Exclusive interview with Anna Watkins


Anna Watkins, Olympic gold medalist, announced last week that she was withdrawing from the Olympic training programme with less than six months to go to Rio 2016.

Anna talks exclusively to British Rowing in her first interview since she made the difficult decision.

Q. With less than six months to go until Rio 2016, when did you realise that you might not make it?

A. The whole time I was training I was aware that it was risky. Nothing is ever guaranteed and when you are breaking new ground, as I was, you have to accept that it might not work and sometimes go for it regardless.


Q. Did the Zika virus influence your decision to withdraw from the training programme?

A. Not at all. It’s a nasty situation but for me personally it’s not a grave concern as I have my family already.


Quick Fire Five

Anna gives her take on the team.

Who’s the worst dancer?

All rowers are terrible dancers without exception.

Who takes the longest in the shower?

Well, Vicky Thornley is the most ladylike of all of us.

Who makes you laugh the most?

Jess Eddie, with her northern wit.

Who's music collection would you most like to have?

Jack Beaumont. His playlist in the gym has made my smile through many a tough session

Q. What was the final straw?

A. I realised I had to withdraw after my performance in internal trials in February. It was flat out racing and there were too many gaps in my performance to make up in six months.


Q. You only announced last summer (2015) that you were back training full time, do you wish you’d returned to training sooner?

A. After my son Richard was born in February 2015, I returned as fast as I could, but obviously there was recovery to do and a new baby to look after before training could get really serious.


Q. How supportive were the GB Rowing Team of your return to rowing and balancing family life? How do you see motherhood and performance sport being mixed?

A. The GB Rowing Team, and especially my coach Paul Thompson, were incredibly supportive of my return to rowing and I could not have tried it otherwise. I do feel that the two could succeed together because of that. For me, the timing wasn’t right in terms of having long enough to get back to racing speed but there is no reason why someone else couldn’t do it. I look forward to when that happens.


Q. Why did you choose to withdraw before the Olympic trials?

A. A lot of internal testing is done during the winter so I already had a good idea of what level I was at and where this would put me. Probably not out of the Olympic team but out of the medal hunt in Rio, and with the personal cost so high, enough was enough. I have my gold medal and the lower places in the team should not be for me when there are really talented young athletes around bidding for their first games.


Q. Was it difficult training with two young children?

A. Of course. They are really young so are non stop and a good night’s sleep is never guaranteed. It was a huge extra challenge but I love a challenge so the idea didn’t scare me. I just wanted to find out.


Q. What has been the response of Katherine Grainger and your other squad mates?

A. Everyone has been very kind, telling me it was brave to try. Obviously Katherine and I are disappointed that we don’t get to do a grand reunion but there would be no point if we weren’t fast enough. I have had a lot of lovely messages from many people in both the men’s and women’s squads.


Q. What will you miss most about training?

A. I will miss having a team around me of the most talented and motivated people I have ever met.


Q. Will you be following the action as it unfolds in Rio?

A. Oh, definitely. I will be on the edge of my seat. I am really excited especially because I know all the new team members so much better now. I wish them the very best of luck over the next few months and out in Rio.


Q. What are you most looking forward to now that you have stepped away from full-time training?

A. Getting up in the mornings with my boys instead of heading out early before they wake.


Q. What’s next for Anna Watkins?

A. Watch this space!