Britain's Imogen Grant (right) and Emily Craig take part in a training camp in Portugal

London (AFP) - British rower Imogen Grant is returning to international competition after a 20-month hiatus as the Olympic countdown begins – after being forced to train on dry land for months during the coronavirus lockdown.

Grant, 25, is competing in the lightweight women’s double sculls at the European Rowing Championships in Varese, Italy, which start on Friday.

The Cambridge University medical student says the mood inside the British camp is positive less than four months away from the start of the delayed Games in Tokyo – and she can’t wait to make her Olympic debut.

“We just want to get to the first set of racing to be honest,” she told AFP.

“Obviously it’s been an entire 12 months in the interim. Emily (Craig, her partner in the boat) and I both thrived during the lockdown period even though it wasn’t easy.

“We were both training in our living rooms for the entire summer but actually it was a really good opportunity for us to both get stronger and faster.”

Both rowers managed to complete personal bests on rowing machines – Craig in her kitchen and Grant in her living room.

“There are almost laughable situations,” said Grant. “But it turned out to be really good training and so we both came out of the first long lockdown when we were off the water in really good shape and once we were able to get back in the double (scull) we kind of hit the ground running.

“We had a really good winter – lots of training, rolling with every punch that came our way, various lockdowns, various restrictions.”

Grant who last competed internationally at the World Rowing Championships in Austria in 2019, said by the time the Olympics were officially postponed last year the decision did not come as a surprise.

Now she is confident she can put the Games in the diary, with organisers insisting they will start in late July.

- Powerhouse -

Grant says the European championship will be the first chance to assess how Britain’s competitors are performing.

Britain's Imogen Grant (left) and Emily Craig are put through their paces at a training camp in Portugal

The nation has topped the medals table at the past three Olympics, though they will be without their long-serving chief coach Jurgen Grobler, who stepped down last year.

The make-up of the women’s team is similar to last year but the standout new face is two-time Olympic gold medallist Helen Glover, who is back in the squad after having three children since the 2016 Rio Games.

“I think in a lot of ways the extra year has been really beneficial,” said Grant. “At the start of the Olympiad there was some talk that the squad was a little bit too young and a little bit too inexperienced.

“So, actually, 12 more months to train to get stronger, to get faster, to row together in a crew, can actually be really beneficial and it’s also enabled a few newer people to come in and add to the team.”

Grant, whose medical degree is on hold, has recently completed a masters degree in obstetrics and gynaecology and is still doing elements of research.

“Everyone’s life has been put on hold but I think one of the things that made the Olympic postponement bearable was because, well it’s no different for anyone else.”

In the longer term there may be a positive knock-on effect for Grant, who does not feel she will be done with rowing after Tokyo.

“It’s quite exciting for me because for a long time 2020 was going to be the last Olympic Games with lightweight rowing in it,” she said.

“There was talk of introducing coastal rowing in Paris. But because of the pandemic and because of postponements they have agreed there will be no change to the rowing events in Paris 2024.

“So I have the option of trying to race a lightweight boat at another Olympics, which hadn’t been an option beforehand, which was quite the revelation to me because I just assumed this was my last chance and now it might not be.”