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Olympic Rowing and the Foreign Office

Pembroke College Boat ClubDr Cath Bishop (Pembroke 1989)

Olympic silver medallist Dr Cath Bishop caught rowing fever as a languages student at Pembroke by accident. “I’d always seen it as a dull spectator sport, but when the first term novices were one person short, everyone set about persuading me to make up numbers for end-of-term races. On my first ever outing I broke my blade, but it got a lot better from there on in!” Cath rowed in two Varsity women’s
Boat Races, winning one and losing the other. “It was an intense experience that pretty much covered the full range of emotions,” she says.

Cath went on to study for her Masters at the University of Wales, and then for a PhD in German literature at Reading, followed by a career in the Foreign Office – but rowing remained the constant. She went on to win medals at the World Championships: a silver in 1998, in the women’s pair with Dot Blackie, and a gold in the pair with Katherine Grainger in 2003. When asked how she became a member of Great Britain’s Olympic rowing team her answer is deceptively simple: “by training ridiculously hard and winning selection races”, something which she did listening to the Pet Shop Boys on the headphones she describes as “vital” kit, along with “hand cream and a callus file”.

Cath won a silver medal in her third appearance at the Olympic Games in 2004, in the women’s pair with Katherine Grainger, who will be rowing at the 2012 Games with another Cantabrigian, Anna Watkins – the same year that her professional life took her to Bosnia to serve in the British Embassy, Sarajevo.

“The Olympics gave me the opportunity to pit myself against the best rowers in the world, in front of a lot of people.”  After the 2004 Olympics, Cath retired from rowing to pursue her Foreign Office career, where she works for the Foreign Office Stabilisation Unit, helping countries to recover from violent conflict. Now a successful Olympian herself, Cath reflects on the sporting heroes that have influenced her. “Growing up, it was Daley Thompson and the heroes of the 1984 Olympics. Now it’s Katherine Grainger, Great Britain’s best woman rower.”