26 Feb 2014
Meeting Kim Crow is an intense experience.
We grab a seat in the bustling café at the AIS, athletes and school children milling around us. The towering Crow quickly discards her helmet — a bike is her preferred mode of transport — and turns her gaze towards me.
Above the squeals of children and scraping of chairs, it’s as if an invisible clock starts ticking. The race is on.
The quick and articulate Crow is her own master, and for this rare meeting to go into overtime it will require questions intriguing enough to pique the rowing world champion’s intimidating intellect.
For, as most people who have met Kim Crow quickly learn, she knows the value of time. And she’s not prepared to waste a moment of it.
The thought process
Crow is fast becoming a poster-girl for the sport of rowing — and women’s sport in Australia more generally. But her appeal lies in a space well beyond her prowess with an oar.
It lies in Crow’s thoughtfulness; her desire to engage with issues off the sporting field; her willingness to stand up and contribute to the national dialogue. When she speaks her words can veer from the poetic — ‘women’s sport is like a colouring book waiting to be coloured’ — to brutal as she appeals for all of us to do better.
‘Our big sporting organisations are complicit in facilitating Australia’s booze problem,’ she wrote in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper last year. This was preceded by articles condemning homophobic remarks by former AFL player Jason Akermanis — ‘you are an idiot’ — and the status of women’s sport, which Crow believes suffers from ‘inadequate leadership and publicity, a chicken-and-egg conundrum’.
With so much ammunition, I wonder why the 28-year-old isn’t working as a journalist.
‘I like to be able to write about what a want to write about,’ laughs Crow, who currently works part-time as an intellectual property lawyer. ‘I actually really wanted to be a journalist, and then I interned at The Age and thought it wasn’t for me.
'Working at a newspaper, you don’t really have the opportunity to explore the things that you really want to write about — things you are passionate about; what you believe in.’
Built for a challenge
But for all her many passions, it’s rowing that is making Crow a household name — and consumes most of her enormous energy reserves.
In August last year, she made history as the first Aussie woman to be crowned world champion in rowing’s premier event, the single scull. It topped her Olympic silver and bronze medals from London, and was particularly notable as Crow had been reluctant to even step foot in a single scull 14 months earlier.
‘It’s a really difficult boat [and] was technically a little bit above my ability,’ she reveals. ‘It also didn’t appeal because you are just out there by yourself, and the team aspect is what I love most about the sport.
‘But I realised there was so much I could learn from that boat. It was a physical and mental challenge, and at this stage of my life having that challenge to improve myself as a person was a really worthwhile thing to do.’
Crow’s life is built around challenges. She was raised in a family of avid sportspeople — her father is former AFL player Max Crow — and was taught ‘the most rewarding thing you can do is to do your best’. In 2005 she took up rowing after a leg injury ended her hurdling career, and she attributes a willingness to ‘have a go at anything’ as the reason she was able to avoid the post-Olympics blues.
‘There is a lull after the Olympics and a lot of athletes can go into a mourning period. It’s important to be able to find new and exciting dreams, and I think having the challenge of the single scull helped me to refocus on what it was I wanted to do.’
When it comes to women’s sport, Crow is acutely aware of the challenges that exist but is still optimistic.
‘The more we get some colour around women’s sport, and familiarity with the characters on the sporting field, the more public engagement there will be with women’s sport,’ says Crow, who also acts as the chairperson of the Australian Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission.
‘Gender disparity exists [and] I think the cycle has to be broken somewhere. A few brave decisions, whether by media organisations or corporate backers, to support women’s sport will help.’
It’s something Crow hopes will happen as she approaches her — hopefully golden — swansong at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She admits that she’s already counting down the days and is looking forward to having more time for other pursuits.
It’s while recounting a typical training day — an exhausting schedule of boats, bikes and barbells — that Crow’s eyes widen.
‘I’m so sorry, I’m supposed to be at the physio!’
With that she leaps out of her chair and begins to expertly weave between the tables, the sound of the invisible clock fading with her. It seems an appropriate conclusion.
Kim Crow: a champion in a hurry.