The journey, rather than the destination, was always the goal for Polly Swann, so that made a fourth-place finish in an Olympic final much easier to take. 

And you’d be hard pushed to find many athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, let alone just at the rowing, with quite as remarkable journey as Edinburgh’s Swann and her boatmate Helen Glover. 

A year ago, Swann was working as a junior doctor for the NHS on the frontline during the first wave of the Covid pandemic, while Glover hadn’t long since given birth to her second and third children – twin boys Kit and Bo. 

As recently as three months ago, their competitors in the women’s pair were racing in World Cups while Glover was still breastfeeding the twins. 

The Cornwall native made history by becoming the first woman to compete in rowing for Team GB at an Olympic Games after giving birth and was looking to become the first British woman to win Olympic gold at three separate Games. 

Ultimately, it wasn’t to be, as they came fourth in the women’s pair showpiece, 2.86s behind bronze medallists Canada in a race won by New Zealand, but there was no disappointment from Swann, just pride. 

“Helen was looking after three kids, for me it was working in a hospital a year ago today,” explained the Scot. “I don’t think there are many Olympic athletes that can say these things and be in a final. 

“We certainly fought our all to try and get on to that podium – I can’t fault our determination for that.  

“Even moreso, the way we fought every day in training. We got into the boat together in March and every day since then has been pushing each other to the limit. 

“I think we’ve worked exceptionally well doing that, we’ve worked well as a team – that’s what drives me, that’s my motivation and me and Helen as a team have done something special together.” 

Swann won’t have long to revel in her Olympic experience as she returns to the frontline as a doctor next week. 

While Glover was clear after the race that she has no plans to continue rowing, she did retire from the sport in 2016 before returning four years later. 

And Swann jokingly suggested she may take a leaf out of her boatmate’s book ahead of Paris 2024. 

“I’m looking forward to starting at Borders General Hospital next week but I’ve always been tempted to ‘do a Helen Glover’ and do a bit of a rowing comeback,” she laughed.   

“Maybe one year to work, one year to have a baby, one year to come back – we’ll see!” 

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