Tokyo 2020 - 'I never thought I would row again' - Team GB’s Helen Glover on making history as a mum
The 34-year-old will become the first British rower to compete at an Olympics after having children when she lines up with Polly Swann in the women’s pair in Japan. Glover has told Eurosport that the goal was all about getting to Tokyo - and anything else is a positive, while also confirming she has no plans to continue on to Paris 2024.
#Returnto2012 - Helen Glover: It took me about six months to call myself Olympic champion
Helen Glover says she has been overwhelmed by the number of people who have said she has inspired them - having completed her comeback to rowing by earning selection for Tokyo 2020.
Team GB’s double Olympic champion will become the first British woman in the sport to compete at a Games after having children when she teams up with Polly Swann in the women’s pair. But she has told Eurosport the journey is likely to end in Japan, as she has no plans to go to Paris 2024.
Since winning gold at Rio 2016, Glover has had three kids and she only thought about giving competitive sport another go during lockdown when she was showing some impressive numbers on the rowing machine. Now, she feels it was all worth it.
“No matter what the result, the goal originally was all about selection,” she told Eurosport.
It feels really different to the other two Olympics I’ve been to, selection was all part of the journey but this time it feels like it was the journey - all the hard work was for now. Everything that comes in Tokyo is a bonus.
“Mentally and physically it was a big shift to come back into rowing - I’d had four years off. It’s a really long time to be out of the sport when you’re looking to go to an Olympics in a year.
“I had to pace myself, there were definitely times in the early days when I was still breastfeeding the twins, they were up through the night and I was sleep deprived trying to train, I had several days when I thought ‘no, I’m not going to row anymore’. But it drew me back in over time and I’m really pleased that it did.”
Glover says she has consistently had to change her plans while juggling childcare with her husband, the TV presenter Steve Backshall. She started the comeback when her twins were 11 weeks old, but as they have got older (they are now 16 months, while son Logan is almost three) the demand on time has become more and more difficult. She says everything is focused around making sure the kids do not miss out on family time - and training has always come second.
Although she never officially retired, Glover’s announcement late last year that she was going to go for Olympic qualification drew national attention, and she is staggered by the number of positive messages she has received along her journey.
“I feel like it’s a comeback, because I never thought I would row again,” she said.
“When I was thinking about the return it was all about the children and showing them about chasing your goals. As soon as I made the announcement around Christmas time, the support I got was overwhelming and incredible.
It’s really motivated me through these last six months and I feel like people have been on this journey with me - mothers, fathers, people who are inspired by the fact this has been a risk taken.
"Especially during lockdown it’s really exciting you can affect what people think is possible. People have sent me messages saying it’s changed their perspective and they’ve taken on new challenges and I’m honoured to be a part of that.”
Glover says she is trying to use every minute of training to make sure she is 100% ready for Tokyo. Having won two golds with the retired Heather Stanning, Swann is her new partner and they made quite the impression in April when in her first major final since returning, the pair claimed European gold. But the double-gold medal winner does not yet believe she is at her best.
#Returnto2012 - Helen Glover: I think we got a helicopter to Buckingham Palace or something
“For everyone else, this has been an extra year in the Olympic cycle - for me, it’s a race against time," she said.
“Every week and every day I’m getting fitter because I’ve not been on the programme for four years.
The only way of knowing whether that top end speed is there is by racing, and that won’t come until Tokyo now. I feel like while everyone else is ready and raring to go, I’m thinking - use every session because I need to get faster.
This appears to be the end for Glover as far as Olympic rowing goes. Paris is only three years away, but when it was put to her that Katherine Grainger won silver in Rio aged 40, she was reluctant to commit to another cycle - but will not rule it out.
“I think it’s a physical possibility. But what’s been so attractive this time round is that it’s been a one year project - most of it has been in lockdown," she added.
“I haven’t missed out on things and the kids haven’t missed out on things and part of me just wants to get back to real life now. I’m never going to say never because I didn’t see this coming, but there are no plans to go to Paris.”
Whatever happens, Glover is going to make history in Tokyo - winning a third gold would be the icing on the cake.