Rowing: Pinsent backs Watkins to rise to Olympic occasion
SIR Matthew Pinsent says Longsdon rower Anna Watkins can handle the pressure of being favourite for Olympic gold.
Watkins and double sculls partner Katherine Grainger will be among the nation's leading medal hopes at the London Games this summer, having won the last two World Championships.
Pinsent knows all about living with expectation. He won four Olympic golds, having triumphed in successive Games from 1992 to 2004.
Three of those golds were earned with Sir Steve Redgrave, either in the coxless pair or coxless four.
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He says being favourite inevitably brings pressure – but Olympic rivals would love to have the same record as Watkins, pictured below, and Grainger.
He said: "Sometimes when you are favourite, it feels like an unpleasant place to be.
"But you have to imagine what it's like when there is someone really good in your event and you have to beat them.
"That tends to put the opposition on the back foot.
"Of course, in any given race, there will be someone who goes into it free of stress and feeling they can just try something.
"But Anna and Katherine have been around long enough to have raced in that situation."
Watkins, who is a former pupil of Westwood High School in Leek, returns to action this weekend when she takes part in the Great Britain Rowing Team Senior Trials.
The 28-year-old will be competing against Grainger in the women's single event, just as she did in the GB Rowing winter assessment trials in Boston, Lincolnshire in December.
Watkins came out on top on that occasion, but more focus will be on their double sculls partnership now the Olympics is only four months away.
They should have a better idea about their Olympic chances after the World Cup series, the GB squad for which will be named on April 4.
The three-meeting series begins in Belgrade from May 4 to 6, continues in Lucerne from May 25 to 27 and finishes in Munich between June 15 and 17.
Pinsent, pictured below, says Watkins and Grainger will be taking nothing for granted as the Olympics gets closer.
He says, although they deserve to be favourites, the competition can quickly change in the build-up to the Olympic final.
He explained: "The Olympics can throw up funny things. There might be a combination elsewhere in the world that gets thrown together at the last minute.
"There could be a quad, say from China, but then one of them gets an injury so two of that quad decide to compete in the double.
"They could be fantastically talented athletes, so suddenly there would be a combination that has Katherine and Anna thinking 'what's going to happen here?'
"Steve and I spent a lot of our career winning lots of races but, invariably, when we got to the Games, there was some unknown quantity."