AN ASHINGTON-born athlete is celebrating being an Olympic champion – seven years after being tipped for the top by her first coach.
Katherine Copeland, better known as Kat, won the Womens Lightweight double sculls on Saturday with Sophie Hoskins, hugging each other after crossing the finishing line two seconds ahead of their Chinese and Greek rivals in the 2,000m race.
The pair had only started rowing together just four months ago and went into the London Olympics as underdogs but soon became favourites for the race after setting the fastest time in the semi finals.
And they dominated the race, being cheered on by a capacity 25,000 crowd at Eton Dourney – including her parents and two younger brothers.
Kat – who moved to Ingleby Barwick, Stockton, Teesside, when she was young – was left speechless after the race as the pair came to terms with what they had achieved.
The 21-year-old first took up rowing at 14, joining Tees Rowing club where friends and club mates cheered her on on Saturday morning.
The Team GB rower’s achievements have now been immortalised by Royal Mail, who have put the pair on a stamp and painted a postbox in Ingleby Barwick gold.
Speaking after the race, BBC pundit and five-time Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave told the pair: “You’re going on a stamp tomorrow.”, which Kat replied “That’s what I said.”
Kat, the youngster member of Team GB’s rowing team, added: “I can’t believe this is real that we just won .... we just won the Olympics.
“I have been trying all week not to think about it because it’s made me cry every time, but when we were in the last 50 metres I just couldn’t believe it.
“I know this isn’t the Oscars but can I just say thanks to my Mum and Dad and to coach James Harris, because when I went to Tees I was really rubbish.”
Her mother Penny Copeland, 51, said: “Her first coach, Andy Clark, said when she was about 14 years old, he would put money on her being in the Olympics.
“Unfortunately he didn’t do it. But he actually realised she was of the calibre that could go that far.”
Before the Olympics, Kat’s previous best results were silver at the World Cup with Sophie and gold in the single sculls at the Under 23 World Championships last year.
Four years ago she was invited to join the GB training squad and in 2010 moved to London to be closer to the rest of the team.
But she struggled to settle in the capital, her form dipped and she moved back to Teesside and re-joined Tees Rowing Club under the guidance of coach James Harris.