Kim Brennan wins rowing gold medal, practically apologises for being 'selfish'

by Melissa Singer - 15/08/16, 5:30 PM

National fashion editor

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Australian gold medalist Kim Brennan and Bronze medalist Duan Jingli of China embrace after their final at Rio's Lagoa ...

Australian gold medalist Kim Brennan and Bronze medalist Duan Jingli of China embrace after their final at Rio's Lagoa Stadium on Saturday.Photo: Getty Images


While most of us were sleeping on Sunday morning, Kim Brennan did something most will never do in their lifetime. 

After a disappointing first day of competition in Rio, the single-sculls rower, who used to be a runner, won Australia's first gold in the sport since Athens. (Coincidentally her husband, Scott Brennan, won Australia's last rowing gold... but more on that later.)

Kim Brennan (centre) after her gold medal-winning race in Rio.
Kim Brennan (centre) after her gold medal-winning race in Rio. Photo: Getty Images

And then she did something even more extraordinary: she practically apologised for winning.

In her post-race interview, Brennan told Channel Seven that her 11-year pursuit of a gold medal had come at a great personal cost.

"It's so hard on the people around you. I don't get to spend a lot of time with my husband, I'm not there for him and my family. I think it's quite a selfish thing to do a lot of the time and ... I hope that now I can really give back and be a support for them."

Flagbearer: Kim Brennan.
Flagbearer: Kim Brennan.Photo: AP

Brennan's interview struck a chord with many people, for several reasons.

There was the fact Brennan herself called out the "selfishness" of the Olympic pursuit. There is truth to her comments, although nobody talks about it. 

But more pointedly, here was a female athlete, who had just won gold for her sport and her country – something no-one in her sport has done in eight years – essentially saying sorry for wanting to be the best in her field, and getting there.

Everyone would agree that rowing, particularly single sculls, is a punishing, unsociable sport. The early hours, the travel and the many sacrifices. But does that make it selfish? 

Is working 14-hour days as a junior associate lawyer, with ambitions of one day making partner, selfish?

And, it has to be asked, would a male athlete in Brennan's gold-medal-winning position have said something similar?

To me, selfishness is acting without any regard for others' feelings or contribution, which surely does not apply to Brennan, who publicly thanked everyone who helped her get to Rio before she had even stood on the dais. 

The truth is, women spend too much time apologising: for working too hard, or not hard enough; for taking care of their sick children or parents; for missing a friend's birthday. But no-one would consider any of those acts selfish.

And yet, we are often so quick to accuse other people of selfishness for doing the exact same things, or worse, things that are outside our level of competency or interest, simply because they are of no benefit to us.

When men travel 46 weeks of the year for work, they are ambitious; when women do it they are neglectful or either their children or partner, or both.

Daily Life contributor Jane Caro once shared a brilliant anecdote about telling her counsellor about her so-called (self-ascribed) selfishness.

The counsellor responded: "You know what it really means when someone calls you selfish? It means, 'Don't you be selfish, let me be selfish.' It's just another criticism women hear, usually when they dare to put their own needs first. Don't buy that one, either."

Thanks, Jane. I will remember that next time a friend accuses me of selfishness for simply living out my dreams and ambitions. 

Kim Brennan may have been away from her new husband for three-and-a-half months of their nine-month marriage but I am guessing, as an Olympic gold medallist himself, that he's the last person lining up to accuse her of selfishness.

Journalist Sarah Ferguson told an International Women's Day forum in March that women "need to stop apologising for living".

Despite making some tough and some would say ambitious choices, Kim Brennan was just living when she was training for Olympic gold. And she shouldn't feel the need to apologise.







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