The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Golden girl Glover leads the British charge in Korea

Posted by rowingvoice on August 25, 2013

BSew5JkCcAAAEu22013 World Rowing Championships, 25 August to 1 September, Tangeon Lake, Chungju

One year and 24 days on from appearing on that first glorious Olympic celebration stamp, 2012 Games star Helen Glover leads the 19 crews of the British rowing team into action today in the first heats of this year’s world championship week in South Korea.

This time there will be no painted postboxes for victors, and Glover’s Games partner, Captain Heather Stanning, is 3500 miles away on Army duty in Afghanistan.  But for Glover and her 2013 partner Polly Swann, there is a new unbeaten record to maintain, a new standard to set.  After dominating for five months, they are seen as the crew to catch, and Britain’s most solid chance of an Olympic-class gold medal.

The 25-year-old, 6 foot 1 inch medical student Swann isn’t quite the newcomer she seems, though this is her first senior appearance.  She started rowing at George Heriot’s School aged 14, appeared at the under-23 and European championships and last year she was originally named as stroke of the women’s Olympic eight, an impressive new recruit expected to begin a glittering career.  Days after the May press announcement, she had to withdraw from the crew with a worrying back injury, and spent several months undergoing rehab treatment.

“It was really difficult,” says Swann.  “I’d been in quite a lot of pain for a long time, and while in one way it was really great to watch all my friends and colleagues racing, on the other hand it was so upsetting and I wanted to be there.”  She went and added her voice to the Dorney roar as the eight raced, but there was a pang that her chance of performing at a home Games had vanished.

After sorting out her injury, Swann joined Glover in the pair this season, and they immediately went intriguingly fast, completing six races so far without loss.  “We realised that scratch combinations can go fast in time, but we weren’t going to sit back and wait for a year to gel together,” said Glover earlier this year.  “It’s fantastic having a pairs partner who’s as reliable as Polly is – how young in racing terms, but to sit behind her and feel utterly confident that she’s in the right frame of mind is testament to her.”

“When we got in the pair it wasn’t a million miles off anyway,” said Swann.  “But we kept pushing ourselves – with these sort of competitors you can never afford to be complacent.  Helen is easy to get in a boat and row well with, and she is very commanding, which I think is a good thing.  It’s been such a great experience to be able to pick her brain and find out how they went so quickly last year.”

In Sydney in March they were on pace for a world best time until halfway, before they had to throttle back for a minimum-effort win because they were doubling up in the eight later the same day.  “I didn’t know – if we had, we’d have stuck to the rules – well, maybe we would have pushed it on,” said Swann, who describes herself as ‘ultra-competitive’.  Since then they’ve come within six seconds of the 11-year-old record, twice.

Since the initial GB team announcement a new men’s pair has been added of James Foad and Oliver Cook, while Caragh McMurtry has moved into the women’s eight in place of the injured Sarah Cowburn.  Ten crews begin racing on Sunday, with the rest starting on Monday including former Paralympic champion Tom Aggar, on a quest to regain his place at the top of the sculling rankings after fourth place in London.  The men’s eight, on whom Jürgen Grobler’s hopes largely rest, have a tough draw against the USA on Monday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is from the host town of Chungju, formally opened the championships in a spectacular ceremony on Saturday evening, saying that “sport is a powerful weapon against discrimination.”

Rachel Quarrell in Chungju, South Korea



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