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Bennett braced for latest push towards Olympic glory in Paris
Scot resolute on decision to go for gold in 2024 after post-Tokyo break
KAREN BENNETT inhales the air with the view of her aquatic happy place before her. The sun-drenched scene can be a torture chamber, too, at times. Earning an Olympic silver medal in a rowing boat, as the Scot accomplished in the women’s eights in Rio seven years ago, demands pushing the body to its absolute limits.
Yet she loves the challenge. This pursuit has readied Bennett for the European Championships, which begin today on the waters of the breathtaking Lake Bled in central Slovenia.
It has been a while, however, since she last lapped up the competitive fray. At the Tokyo Games in 2021, her British four finished fourth. Bennett competed while grieving her father’s death just weeks before. She had considered staying with her family in Edinburgh – “but I just felt like that would have been such like a waste”.
“So I had to go do the best I could do,” she says. “Probably now, taking a step back, I definitely did the best I could have done under the circumstances. Looking back, I did have quite a lot on. But I don’t think that took away from my performance in any way.”
When her work was done in
Japan, there was space to properly grieve. The end of any Olympic cycle is a natural reflection point, but her need for time and space was measured in months, not weeks.
“I needed some time out,” she acknowledges. “And the more I listened to what was happening through some of the world champions in other sports, the more I realised it is actually quite a common theme. Like, with [Olympic swimming champion] Adam Peaty or [Olympic cycling champion] Laura Kenny.
“And without realising, I was probably quite comforted by that, that I’d made the right decision to look after myself and my mental health. I just needed to spend some time with my family. And I just wanted to go and kind of get some work experience and life experience and try out some different things.”
There was an abortive sales job, she reveals, then establishing a personal training business, a venture which continues. There was also a London Marathon in tribute to her late dad. It was all perhaps too much
to take on, Bennett acknowledges with a smile, but each option offered clues to her future goals.
“Then, as a result, I just thought, ‘It’s two years until Paris’. Like, this is the only time in my life that I’m probably going to be able to do this. So why not just take a crack at it and see if I can get back into the team?”
Bennett found that door had been left ajar by British Rowing’s revamped regime, so apprehensively she walked through. There were auditions to pass from a new set of coaches who provided a welcome refresh.
“And that’s the other thing in this now,” she says. “I just wanted to see, with my physiology and my training, if I could do better than I’ve ever done before.”
Now 34, the pathway to a third Olympics in France next summer begins with Bennett as the wise old head in the eights boat in Bled.
The Brits were runners-up to their feared rivals Romania in the event at last year’s Europeans in Munich, where a flurry of positive performances there suggested the Good Ship GB has been righted following a disastrous Games in Tokyo. “We’re so prepared, we’re so well-driven,” Bennett says. “We’ve experienced the pain, but like two or three times over, so that when we come to racing, it’s like, ‘Oh, well, it’s just one race, it’s easy.’”
There will be further testing trials beyond Bled that will determine whether Bennett gets a joyous insider’s view of Paris 2024.
The winners’ mentality, she insists, has been restored. That has boosted her enthusiasm for this chase further still.
“The mentality and determination is definitely more savvy than what I’ve seen before,” Bennett adds. “I’ve come into the team and I’m like, ‘Woah, we’ve gone up a level.’
“And it’s really good. Maybe it’s because I’ve been out of the team for two years and I’d forgotten about this.”
Refresher course over, it is time to row towards success in the French capital. “I want to be part of that.
But I think we can go all the way with this team now. I really do believe it. And it’s exciting.”
I needed to spend some time with my family. I just wanted to go and get some work experience and life experience and try out some different things