We won the Olympics – what now?
IT is only 72 days since Kat Copeland etched her name into sporting history by claiming an Olympic rowing gold medal, but the figure of 1,389 days is already of more relevance to the Teessider.
Time stands still for no-one, not even an Olympic champion, so while the post- Games glow that enveloped British sport this summer might not have evaporated entirely, those responsible for creating it have already been forced to move on.
London 2012 has been and gone; Rio 2016 has already forced its way on to the agenda. The Games of the 31st Olympiad begin on August 5, 2016 in Brazil’s biggest city, and the countdown clock has started ticking.
In the immediate aftermath of her thrilling Olympic success in the lightweight double, Copeland promised herself she would not rush into a decision on her future.
The promise was kept – just – and for a month or so, the ebullient 21-year-old enjoyed being Olympic champion. An appearance at the GQ awards, firing the starter’s pistol at the Great North Run, helping to promote British Rowing at a series of events – all welcome diversions from the question that would eventually have to be answered.
Could she go through it all again? Could she devote four more years of her life to the pursuit of something she has already achieved? Might it be better to take up the offer of a university place and banish the oars to the attic?
Ultimately, it was an easy decision. You don’t become an Olympic champion unless you possess a drive and ambition that is incredibly hard to sate.
So at 7am this morning, you will find Copeland on the jetty at Tees Rowing Club, shivering from the cold and about to embark on a training session that will be repeated ad nauseum in the next four years.
She remains reluctant to categorically commit herself to Rio, but it only takes a minute or two of conversation to deduce that deep down, she knows. The pursuit of a second Olympic gold medal has already begun.
“I guess I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing unless I was rowing to go to Rio,” said Copeland, who partnered former Durham University student Sophie Hosking to victory at Eton Dorney this summer. “But at the same time I’m reluctant to look too far into the future because at the moment it all seems so far away.
“I want to see how I feel after I’ve been training for the next few months – do I still enjoy it and want to get out of bed on a morning? I’m pretty sure I know what the answer will be, but I have to ask myself those questions.
“I’ve deferred university for a year though, and I suppose that’s a pretty big statement.
It says I’m still serious about my rowing and I intend to train just as hard as ever. As for Rio, we’ll see. But I’m thinking about the races I can compete in next season and I guess that’s the start of the process.”
Having failed to settle in London when she relocated a couple of years ago, Copeland repeatedly attributed her Olympic success to the grounding and education she received as part of a training group based on the Tees.
With an Olympic gold medal in her pocket, she could have had her pick of prestigious rowing clubs in the south, all of which would have been only too grateful to call her their own.
Instead, she has slipped straight back into the routine that served her so well prior to the Olympics. She has the same coach, James Harris, and the same group of friends who helped drive her forward as she battled to secure selection for the Games.
Surely, though, being Olympic champion must have its perks?
“Not at the club it doesn’t,”
laughed Copeland. “When I came back after a few weeks away, the first thing James said to me was, ‘You’ve put on some weight – we’ll have to get that down’.
“He was right to be fair. I’d not really done anything and those first few sessions were torture. I did my first full session last week and it was a bit of a car crash.
“Knowing James and my friends as I do, there’ll definitely be no special treatment. I wouldn’t want any, but even if I did, there’d be no chance of getting it.
“When the weather gets really bad and we have to break the ice, I might stamp my feet and say that’s not the job of an Olympic champion.
But that’ll probably just mean they laugh at me and throw me in.”
However, that is not to say that the benefits of being a gold medallist have dried up completely. Copeland is excited to be turning on Stockton’s Christmas lights at the end of next month – “I get to arrive in a sleigh and everything” – and is set to be invited to the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards to round off a glittering year.
She continues to cherish her gold medal – “although I keep on forgetting where it is” – and inevitably finds herself revisiting her Olympic experiences when she has some rare spare time.
This weekend, the memories will be even sharper as she returns to Dorney Lake for the first time since the Games to compete in the Jubilee Regatta.
The event pits clubs against each other, so Copeland will compete in a double with Tees team-mate Beth Bryan and a quad with Bryan, Anna Fairs and Lucy Burgess.
It is sure to be an emotional experience as a sizeable chunk of the British squad return to the scene of their greatest triumphs.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Copeland. “Firstly, the rowing is going to be a lot of fun because I’ll be out there on the water with my mates and that’ll be brilliant.
“But it’ll also be nice to go back to Dorney and see what thoughts and memories come back to me. I can remember so much about the day of the final, but bits of it are still a huge blur and it’ll be interesting to see what sticks in my mind when I’m back at the place where it happened.”
A final chance to reminisce, then onwards and upwards to Rio 2016. After all, by this time next week, it’ll only be 1,382 days to the opening ceremony.