Charlotte Taylor has gone from zero to Olympic medal hopeful in the four years since she was a spectator at the London Games. She has an awesome task in Rio: helping team-mate Kat Copeland defend her lightweight double title. Laura Winter tells the story of the rower who didn’t rediscover the sport until six years ago
Four years ago, at London 2012, Charlotte Taylor sat in the grandstands at Eton Dorney supporting the GB Rowing team, who racked up nine medals, including four golds. Three of those golds went to the women’s crews, but the most memorable for Taylor was the one claimed by the lightweight double of Kat Copeland and Sophie Hosking. It turned out to be sixteen days of euphoria that shaped Taylor’s life.
Over the next four years, Taylor’s rowing career went on such an upward trajectory that she has gone from someone who “bumbled around” at Putney Town Rowing Club to a competitor at the Rio Games with a live hope for a medal. More than that, one of the girls who inspired her, Kat Copeland, has become her boat-mate. Last year the duo won gold at the European Championships and silver at the World Championships. Initially, though, it was fair to say that Taylor was star-struck.
“It’s all been quite overwhelming,” she admitted. “I remember when I first got on to the team and went on my first training camp she was still my idol from the Games. I remember fumbling over my words asking her, ‘Oh my God, how did it feel?’ And she was great at just being nice about it and giving me some token answers.
“Kat is an amazing athlete. Physically she is strong and I really trust her. I think that’s what makes us a strong team. When I sit behind her in a boat I know she knows what she’s doing. Her boat-feel is incredible and she can talk me through what she’s feeling in the stern of the boat. That helps me translate it through the stroke. When we get on a start-line, we are both instinctively racy people and we love to test ourselves.
“That combined is really powerful and we really trust that will always come out when we get on a start-line. That overrides the pressure of any event. We know that will galvanise us in a really powerful way rather than freaking us out.
“That’s what carried us through the racing season last year. We may have had a lack of experience, but we could use that trust and physicality to get us through races. I love working with her. She knows what she wants and she’s really articulate while I’m a bit more go-with-the-flow. But the dynamic works really well. She brings me up and hopefully I bring her up with my energy. It’s a really good team.
“I’m coming into a boat where one half already has an Olympic gold, and one of the reasons Kat came back was to defend that Olympic title. There is a bit of responsibility on my behalf to help her do that, and a bit of responsibility on her part to bring that experience and help me do that.”
It may sound simple, but 30-year-old Taylor readily admits this Olympic cycle gearing up for Rio 2016 has been the hardest four years of her life. She first jumped in a boat at Bedford Star Club as a child, but said she didn’t have the time to dedicate to the sport. It was when she was working in London in 2010 that her father persuaded her to join a rowing club again. She picked Putney Town because the website declared it to be the friendliest club on the Tideway. “I thought that sounds like me!” she laughed.
“I went along and bumbled around a bit, but the problem with me is that even though I intended it to be a social thing, I am naturally competitive and have always been driven to push boundaries, to see how much I can get out of myself.
“Once I was drawn in, that was it, it was hook, line and sinker. I was very lucky with the support I had at Putney Town and my coach there, Tom Evans, was just brilliant. He used my skills and his knowledge to get me to a place where I could compete at a level that could get me in to the team. I was still really ropey but Reedy [Paul Reed] took me on and got me to the place I am now.
“I have loved everything that has happened. Now I’m here and it’s crazy. At London 2012 I was just a spectator, and my fiancé was a Games-maker and we just were totally caught up in the euphoria of the Games. I watched the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony and just cried my eyes out watching it, thinking it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life. Now I am about to experience that myself. I’m just living it and loving it – it’s amazing.
“This has been some of the hardest four years of my life. I’ve not had any let-up. I came in as someone nobody knew. I only did my first Worlds in 2014, so 2012 and 2013 were years when I was training either side of work, cycling to and from work, and being absolutely exhausted day in, day out.
“When I got into the team, and got a UK Sport Lottery grant, that’s when I was able to ditch work and start being a proper athlete. It’s been really intense to get myself into the team and get myself into the double. It has been really intense and luckily my family and my fiancé have been so supportive. Without them I couldn’t have done it. It’s been exhausting, but worth it, totally worth it.”
While this season’s campaign has been affected by injury and illness, Taylor will make her Olympic debut in the heats of the lightweight double on the first Sunday under the watchful gaze of Christ the Redeemer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.