Laureation address – Katherine Grainger CBE

Thursday 27 June 2013

Katherine Grainger CBE
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws

Laureation by Professor Neville Richardson
Master of the United College

Katherine GraingerChancellor, it is my privilege to present Katherine Grainger for the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Quite simply, Katherine Grainger is one of the greatest British female athletes and certainly Britain’s greatest female rower of all time. Her record of World Cup series wins, World Championships and Olympic medals is without equal. She is the only British female athlete in any sport to achieve medals at four consecutive Olympic Games from Sydney in 2000 to London 2012.

Born in Glasgow, her competitive spirit and determination, the hallmark of her success in later life, were developed to a high degree in trying to get the better of her elder sister, Sarah.

In 1993, not yet a rower, she entered the University of Edinburgh to study law. At Fresher’s Week she signed up for skiing, trampolining and juggling! Rowing arrived in her life by a chance attendance with a friend to a meeting, at which the University women’s team was being selected. She was considered suitable because of her build.

From being selected at the University trials, she rose rapidly through the ranks of rowing. At the age of 20 in her third year at university, she rowed for Scotland and was suggested for the British Olympic trials. Edinburgh University awarded her their Eva Bailey Trophy for most outstanding female athlete in 1996 and 1997. In 1997, between her law finals and graduation, she was selected for the British under-23 rowing team and won gold at the World under-23 Championships in the coxless pairs, a first for the team and a breakthrough for women’s rowing. In the same year, she gained a bronze medal as a member of the women’s eight in the World Championships (the first of her eight medals at World Championships).

Continuing to mix academic life with rowing, Katherine moved to Glasgow University and gained an MPhil in Medical Law and Ethics but, with the arrival of a new millennium, the Sydney Olympics beckoned and then brought an unanticipated silver medal in the quadruple sculls. Returning to the coxless pairs with Cath Bishop, she won the World Championships in 2003 in Milan and another silver in the Athens Olympics of 2004. These were the start of ten years of World Cup wins, World Championship golds and Olympic medals. Once again in the quadruple sculls, she was a World Champion in 2005, 2006 and 2007; creating an ideal platform for gold in this event at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Sadly, that was not to be as they were narrowly beaten by the Chinese. This was possibly the lowest moment of her sporting career: ‘I couldn’t bear the prospect of failure on such an epic scale again.’

But the determination and competitiveness kicked in as she returned to the World Championships winning silver in the single sculls in 2009, then further World Championship gold medals in the double sculls in 2010 and 2011, the fifth rowing discipline in which she has achieved medal status. Only one target remained, with London 2012 looming. In around six and a half minutes on August 3rd 2012, Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins won the Olympic gold medal in the double sculls. Thus, Katherine became the first female British athlete to gain medals in four consecutive Olympics.

So what else? Well, whilst being a world-class athlete, Katherine completed a PhD in Homicide at King’s College, London. She passed her viva just a few weeks ago. In testament to her wider talents she has become a keynote after-dinner speaker and became the first person to deliver a Royal Society of Edinburgh Christmas lecture.

Katherine received an MBE in 2006 and CBE in 2013. She became Scottish Sport’s Personality of the Year in 2009 and also in that year was awarded the Emirates Lonsdale Trophy by Commonwealth Games Scotland.
She is now a BBC pundit on rowing broadcasts and supports several charities including the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, the National Coastwatch Institution and the Scottish Huntington’s Association. She was elected Honorary President of the Scottish Amateur Rowing Association in 2005, serves on the British Olympic Association Athletes’ Commission and is a champion for the 2018 Glasgow bid to host the Youth Olympic Games.

She is still trying to decide what her plans might be for Rio de Janeiro in 2016, whether or not to practice law and what she might do when she grows up.

Sir Steven Redgrave described her as, “a rare combination of athletic ability and determination to succeed that can only be seen in great champions”.

Chancellor, in recognition of her outstanding athletic achievements as six times World Champion and medallist at four consecutive Olympics culminating in gold at London 2012, I invite you to confer on Katherine Grainger the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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