Fiona Gammond appreciated the many lessons and huge insight on offer during her once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) – and absorbed all of them “like a sponge”. Now she’s encouraging sport’s emerging stars to do the same.
“There was an Olympic vibe, which made everything feel exciting and new. I was surprised at how big the event actually felt.”
Fiona Gammond understood the scale of her Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games experience only when she and her international teammates checked in for her “first-ever long-haul flight abroad”.
Each member of the travelling party was handed a large bag stuffed with sports equipment bearing both the Union flag and the five iconic Olympic rings. “We got the bags, everything was a whirlwind,” says the Great Britain rower. “There was an Olympic vibe, which made everything feel exciting and new. I was surprised at how big the event actually felt.”
Despite her surprise at the size of the YOG, Gammond – then 17 years old – wasn’t without rowing experience. Having made an appearance at the 2009 Coupe de la Jeunesse in Vichy, France, she was selected to appear for her country in the JW8+ event (junior women’s eight) at the World Rowing Junior Championships in the Czech Republic during 2010. “I’d been quite focused on the world championships,” she says. “Going on to another event so quickly was great. It was really exciting.” Her enthusiasm paid dividends. Gammond won gold at the world championships and as a pair in Singapore with Georgia Howard-Merrill, though there were one or two bumps in the road.
“In the YOG heats we came third,” she says. “That meant we only just qualified for the final. We usually raced over two kilometres but the YOG race was over one kilometre and it was more of a sprint race. We weren’t used to it but that race taught me that, within a regatta, you could turn a bad result around. We didn’t perform that well in the heats but we still won the final. I learned it’s possible to turn around your fortunes. You can build momentum through a regatta.
“Winning gold was fantastic but we didn’t realise that we’d done it at first,” she adds. “We were on the outside lane, and as we crossed the line it was a close race. We were looking around asking, ‘Have we won?’ I wasn’t sure. It was fantastic to realise that we had and winning that gold was awesome, fantastic, the highlight of my junior career. I don’t know how I did that, looking back. It was just amazing. Georgia and me had been rowing together since we were 14, we had spent a couple of years, working hard, to get it to that competitive level.”
Race momentum wasn’t the only key lesson gleaned by Gammond during the 2010 YOG. Living with and supporting her teammates on a three-week trip away from home served as a valuable life lesson. “I remember struggling quite hard with homesickness,” she says. “As did (Georgia). We got through it by propping each other up. There were so many activities and workshops to do, and we made sure we watched plenty of other events and supported our teammates.
“That was my first experience of being away from home for a long time and that set me up really well – I ended up going to America for university in Seattle, the University of Washington, but looking back, Singapore set me up for how to be away from home for such a long time.”
The 2010 YOG also taught Gammond about the unusual logistical procedures that can sometimes unsettle an inexperienced athlete when faced with them at a global competition for the first time. “Stuff like eating in the food halls, travelling to the venues by the buses,” says Gammond. “But Singapore was amazing. Everyone who lived there was so welcoming and really happy to be hosting the event. They tried to make it like the Olympics.”
Following her BW8+ silver medal wins in the World Rowing U23 Championships during both 2013 and 2014, and a gold medal win in the women’s four at the 2016 World Championships in Florida, Gammond has set her focus on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. “Tokyo is my ambition right now,” she says. “Getting there would be amazing but I have to take it day by day. If I got selected, I think that I might have at least a small insight into what it’s like, thanks to Singapore, and that will help with my performance. When an athlete goes to an event like a YOG, it’s important to soak up everything like a sponge. You’re only ever going to get there once. It’s important to enjoy every second.”