Kim Brennan AM (nee Crow) was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2023 as an Athlete Member for her contribution to the sport of rowing.
Kim Brennan was seemingly always destined to scale whatever summit she tackled, but as one of Australia’s most decorated, driven and determined rowers, she found her calling.
As a junior hurdling star, Brennan – who competed under her maiden name Crow until her 2015 marriage to Australian Olympic rowing gold medallist Scott Brennan – showed promise before stress fractures in her foot forced her to choose a different sporting pathway.
She graduated swiftly from the Melbourne University Rowing Club to represent her state and her country, competing for Australia in the first of three successive Olympic Games only three years after taking on the sport.
She won the full complement of Olympic medals – silver and bronze medals in London in 2012 in the women’s double sculls and in the women’s single sculls, before turning on a virtuoso performance to win gold in the women’s single sculls in Rio in 2016.
Brennan was a two-time world champion who was inspirational on and off the water, with her contribution to rowing and Olympic movement extending well beyond her competitive career.
As a wide-eyed seven-year-old Kim Crow (later Brennan) watched in wonder on television as Spanish Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo shot an arrow high above the cauldron, igniting the Olympic flame against a spectacular backdrop at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
An Olympic dream was born; a competitive ambition ignited.
While Brennan initially envisaged a different sport as her pathway to representing Australia at the Olympics, fate and circumstances intervened.
Having won a silver medal in the 400m hurdles at the 2001 World Youth Athletics Championships in 2001 and being ranked for a time as the second best Australian in the event behind Jana Pittman, Brennan appeared set for a long career in athletics.
But stress fractures in her foot ended hopes of progressing any further in the 400m hurdles, though the setback did nothing to douse a drive to achieve on the international stage.
The daughter of former VFL footballer Max Crow, she chose an alternative journey to meet those ambitions and did so in a gruelling sport she hadn’t ever tried until she was almost 20. Across the next decade, she lived out her sporting dreams – and so much more.
Having started out with the occasional spill in the murky Yarra River, she graduated to her first national team within a year, winning a bronze medal at the 2006 World Rowing Championship with the women’s eights.
Within three years she was an Australian Olympic team member in Beijing, nursing injury to finish fourth in the B final in the women’s coxless pairs with Sarah Cook.
It was the entree to what was to come, spread out across two more Olympics, as well as a total of eight world rowing championships and countless national championships, drawing praise for not only the way she handled herself on the water, but just as much for her contribution off it.
After winning back-to-back silver medals in the women’s double sculls at the 2010 and 2011 World Championships, she went off to the London Olympics in 2012 as one of the leading contenders and emerged with a silver medal alongside Brooke Pratley.
At the same memorable meet she collected a bronze medal in the women’s single sculls.
Brennan was renowned as one of the most relentless trainers not only in the rowing program, but in the Australian Olympic team. It wasn’t just the physical preparation where she excelled. She thrived on the technical side of the sport and even went back through her physics notes to work on her stroke technique.
Her dominance in the women’s single sculls came to the fore at the 2013 World Rowing Championships and she backed it up in 2015, defeating the 2012 Olympic Champion Miroslava Knapkova, which stamped her as one of the favourites for the event in Rio.
She married Australian Olympic rowing gold medallist Scott Brennan in late 2015, and she used her relationship as one of several inspirations she carried with her in Rio as she looked expectantly to a third Games in the pursuit of that elusive gold medal.
Other driving forces included the inspiration she drew from the Christ The Redeemer statue that towers over Rio, her capacity to overcome adversity and pushing through pain in pursuit of a burning ambition, and the memory of fellow Olympic rower Sarah Tait, who had died from cervical cancer, aged only 31, just months out from the Rio Games.
She had to do it the hard way at Lagoa Stadium. Crosswinds on the course made competition almost “unrowable” in early competition, and at one stage her boat almost sank. But the longer the event went, the more settled, composed and determined Brennan became.
In the final, she led almost from start to finish, powering through the 2000m course with ruthless efficiency and style, to become the first Australian woman to win an Olympic rowing gold medal in 20 years, Australia’s first Olympic women’s single sculls champion, and the Australian rowing team’s only gold medal winner at the 2016 Games.
Brennan’s performance in Rio, and her contribution to the team across three Olympic, saw her chosen as Australia’s flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony of the Rio Games. She was also made a Member of the Order of Australia the following year.
She officially retired from competitive rowing in 2018, but Brennan has continued to selflessly serve Australian sport in the years since as an advocate for the welfare of elite athletes and for the community in a number of different roles.
Honours & Achievements
- 2010 – 2013: Rowing Australia Awards Female Athlete of the Year
- 2013: AIS Sport Performance Awards Female Athlete of the Year
- 2013: International Rowing Federation Female Athlete of the Year
- 2016: AIS Sport Performance Awards Female Athlete of the Year
- 2017: Made a Member of the Order of Australia
Photo courtesy News Corp Australia.