Saturday Interview: Kat Copeland happy to fly the White Rose flag in Rio

A WIDE-eyed expression of amazement and jaw that almost dropped to the floor seemed to give the game away that Kat Copeland did not expect a London 2012 gold medal.

Olympic gold medallist Kat Copeland at her homecoming celebrations at the Tees Valley Rowing Club on Teesside. (Picture: Tom White/PA Wire)

At just 21, the rower’s success in the lightweight double sculls with Sophie Hosking was one of the stories of the Games.

Yet the diminutive athlete insists she was actually pretty confident of a good showing.

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Four years later, similar sentiments apply, and in 2016 a second Olympic gold would be another gold for Yorkshire where Copeland is now settled into her new Stokesley home.

Copeland is one of five Yorkshire-based rowers bidding to shine at the Rio Olympics along with Richmond’s Zoe Lee, who will compete in the women’s eight.

A triumvirate of Yorkshire stars will bid for glory in the men’s eight in Leeds ace Paul Bennett and former York student Tom Ransley, plus Hebden’s Andrew Triggs Hodge, who is bidding for an amazing third successive gold at 37.

Twelve years younger, Copeland is already bidding for her second top Olympic gong – again in the women’s lightweight double sculls – but this time with new partner Charlotte Taylor.

The road to more potential glory will begin with tomorrow’s heats at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Copacabana, ahead of Monday’s repache and Wednesday’s semi-final and Friday’s final.

Copeland says she is relishing the party atmosphere at Rio de Janiero but deep down she means business – gunning for gold – and contrary to widespread belief there was also high confidence going into London 2012. The difference now is that the Ashington-born rower is now four years into settled life in Yorkshire.

Casting her mind back to how she was feeling four years ago today, Copeland told The Yorkshire Post: “That was my first year racing in the Olympic class so I obviously didn’t go into it with any preconceived ideas because I hadn’t done it at worlds or whatever like other people had done. I only got put in the boat that year.

“I knew some of the other countries were, like, awesome – the Greeks had been world champions for the past three years and I just absolutely loved watching them row. I thought they were so talented, I really admired them so I knew it was going to be a really tough ask.

“But, behind the scenes in training, we had done some really, really quick times and, as we have such a strong team, we use percentages so we can compare. Some of the times we were producing gave us confidence.

“No-one else saw that but we knew behind the scenes that we were going really well but then when you get there I guess it’s just the more you do the better you do and you see how that compares against other people.

“You don’t know what other people are going to bring on the day, you only know what you can bring. We knew we were going fast but it’s just sort of wait and see almost.

“London was obviously mind-blowing – it was amazing. It was really special to all of us and a once-in-a-lifetime thing having that opportunity to be at a home Games and that was something that we are never ever going to be able to repeat.

“But I think this just feels like something almost completely separate and new and fresh and exciting. It’s going to have a whole different vibe and I think it’s going to be really lively with a party atmosphere. I am just so excited to get over there and get thrown into it all again.

“My mum, my dad, one of my brothers and my boyfriend are all coming to watch so I’m very lucky that they are going to be there. My boyfriend is from the north-east as well but he’s like an investment manager so a lot different to me!”

Different in profession but from the same neck of the woods, with Copeland born in Ashington and growing up in Ingleby Barwick. But in the same year of London 2012 glory came relocation ‘over the border’ to Stokesley. Fifty-six athletes will represent the White Rose in Rio, and Copeland is one of them.

“My home address now is North Yorkshire so you can put me in,” she laughed.

“I’m really proud. I love the whole team but obviously it’s my home so I’m glad to have a bit of a show of northerners and Yorkshiremen – get a bit of grit in there.”

Grit that could lead to a second gold and it begs the question as to just how Copeland assesses her chances of a second gold four years on.

Copeland and Taylor are rated third favourites by the bookmakers, behind even-money market leaders the Netherlands and New Zealand.

“Obviously, it is a different experience because this isn’t my first year in the double,” reasoned Copeland.

“I’ve now done a lot more races in it but, in a way, I think that brings something else now because I’ve had every experience possible.

“Last year, we did awesome and we were so pleased with it. I’ve also known times like the year before when we didn’t make the final, so I’ve had so many experiences that I feel like that I’m grounded, that I’ve just learnt so much from everything that’s happened.

“I’ve gone through a lot of stuff, if that makes sense.”

At just 25 years old science also indicates that Copeland could very well have a good go at chasing Sir Steve Redgrave’s epic five-gold medal haul should she desire. That, though, is a question to answer another day. For now, a second Olympics will do just fine, with sporting achievement running hand in hand with education.

Asked if she fancied a bid to emulate a legend like Redgrave, Copeland replied: “I could do and I do still feel like physically – I have been PBing every year and it hasn’t slowed down so I do feel like I’ve probably got more to go.

“But I don’t know, I’m just going to wait and see what I feel like afterwards. I think it’s quite hard to tell because I don’t know what’s going to happen and I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it. Just wait and see. For the past couple of years, I have been doing a distant study degree which is part-time so I am only half way through it.

“But I’m hoping to finish that in the next two or three years and it’s just been really good for me having something to do outside of rowing. I can go home and switch off and feel like I am using my brain a bit.”

She just might have some head-scratching to do if she wins another gold medal, especially if the gold post boxes are dished out in honour again.

Her 2012 achievement was marked by the golden memento in previous home town Ingleby Barwick, but Copeland says 2016 would belong to Yorkshire.

“It was very controversial,” said the rower, reflecting on how her 2012 achievement was marked.

“It got put in Ingleby Barwick and I would say at that point, when I went to 2012 that was my home town because I had basically lived there from when I was three up until the year before. But I did really feel like that was my home town.

“I think if they did it this time around, if we were ever lucky enough to win, then I would say it would be Stokesley. Otherwise there would be uproar. Last time, people would just go rogue and paint it.”