As Kim Brennan finally broke her steely concentration upon passing the finish line of the Women’s Single Sculls Final, she looked around as if almost in disbelief. For Seven Minutes and Twenty One Seconds she refused to let anything divert her attention from executing her stroke with the precision and consistency that made her the most dominant person in her sport. It was only now, as she scanned around her for her opponents, that the realisation dawned on her, no one else had come close to her. She was an Olympic Gold Medallist.
Her golden moment in the Rio sun was built during frozen Canberra mornings while she set about to outwork her opponents. She is considered by many senior Australian rowing officials our hardest training rower. Six days a week, eight hours a day, she worked to ensure that when she hopped in her boat, she could rely on her power, her precision and her endurance to see off any challenger.
Despite this relentlessness, her Olympic dream was almost sunk on Day 1 of competition. Literally. In conditions that Brennan later described as ‘un-rowable’, she found herself competing with the elements as well as her opening heat opponents. With the boat rapidly taking on water, Brennan had to use all her fight and determination to stay afloat, all the while ensuring she also steered it home in the first three places.
After surviving the conditions, they very nearly conspired against her again in the quarter finals. If not for them suddenly clearing she may well have been eliminated without getting back in the water.
But as soon as Brennan was back in the water she back in her element and back in control.
It wasn’t always the case, she only took up the sport as a twenty year old after stress fractures in her feet diverted her away from the track. As she grew accustomed to her new pursuit, like most rowing novices, she spent almost as much time getting back into the boat after falling out as she did developing her gold medal stroke. But she persisted, eager to improve and to make her next effort better than her last.
She was a quick study and not long after first stepping into a boat she was a member of the Australian Olympic Team headed to Beijing. While she came away from her first Olympic campaign empty handed, she had a much better time of things in London four years later. A silver medal in the double sculls was joined by a Bronze in the Singles, the event she would make her own in the years to follow.
World Championship Gold in 2013 and 2015 had her primed and ready for her assault on the waters of Rio. On Saturday she found herself at the start line for the Olympic final, a little nervous energy pulsing through.
As she found herself taking in the majesty of Christ the Redeemer, she began to channel the emotion.
“In every big event, I get nervous” she said later “but I’ve learnt to embrace the joy in that – that feeling of your stomach in knots and I always have this moment of calm where I think ‘Oh well, I’ve done as much as I can do, I’ve trained as hard as I can train, all I can do is make the next stroke better than the one before. When I’m racing well, there’s almost an emptiness. No distractions, no fears, just faith in your training and your body. It’s my time.”
With conditions almost perfect, Brennan powered away from the very start and with an explosive stroke rate of 39 she found herself in clear water. Expectations that a challenge would be made by Emma Twigg, the 2014 World Champion, from the lane beside her never materialised and Brennan had a decisive 3.72sec break on the field at the half way mark.
She maintained both a steady stroke and demeanour throughout. The boats behind jostled as they attempted to navigate the breach between themselves and the dominant leader. American Genevra Stone made a late move but never really challenged, claiming the silver medal ahead of China’s Jingil Duan. The expected party pooper, Emma Twig, never really threatened and came in fourth.
As her opponents crossed the line behind her the realisation of the moment began to hit Brennan. To the cheers of a noisy Australian contingent in the crowd she took a moment to let exhaustion and relief wash over her.
Her triumph, the first Australian Rowing Gold since 2008 – which in happy coincidence was won by her husband Scott as part of the Australian Double Sculls crew in Beijing. He was unable to share in the glory in Rio as he was back at home in Canberra, his annual leave being kept in reserve for the couple’s honeymoon to South Africa later this year.
Speaking after the race, our newest Olympic Champion expressed her disbelief “it’s one of those things that you do so much visualisation and you imagine that moment so many times, but just crossing the line, I couldn’t work out whether that was actually it or whether that was my imagination. Again, I can’t really believe it”.
Believe it Kim, you did it.
As a result we celebrate our 2016 Olympic Women’s Single Sculls Champion – Kim Brennan!!