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INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

Helen Glover – Rowing Retirement U-turns, Parenthood, Podiums and Paris

“When I went back for Tokyo (after having three children), there were so many questions. Is it possible? Can I do as a parent?" Olympic champion Helen Glover tells the WSA. "I answered those, so this time I can just carry on without that fear or doubt in my mind.”

Image from @helengloverGB (Insta)


An iconic Olympic and World champion – already recognised among the greatest athletes to ever row for Britain – but for Helen Glover, her mission is far from complete.


The now 37-year-old, who won her first Olympic title in home waters at London 2012, ended her retirement, for the second time, in March this year.


She has returned seeking not only further success though, but also aims to help establish fundamental changes within elite sport, which she hopes will create a lasting legacy for women.


“I'd love to make sure that when I leave, there are physical, practical changes put in place that make it (comebacks) easier, more doable and more achievable for many people to come,” Helen tells the WSA. “Because although it’s possible, it’s not easy.


“We need change from the inside and that’s definitely a big goal of mine.”


'I thought I had finished and had no plans to return'


After defending her Olympic crown at Rio 2016 with coxless pairs partner Heather Stanning, Helen stepped away from the sport and began a family with wildlife presenter and husband Steve Backshall


Son Logan arrived in 2018 before the pair were ‘blessed’ with twins, Bo and Kit, in January of 2020.


The Tokyo Olympics were just six months away, but at that stage Helen had no thoughts of a comeback.


She gently returned to an indoor rowing machine for mental wellbeing during the Covid-19 lockdown and admitted her ‘numbers’ were “so bad” at the time she had to smile.


Image: Benedict Tufnell for British Rowing


A year after giving birth Helen went public with the shock news she would be targeting the Tokyo Olympics, which had been postponed by 12 months.


Few who knew Helen or followed the sport closely doubted she would achieve her target and many backed her to challenge for another podium finish.


Despite just six months of training and undertaking her comeback while breastfeeding her twins, she and new rowing partner Polly Swann claimed the European title ahead of the Olympic Games.


They would go on to finish fourth in Japan, but had no regrets.


"The reward is knowing that we crossed the line giving it our all,” she said at the time. “The frustration would have been coming away thinking we had more, and we didn't."


Gaining perspective

Image: Benedict Tufnell for British Rowing


A BBC documentary ‘Helen Glover: the mother of all comebacks’ aptly surmised her journey and there are many lessons she draws strength from now having returned to the sport once more.


“After Tokyo I thought I was finished again and had that second retirement, but I learned a lot from the process last time which I can use now,” she states.


“When I went back for Tokyo, there were so many questions. Is it possible (to return) and can I do as a parent?


“I felt like that path answered those questions, so now I can just carry on and do it without that fear or doubt in my mind.”


‘What kind of role model do I want to be?’

Image: Team GB / David Pearce


The Olympic Games hold obvious special significance to Helen Glover and that is why she not only wishes to participate in them again herself, but also help inspire others to achieve their ambitions.


“I still find it hard to get my head around the fact that I'm a Olympic champion as it’s the realisation of a dream and the Olympics means so much to me in terms of what it’s give me in my life,” says the 3x world champion, who backed Team GB’s ‘mini mascot’ campaign.


“But when I think about what the Olympic means, at its fullest, it's actually that ‘inspire a generation’ mentality and for me, ‘lighting that fire’ in the bellies of young kids is one of the most important things about the Olympics.


“Now (she is back in the sport again) my perspective is definitely more open and more about the kind of the lessons that I want my kids, as well as other children and youngsters, to see from my training.


“I think, what does this show them? What does what kind of role model do I want to be?


A medal-winning return to elite rowing

Image: Benedict Tufnell for British Rowing


Ahead of her major event comeback at this summer’s Rowing World Championships Helen stated it would be “stepping stone” towards not only qualifying for Paris 2024, but “being on the podium” at the Games themselves.


Success in Serbia suggests she and her team-mates – Heidi Long, Rowan McKellar and Rebecca Shorten – are on the right path.


In the women’s coxless fours event they claimed a hard-earned third-place-finish and secured a quota spot for Great Britain in the discipline at next year’s Olympics.


“Definitely (there’s) more to come from us, but a solid world champs got us the bronze medal and the crucial Olympic qualification spot, which is awesome,” she said after the final.


“If I could come home with a medal (at Paris 2024) of any colour, it would be an incredible.


Helen concluded; “To be able to do that with my kids there as well would just be that extra icing on the cake.”

Image from @helengloverGB (Insta)

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