Olympic silver medallist Kate Hornsey on the psychology of rowing. By Richard Cooke.


Forwards, backwards: Kate Hornsey, 32, rower

Tasmanian-born Kate Hornsey is a world champion rower and dual Olympian. At the 2012 London Olympics, she and Sarah Tait won silver medals in the coxless pairs. This month she competes in the World Rowing championships in Amsterdam.

Richard Cooke You’ve had some years off during your career. Are they due to injury or burnout, or just to have a rest? 

Kate Hornsey I just like to have a rest. I’m one of those athletes that couldn’t go on year to year to year and hope to maintain a certain level. I find it exhausting. The training we do is really, really hard work and we devote our lives to the Olympics. Even studying is a bit hard, achieving that life balance.

RC You have to plan your life in Olympiad-shaped blocks? 

KH Yeah, pretty much. 

RC Has studying psychology helped you? 

KH I think so. It’s good in rowing as well. I probably have a good handle on people’s behaviours, and it interests me. 

RC In rowing, I’ve heard there’s a lot of variation in how people prepare themselves for races mentally. Maybe more variation than in other sports. 

KH It’s quite amazing the different ways people will prepare. I am actually very relaxed. So much that people probably look at me and think, “How on earth is she an elite athlete? She’s kind of a bit too cruisy.” I know people even further along that scale, but when they’re in the water, they’re just an animal. Then there are other people who analyse everything – they’re always thinking rowing.

RC A strange mix between hippies, analysts and berserkers? 

KH Yeah, I mean it takes all kinds, and that’s a good thing, too. In a crew, if you’re rowing with others, it’s nice to have a bit of diversity and a few different personalities in there to keep it real. You can get a really nice sort of synergy going.

RC That personality aspect – if you’re in a coxless boat, you’re a coach and a player at the same time. How do you manage that transition? 

KH I guess we’ve grown up rowing a lot of different boats, so probably the majority is in coxless boats. So we’ll row pairs a lot and fours, and obviously I’m in the eights now, but we rowed a lot of pairs leading up to that. In the last couple of years anyway, I was often the one chatting away, and I really enjoyed the freedom of it, and having a bit more ownership over what we were doing. 

RC Do you like yelling at people?

KH I don’t like yelling at people, but I like talking people through it. I got to row with a younger girl this year, in a pair early on in the season, and I quite enjoyed sitting behind her and being able to share my knowledge with her. To get my point across in a way that made her understand and want to make changes as well. It was really nice. 

RC Rowing in Australia is still associated with one incident from a long time ago – the Sally Robbins “no row” fiasco. Is it strange to you how much people are still talking about it?

KH People still talk about it, and it’s crazy. That was 10 years ago, and so much has happened since then, and it’s funny that people keep bringing it up. It just sticks in people’s minds, because at the time it was made into such a big deal. I think in the same Olympics [Athens], a Canadian man did almost the exact same thing, but the media didn’t grab hold of it and it was never really spoken about. Whereas the Australian obviously copped a fair bit in the media. It became front of mind, and a lot of people didn’t know much about rowing – you know, they’d probably only ever heard of the Oarsome Foursome – so this was another link that they made. They kind of attached it to rowing. I think it’s kind of crazy that it’s still mentioned this far on. I feel like so much has happened since then. 

RC For you as well. 

KH I love rowing. I was actually going to retire after [the 2012 Olympics in] London, and then I got drawn back into it. 

RC Because you were missing it? 

KH It was really bizarre. In the three or four months leading into London I’d decided that I would retire after that. And then we went on and I was quite successful, got the silver medal and… I really enjoyed it. I had a great time in those couple of months leading into the Games. We really flicked a switch and we basically could do no wrong. Our training… I looked forward to it every day. It was amazing. And then it was really sad when it was all over, and I came home and was going to retire. But then it turned out to be just another year off.

RC So you tricked yourself back into it?

KH I think so. “I’ll take another day and see if that helps me decide.” “I’m just taking another day… Oh, God, I’m at trials. Oh, God, I’ve been collected. Oh, I’m overseas.”

RC And then you’re in the world championships again. 

KH It’s quite funny, really.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 16, 2014 as "Forwards, backwards".

A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.

Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

Sharing credit ×

Share this article, without restrictions.

You’ve shared all of your credits for this month. They will refresh on September 1. If you would like to share more, you can buy a gift subscription for a friend.