‘Pushing the boundary’: Motherhood inspires double Olympic champion Helen Glover to return to rowing
Helen Glover’s unquenchable desire to continue to blaze a trail for future generations of mothers in elite sport has convinced the two-time Olympic rowing champion to target further success in Paris 2024 next year.
The 36-year-old, who won the coxless pair title alongside Heather Stanning in 2012 and 2016, had reversed a retirement decision to finish fourth in the delayed Tokyo Games in 2021, just one year after giving birth to twins.
Glover’s bid to qualify for a fourth Olympics – which will begin at the European Championships in Slovenia in May – is underpinned by a chance to continue to normalise the participation of returning mothers at the top level.
“When I stepped away from Tokyo, I was really proud of the fact that I’d done it, but when I looked back I wondered what had changed for the next person,” Glover said.
“I felt that without pushing the boundary further, wanting more and asking more of myself as an athlete, nothing else was going to happen.
“I feel like we’re at a prime time for mothers in sport. There are so many mothers across British sport, not just coming back, but excelling and being better than they have ever been.
“I’ve always believed that I’m the best mum I can be when I’ve also got something exciting and challenging outside parenthood. I really feel I’m the most energised mum when that’s going on, and, as long as the work-life balance is always tipped in favour of the children, then I’m happy.”
Glover, who also has a son, Logan, aged four, admitted she had no clear intention of continuing towards Paris until her motivation was reignited by her participation in the beach rowing World Championships in Wales in October.
She was convinced to give the Games another shot by her husband, the television presenter and naturalist Steve Backshall, who noted her enthusiasm during the beach event, which Glover calls her “catalyst” for deciding to return.
“The decision-making was almost entirely down to my husband’s encouragement,” added Glover. “I never intended to come back and I never actively put anything in place with the intention of keeping going.
“After Tokyo I stepped away, but in the summer I started doing some beach sprint rowing and I was enjoying that challenge. When that came to end, Steve suggested I do the trials and it was almost surprising how welcome those words were to me.”
Glover will still face significant hurdles to book her place in a boat for Paris, starting with the Europeans and two World Cups before the World Championships in Belgrade in September, which double as the Great Britain selection races.
She initially decided to embark on a quest to become the first mother to row for Britain at an Olympics as part of what she jokingly described at the time as her “lockdown project that has gone too far”.
In the wake of her achievement in Japan, there was no inkling of Glover turning her attention to Paris, but ironically the magnitude of that achievement, evolving out of such unique times, ultimately contributed to the conviction that she had one more thing to prove.
“What Tokyo changed for me was any questioning as to whether it was possible,” added Glover. “The whole process was so short, there was Covid and I’d just had the twins and I don’t think I truly believed it could be done.
Before it was about doing something that had never been done before. Now it's about trying to do it in conjunction with being the best mum I can be
“At the end of it all I thought, ‘I did it under all those challenges, so why don’t I do it properly now?’ Before it was about doing something that had never been done before. Now it’s about trying to do it in conjunction with being the best mum I can be.”
Like her fellow double Olympic gold medallist Max Whitlock, Glover is also eager to compete in front her young children. Her three-year-old twins Kit and Willow are just approaching the age where they are ready to watch their mum competing live for the first time.
“All this big picture stuff, all this trying to change the face of women in sport, can be quite daunting and quite big,” said Glover.
“Then I think of the simplicity of looking up and seeing my kids in the grandstand and I think this is going to be cool whatever the outcome. They’re definitely at the age where they can come out and watch me compete. If they saw it happen, I think it would put everything together.”