If there were still any lingering doubts in Anna Watkins’ mind about returning to rowing in a bid to make Rio, the performance of one woman thousands of miles away in Beijing made sure to send them packing.
Last month, Jessica Ennis-Hill grabbed the British public’s attention once again as she completed a fairytale comeback by winning the world heptathlon title, 13 months after giving birth to her son Reggie.
It was her first major championships since she clinched one of 29 golds won by Team GB at London 2012.
Watkins herself also climbed the top spot of the medal rostrum three summers ago after partnering Katherine Grainger to women’s double sculls gold at Eton Dorney.
Like Ennis-Hill, she has taken time away from the sport since then to enjoy motherhood – albeit giving birth to not one but two children with her second son Richard only arriving in February of this year.
And like Ennis-Hill, the allure of Rio and the chance of trying to defend her title next August had proved too strong to ignore.
At the time of her announced return – coming just six days after the Rio one year to go anniversary and shortly before the Athletics World Championships– Watkins made reference to Ennis-Hill’s return to competition as a helping factor.
And with her London 2012 teammate delivering the goods shortly afterwards in China, Watkins admitted it was a timely boost for her own ambitions.
“I decided to do it before Jess’ success, but the way that she did it has given me extra confidence because, at that point it was only four months after I had my child, and it all seemed a bit far-fetched!” said Watkins.
“So to have her demonstrate in no uncertain terms that in a year’s time things can be really different; it’s very good for my confidence.”
Watkins took a watching brief for the recent World Championships in Aiguebelette, France as Great Britain finished top of the medal table, with five gold medals and 15 podium finishes in total.
There would have been particular attention paid by Watkins to the women’s double sculls as Grainger – who herself came out of retirement a year ago with Rio the target – and Vicky Thornley finished sixth in the final.
The European bronze medallists still qualified a berth for Team GB at Rio 2016 at the Championships although the final line up as to who will take the two spots in the boat is far from decided.
And while Watkins is the first to acknowledge she will have to fight tooth and nail to get herself back into selection contention, she knows the support network around the entire squad will be readily available.
“Our women’s squad did very well at the Worlds; we qualified a double a pair and an eight, so there are those seats up for grabs, and this year it’s a case of going through the trials process and trying to make my case for one of those seats,” she said.
“My squad, women’s sculling, perhaps wasn’t so good, so this year we’re aware that we really need to get our heads down and make a big step forward.
“We’re strong because we’ve got a good bedrock of support; you have a long career in sports, so it means the people who have been successful in our sport before can be around to help the others come on.”
Performances at the World Championships may bode well for the team as a whole going into Rio but Watkins is experienced enough to know that a lot can still happen before then.
And although the women may have led the way in London in terms of titles won, she admits Britain’s male rowers have closed the gap since.
“I think there’s cautious optimism across the board, because between all the boat classes we got a lot of medals (at the World Championships),” she added.
“We set the benchmark incredibly high in London. There were four gold medals there. I think there will be more medals next summer.
“At the moment the men’s squad, not that the squads are not competitive at all, are definitely ahead, so us women have got some work to do.
“It was the women that got three gold medals in London, but we’ve got some catching up to do now!”
© Sportsbeat 2015