Polly Swann.

It was not the fairytale finish Glover, 35, would have wanted or for which she had trained. Indeed, it was Team GB’s fourth fourth-place finish of what is becoming an increasingly miserable Games for the rowers. And there was soon to be a fifth with Imogen Grant and Emily Craig missing out on bronze by just one hundredth of a second in the lightweight women's double scull final.

With just one silver medal in the bag, whatever happens in their two remaining finals on Friday this now promises to be British Rowing’s least successful Games since the advent of Lottery funding.

Glover, though, could not find anything about which to be negative. Standing on the jetty of the Sea Forest Waterway after her race, the 35 year-old mum of three - the first British rower to compete at an Olympics after giving birth - said she had no regrets. On the contrary, she insisted the journey itself had been the reward and said she hoped her comeback would inspire her children, in years to come, to “take risks and to take chances, with no fear of failure”.

Imogen Grant and Emily Craig were just 00.01 seconds off a bronze medal in a hugely dramatic lightweight women's double scull final. - BBC
Imogen Grant and Emily Craig were just 00.01 seconds off a bronze medal in a hugely dramatic lightweight women's double scull final. - BBC

It was an inspiring message but one would expect nothing less from the extraordinary Glover, a double Olympic gold medallist who retired after Rio 2016, started a family with her husband, the TV explorer Steve Backshall, then decided after cracking out the rowing machine during the pandemic that her numbers were quite good and she might as well give it another shot.

Glover was breastfeeding her 18-month-old twins until three months ago while simultaneously training for these Games. Swann’s story was no less inspiring. The 33 year-old was working as a junior doctor during the first wave of the Covid pandemic last year, and will return to work at Borders General Hospital in Scotland in the coming weeks.

“I think the reward is knowing that we crossed the line giving it our all,” Glover reflected after a wind-affected final, which saw the GB pair finish behind favourites New Zealand, the Russian Olympic Committee and Canada. “The frustration would have been coming away from thinking we had more and we didn’t. I think had it been a flat water day I think we would have expected to come through to the last [podium] place but it wasn’t and it makes it very hard to challenge in a final sprint. But we still tried and that’s what’s important I think.”

Glover tweeted after the final that she now wanted a “teleport machine” so that she could get back home to three-year-old son Logan, and twins Kit and Bo.

Asked whether she had a message for her children, Glover replied: “Whether they remember it or not they were there from the very first strokes of this journey, and in my mind to the very last strokes. I just think my ambition for them, to take away from this, would be in the future to be able to take risks, take chances, with no fear of failure, just excitement about, yes, results, but the journey.”

In an interview with the BBC, she added: “They are sometimes up at this time, so they might be watching it now. I love you so much. You have been my inspiration. I never saw myself getting back in a rowing boat until you guys came along.

“I just want to say, you can do whatever you want to do. Trying and failing is no problem, as long as you try. And that's not just for my children, that's for everyone out there.”

Glover and Swann finished fourth in the women's pairs - Paul Grover
Glover and Swann finished fourth in the women's pairs - Paul Grover

Glover added that that was “definitely” it for her now. “Everyone around me keeps saying 'No, no, you'll be back doing the single [scull]!'” she said. “But I definitely don't see myself doing the single. I'm just looking forward to getting home and having some downtime.”

Swann, 33, standing next to her, laughed. “I'm taking bets on her doing the single.”

After Craig and Grant’s agonising near-miss, which equated 5cm over a 2km course, British Rowing will be fervently hoping that one or both of the men’s eight or Vicky Thornley in the single scull will give them something to positive to cheer today at the end of a difficult week.

As it happened

01:28 AM

Agony for Craig and Grant

The result has been made official and the British pair missed out on a medal by 00.01 seconds. Truth be told, it was simply too close to call on the line. Agony, surely, for Emily Craig and Imogen Grant.

It's been a case of what-ifs for GB on the water this morning.

British duo seek glory - PA
British duo seek glory - PA

01:21 AM

GB miss out on bronze by a fraction

Wow, that was so tight! Emily Craig and Imogen Grant came on really strong at the end but were painstakingly short of a medal. Once again, it's fourth for the Brits.

Elsewhere - in what was a thrilling race - Italy claimed the gold, with France taking the silver and the Dutch team just - and I mean just - sneaking the bronze by the tightest of margins. A sensational contest, that.

The tightest of margins - BBC
The tightest of margins - BBC

01:16 AM

A tight affair

This one could go down to the line. The Dutch and Italian teams are going stroke for stroke at the moment. Through 1,500 metres and it's too close to call for now.

GB are picking up the speed!

01:14 AM

Team GB eye more gold

Right, back to the action on the water and GB are eyeing another medal in the lightweight women's double scull. Emily Craig and Imogen Grant qualified as the third fastest pair and will be looking to cause an upset....

01:12 AM

Helen Glover: I'm pleased with that result

Helen Glover has reacted to her fourth-placed finish in the women's pair with Polly Swann.

She told BBC Sport: "Getting here was a tough route and so we knew when we crossed having spent everything.

"Looking back on the way we got here, I think we are pleased with that result. It shows a lot of our hard work."

01:07 AM

James Cracknell hails gold medal-winning team

James Cracknell has lavished praise on the Irish duo.

"Paul must've wanted to finish this with his brother but he had to form a new relationship," he told the BBC.

"Both crews have raced well because the Italians have been nip and tuck with these three, the Irish and the Germans, all year. I think both the Germans and the Irish stepped up for that final."

Ireland's golden moment - GETTY
Ireland's golden moment - GETTY

01:00 AM

Ireland win gold in men's lightweight double sculls

It's gold for the Irish team of Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy! Paul and Gary O'Donovan actually won the nation's first Olympic rowing medal in 2016, when they took home a silver.

This time, Paul has gone one better!

Golden moments - GETTY
Golden moments - GETTY

12:57 AM

Dame Katherine Grainger reacts to GB performance

Dame Katherine Grainger has heaped praise on the British team, even though they fell just short of glory.

"Helen and Polly are incredible athletes, a brilliant partnership. The start wasn't what we expected from them but they have proved through the last two races they can compete with the best in the world," she told the BBC.

"It always feels hard and harsh talking about another fourth place but I think right now, they will have to let that result sink in - but they will be incredibly proud."

12:47 AM

Helen Glover falls just short of dream comeback

That was a really good performance from Helen Glover and Polly Swann, but it wasn't quite enough to win them a medal. They were in the hunt until near the end, but Canada - having led the race for a long period - just edged them out of the podium positions.

The British duo fell just short of a medal - GETTY
The British duo fell just short of a medal - GETTY

12:41 AM

British duo edged out of the medals

It's heartbreak for Team GB and Helen Glover, as they finish in fourth. They were in the medal hunt until the finish line but it just wasn't to be.

The New Zealanders took gold, as most people predicted they would, and they looked strong throughout the race, finishing comfortably ahead of their rivals in the end.

Elsewhere, the Russian team claimed the silver medal and Canada - who started out at a ferocious pace - did just enough to win a bronze medal.

12:36 AM

It's going to be tight!

GB are in the medal hunt as we approach the line - but the Kiwis are looking so strong. Helen Glover is seeking another Olympic medal...

12:35 AM

Glover going for gold

The British team are starting to reel in the Canadians, but New Zealand are looking strong. Have the pre-race favourites got another gear to go? We're about to find out...

12:34 AM

Canada sets the pace

The Canadian team have stormed out the blocks, leading from Team GB in second and the Kiwis in third.

The Canadian duo are being very aggressive from the outset, but have they gone off too fast? Canada leads at the 1,000 metre mark.

12:32 AM

And we're off!

New Zealand are the pre-race favourites for gold. But the British duo will be desperate to cause an upset and finish Helen Glover's remarkable Olympic story in style.

The British pair are off in lane two.

12:29 AM

Croatia win gold in the men's pair final

The Croatian duo of Martin Sinkovic and Valent Sinkovic have just stormed to victory in the men's pair final. The bothers won the gold medal in the men's double sculls at the 2016 Games, and they never looked in much danger in Japan.

Now time for the women's race, with Helen Glover seeking another gold. Here we go!

12:23 AM

The stage is set

It's a pretty blustery day on the water, as the action begins in Japan. However, Helen Glover - having been through so much since Rio in 2016 - won't allow anything to distract her from her ambition.

The gold medal-winning star is looking forward to normality resuming after the Games in Tokyo. But in the immediate future, she has her eyes set on glory.

12:05 AM

Glover goes for gold

Five years, three children and one retirement since Helen Glover won her second Olympic gold in Rio, she has the chance to complete a historic hat-trick this morning in the final of the women's coxless pairs.

Alongside new partner Polly Swann, they qualified third fastest so have work to do to win more than a minor medal.

35-year-old Glover has already made history as the first mother and British Rower to compete at the Olympics, though in an interview with Telegraph Sport she rejected the tag of 'supermum'.

“It’s just important for this story to not seem like this fairytale thing,” Glover said. “So much has been circumstance, so much has been trial and error, so much has been this is quite a big leap of faith, but it was always in the effort and trying that was the most important thing, rather than just the execution.”

An average day’s training over the last 12 months has tended to revolve around the children’s routine: a morning training session while her husband, TV explorer Steve Backshall, occupies the children, a second while the twins are napping, and a third in the afternoon or evening either with weights in their home gym, or on the rowing machine.

Will it all pay off with one last shot at glory?

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