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The Olympic rower talks about her 12-year struggle to strike gold, her academic career – and the healing power of safari

It’s very clearly an Olympic rower’s house right now,” says Katherine Grainger as she ushers me in from the rain into her red-brick house in Maidenhead, Surrey, in the south-east of England.

“Right now” suggests that she feels apologetic about her rowing paraphernalia lying unpacked in the study. This is odd after a summer of outstanding sporting spectacle, with Grainger’s story a scriptwriter’s dream. Dubbed the Steve Redgrave of women’s rowing, in three previous Olympics – Sydney, Athens, Beijing – she had to settle for silver. Then, on home waters, and with the nation holding its breath, she finally struck gold, victory in the double sculls giving her the place on top of the podium for which she had strived so hard, and for so long.

However, as Grainger leads me to the sitting room, it becomes clear that her rowing reference was not an apology but a statement about her home. She may have won 12 medals at world championships and Olympics since 1997 but, she says, “I use my house to get away from rowing in a good way. The only room with rowing pictures is my study. The others are deliberately not rowing or sport.” The sitting room is dominated by photographs of elephants and lions. “They give me perspective and balance,” she says. That was vital after the Beijing Olympics, where she lost gold in the quadruple sculls by a small margin. “It was a crushing disappointment, like suffering a massive personal loss. I had to go through a huge grieving process.” Read the full article

      

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