FRAN Houghton says she has a dream job as she looks ahead to her fourth Olympics.
The 31-year-old, who grew up in Oxford, has been in love with rowing ever since she first tried it as an 11-year-old Dragon School pupil.
And Houghton, who will compete in the women’s quadruple scull having won silvers in that boat in 2004 and 2008, could not be happier on the water.
“I was hooked straight away,” she said. “I love rowing and love the feeling of being in a boat on the river. I just really, really enjoy it.
“Initially I just thought ‘I love doing this, I want to keep doing this’.
“To a certain extent, that is what I feel now. I do really love rowing and sometimes I go out in my boat and I think ‘this is awesome’.
“There is nothing else I would rather be doing. I’m just extremely lucky that I have found something I love to do.”
Houghton won her second Olympic silver medal at Beijing in 2008, then took a year out to recharge her batteries.
This included pursuing one of her other passions, cookery, and Houghton said the time off proved key to continuing her rowing career.
“I learnt to row at the Dragon School when I was 11 and I had never had a summer holiday since then,” said Houghton. “I had never known weekends and Christmases.
“I just really needed a break and I am really glad I did.
“It gave me time to reflect on what I had done and just let my hair down and enjoy myself, have a bit more energy.
“I came back much more refreshed. There is no way I would have been able to cope with what I have been through in the last two years without having had that break.”
Houghton admits being a rower is an intense profession, but she is very happy to be back in the thick of it.
She said: “It is a bit like being self-employed, you take your work home with you. When things are not going well, you can’t sleep because you are so worried.
“It is stressful. It is my life, it is everything to me and I really want to do well. That really takes its toll.”
Does Houghton’s love of rowing make it easier to put in the hard yards of training?
She said: “It makes it easier, but also makes it more heart-wrenching as well because if I didn’t care, it wouldn’t be so painful.
“It is great when it comes together, but frustrating and pretty tortuous when it doesn’t.”
With rowing being one of Britain’s leading Olympic sports, will rowers be under the microscope?
“I don’t think we are under more pressure,” Houghton said. “There is more expectation that we will perform well, but that is a good thing.
“That means our standards are really high. It has to be fast enough.
“I know it is a cliché, but no one can put more pressure on me than the pressure I put on myself. It is actually true.
“At the end of the day we can walk away, but it is what we want.”
No British woman has won Olympic rowing gold before, so that is some extra motivation if Houghton needs it.
“I think about it, obviously, but the thing that is going to get me there is all those things I have experienced along the way,” she said.
“Yeah, I think about and dream about it.”