You may remember Katherine Grainger. She is the rower who won silver in the double sculls at three successive Olympics, and wondered after Beijing whether to stop trying. I couldn’t blame her if she had. To spend four years working like a dog, vomiting in training sessions, getting up at stupid o’clock every day to go out on the river in all weathers, to eat and drink and sleep to a timetable, to give up huge parts of your life and spend enormous sums of money you’re never going to get back only to come second, again and again and again, must be heartbreaking. To nerve yourself to do it again, to undertake that huge endeavour once more and to risk that heartbreak again, to risk seeing the prize you have worked so hard for slipping away in a matter of a few moments; that takes real courage. Her mother talked her into it, and on Friday 3rd August 2012, rowing with Anna Watkins in front of her home crowd at Eton Dorney, she finally, finally won gold. Her face in the moment of victory was the very definition of joy.
When she got out of the boat after winning, Steve Redgrave, who was commentating, grabbed her and hugged her as if he was never going to let her go, almost in tears himself. On the podium, the gold medal safely around her neck, we saw her on the verge of breaking down as the national anthem played and the Union Jack climbed into the sky, and the nation’s heart overflowed with hers. And afterwards in the interviews she was so likeable, so happy and articulate and unassuming. On reflection, I couldn’t think of a more worthy champion. I went home and tried it out on the kittens, and they both approved. Missy and Katherine it was, then, and now of course I can’t imagine them being called anything else.
There is a postscript to this story. A couple of months later, I met another British rower on a management course, a friend of Katherine Grainger’s. Over lunch one day I told her that I had named one of my kittens after her friend. Was the kitten actually called Katherine, she enquired anxiously. Yes, absolutely. But Katherine? Not Katy or Kathy or Kath? Good heavens, no, I replied, I never shorten it. She’s always Katherine. Oh, good, she replied, because Katherine Grainger is always Katherine, she hates having her name shortened. So there you go. My kitten and Katherine Grainger. Sisters under the skin.
One final postscript tomorrow.