Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Helen Glover - Top things to know about the two-time Olympic Champ making a comeback for Tokyo

The success story of British rower Helen glover, with two Olympic golds, three world titles, three children, and a third Games in sight.
By Ashlee Tulloch

Going backwards is what Helen Glover does best.

The two-time Olympic champion is rowing towards her third Olympic Games after re-launching her sporting odyssey.

Glover is a three-time world champion and one of the most decorated athletes in the GB team, having picked up the sport in 2008.

The London 2012 and Rio 2016 gold medallist developed an incredible partnership with Heather Stanning in the women's coxless pairs, but after Stanning’s retirement it was unclear if Glover would continue.

Glover switched her focus to family, giving birth to three children since the last summer Games.

But do not underestimate this super mum.

The 34-year-old shocked her husband, TV presenter Steve Backshall, when Glover first mentioned she was planning an Olympic return for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

“Helen, most people take up crocheting as a lockdown project, they don't decide to try to go to the Olympics. This is a little full-on even for you!," was his reaction, she shared with the BBC.

But full-on seems to suit this British history maker. Here are some of the top things to know about the two-time Olympic champion.

Sport is in Helen Glover's blood

Glover comes from a sporting family. Her father is a retired English teacher who played tennis at Junior Wimbledon, and rugby for the Barbarians, even lining up against New Zealand's famed All Blacks.

At school, young Helen excelled in most sports.

Her former PE teacher once said Glover had a “phenomenal all-round talent.”

At 14-years-old she played hockey for the England satellite squad and captained her team.

She also represented her region Cornwell in tennis and swimming, before being selected to represent England in international middle-distance running races.

It wasn’t until 2008 that she started rowing, thanks to the UK's Sporting Giants programme.

“They tested 4,500 of us in groups of 200 at a time. I remember sitting in a room in Bisham Abbey and someone saying ‘a gold medallist in 2012 could be sat in this room. Look around you.’ I thought, right, I’m going to make that me. It was quite surreal,” she told the Guardian in 2012.

The 5ft 9.5 tall Glover also admitted that she stood on her tip toes to pass the height test for the programme.

The 'PE teacher' and the military captain

Few would have expected that a Sports Science graduate who was about to begin a teaching course and took up rowing at the age of 21 would go on to claim an Olympic gold medal four years later.

But then you might not have expected Glover to be the dominant voice in a pairing with a captain in the Royal Artillery.

That's exactly how it went in her partnership with Stanning, who had experience as a troop commander, but shared, "You are never going to mess with your PE teacher, are you?"

Clearly it was a perfect match, with the two winning gold on home water at the London 2012 Games.

The Olympic double that may not have been

After winning gold at London 2012, the golden pair went separate ways.

Heather Stanning returned to the millitary, doing a tour in Afghanistan overseeing unmanned aircraft as an officer in the Royal Artillery. For months she didn’t see water, but she continued training.

At the same time, Glover won a world championship title with Polly Swann.

But by April 2014 the dynamic duo of Glover and Stanning was back in a boat together, and at the 2014 World Rowing Championships, they were back in top of the world.

Momentum continued for the next few years and by Rio 2016, the rest was, as they say, history.

Glover's rowing comeback - doing it for the mothers

The Games in 2016 was the last time Glover rowed competitively, defending her coxless pairs Olympic title with Stanning.

The golden pair didn’t just go back-to-back, they build up an unparalleled five-year, 39-race unbeaten streak too.

While Stanning decided to hang up her oar, Glover didn’t formally announce her retirement following Rio gold, but after starting a family, and with time ticking down to the Tokyo Games, she told media she was 'undecided' about whether her rowing career would continue, saying ‘’sometimes I change my mind three or four times a day."

The turning point came during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When lockdown came it meant more hours on the rowing machine than I had anticipated.

"As my scores and times started getting better, I began to wonder if I could be the first woman in British Rowing history to make an Olympic team after having children,” she told Inside the Games.

A big part of her motivation for the comeback is to be a role model to other mothers.

“I hope my journey can help inspire people and show that having children should not mean an end to something that they are passionate about,” Glover to the Telegraph.

"It's about showing my children, other parents, and other kids that it's possible. I want to pave the way for other women behind me to do the same."

She acknowledges her focus this time around is different.

While preparing for her last two Games it was all about gold, “Now the result doesn’t matter as much,’’ she tells Team GB.

She’s a professional juggler - not the ball kind

Returning to rowing as a mother of three has meant she’s had to get extra good at multi-tasking and managing her time.

Training for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021 is nothing like it was ahead of London 2012 and Rio 2016.

She shared with Team GB how her three children under three years old - two-and-a half year-old Logan, plus twins Kit and Bo, born in January 2020 - are fully involved in her routine.

"If it's weights and I am on my own I can incorporate the kids into the session - I can lift, have a little dance to Paddington Bear, lift again."

"Being a mother, being a parent, is the hardest thing I have done," she shares,

In the past was every stroke was under the watchful eye of a coach, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions in England, much more of her training this time has been at home, alone.

Five years later, back to winning ways for Glover

The story has now come full circle.

After almost five years away from the sport, Glover is now back in a boat with her 2013 world championship winning partner Swann.

Their mission: To qualify for Tokyo and compete at the Games in 2021.

In the ultimate feel-good return to rowing, Glover and Swann won the women’s pair at the European Championships in Italy in early April.

As Swan posted on social media following the event, they truly are comeback queens.