Imogen Grant and Emily Craig’s success over the past two years has come for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all how close they are out of the water.
The women’s lightweight double sculls pair came within 0.01 seconds of Olympic bronze in Tokyo but instead of dwelling on a missed opportunity, they have since gone on an incredible unbeaten run.
In that time, they have overcome every challenge in their path, which has seen them win back-to-back European Championships and the 2022 World Championships.
They now head to Belgrade to defend that world title and qualify the boat for Paris in the process and while their partnership in the water is phenomenal, it is away from the boat where the pair have developed such a tight bond, something Craig believes has been crucial to their unbeaten run.
She said: “We both turned up at the hotel we are staying in at the moment with the same book to read, which probably says a lot!
“I think especially when we are doing four-week long camps, there is always an inevitable point when we have a falling out but we know each other well enough to get it together and move on, talk it out, nothing ever lingers, nothing is ever personal.
“It is quite nice in a way, because we know what we are doing, we have a lot of trust and we have a lot of clarity in what we do and we go out and practise it every single day, so it becomes quite automatic.
“It makes everything very predictable for when people want to throw stuff at us, we can respond and overcome whatever challenges we get faced with.
“Being reigning world champions is certainly a new position that we have been getting used to this year and trying to lean into it, enjoy it and not panic about it, hopefully we can go out and retain it and retain it in style.”
Nobody has been able to get close to the duo so far, with a whole three seconds between them and American pair Mary Reckford and Michelle Sechser in Racice in last year’s World Championships.
That dominance has forced them to re-think their strategy in-race, no longer just going for gold but also to beat their previous time every time they take to the water.
Grant added: “We often talk about not just racing other people out there from the other nations, we are also racing ourselves.
“We have very high standards for ourselves in training and in racing and so far it has been going really well, so there is no reason for it to go any other way at the moment.
“A qualification Worlds always comes with a little bit of added intensity, for some nations, their goal will literally just be to come in the top seven and to qualify their boat, which might be the biggest result they could ever hope for in their rowing career.
“It can lead to incredibly intense racing but ultimately, we have been through a qualification Worlds before in 2019 and we know what to do one step at a time to get the results that we want.”
After missing out on the Olympic podium by such a small margin, the pair could now head to France as one of the main contenders to win gold.
That brings a certain element of pressure but after getting a second chance in their event, they are determined to make it count and climb to the top of the podium after the class was given an unexpected extra Olympic cycle.
“Olympic gold is the target and that is kind of exciting and kind of terrifying,” continued Grant.
"Tokyo was supposed to be the last Olympics with lightweight rowing in it, and a strange benefit of the pandemic meant Paris also has the event we race in it.
“We wouldn’t be here if that was not the case and the last two years and by next year, the last three years, we have really been training and racing with one goal in mind.
“We don’t think about it every day because I think that would be a bit overwhelming but certainly every competition, whether that be Europeans or Worlds is really just a stepping stone for what the long goal is – reigning Olympic champions has quite a nice ring to it.”
But while the gold in Paris is the goal, the pair are also ensuring they remain in the present and continue to tick off their targets along the way.
Craig concluded: “Tokyo year and everything that happened around that shows that nothing is a guarantee, literally anything can happen – a global pandemic, who knows!
“So it is just about keeping one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, we can’t know what result we are going to get at the end of the day, all we can control is what we do between now and then and how we race it when it comes.” Sportsbeat 2023