London 2012 Olympics: Rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover glide to momentous triumph
WHEN they crossed the line, they entered history. Heather Stanning and Helen Glover; first ever gold medal for British women rowers, first athletes from home to climb the podium from the middle as opposed to the sides – or not at all.
• First Team GB gold comes on day five of the Olympic Games
• Glover and Stanning take rowing gold in front of ecstatic crowd at Eton Dorney
Just before 12.30pm, to the deafening roars of the 30,000 people lining the banks of Dorney Lake,
they accepted their medal, heard their anthem and waved. Finally, the Big G
These Olympic Games are so vast and so varied that most of the time you’re never quite sure where the real action is, where the day’s big story is going to unfold. From the moment we arrived at Eton Dorney, however, you pretty much knew that this was the place to be; the epicentre; the golden pond. Bradley Wiggins did it later, but the girls did it first. Nobody can ever take that away from them.
Stanning and Glover set off in the women’s pairs final as screaming hot favourites. Unbeaten this year and conquerors of the Olympic record in their heat, Stanning from Lossiemouth and Glover from Penzance had a weight of expectation on their shoulders that would have sunk their boat had they not been so magnificent in dealing with it. Away quickly, they had put clear water between themselves and their rivals before a quarter of the race was done. Even at that ridiculously early stage the only competition out there was for second place.
As they swept towards the finish, the Australians and the New Zealanders trailing in their wake, the massed ranks got to their feet and called them home. There was such power in the moment. Such noise.
Watching on, Sir Steve Redgrave. Watching and applauding, just like everybody else. “They’ve dominated the world and they’ve done it in style,” he said. “They’ll always be remembered as Britain’s first gold. It could change their lives – if they want it to. It’s in their hands. Their profile will rocket now. Some people might not be able to handle what is about to happen to them. Will they? Oh yeah.”
Out there in the crowd, distinguished by their white Team GB tops and
their slightly stunned demeanours,
were Stanning’s parents, Tim and Mary. Navy folk, the pair of them. Their
fathers were navy men, their grandfathers, too. “Our children have been brought up in a certain environment,” said Mary.
They have three kids; two boys, one a navy doctor, the other a member of the Black Watch and their little girl, an officer in the Royal Artillery on leave from the service while she prepared for this day to come, an officer who is due back at work in September and might be sent to Afghanistan before the year is out. Both her brothers, Alistair and
Martin, have served there already.
“I’m somewhere up in the stratosphere,” said Mary. “It’s totally surreal.” Then she began telling her daughter’s story; her birth in Yeovil, the early years of her life in Malaysia and then Hong Kong before arriving at Lossiemouth, where she calls home. Heather was always sporty; more fond of the playing fields of Gordonstoun than the class rooms. She loved her rugby and her football, she played netball and hockey, she ran, she played tennis, she competed in the Highland Games. She found rowing and, later, she found Glover. And yesterday, together, they found something special.
“To call Heather determined would be an understatement,” laughed her mother, the laugh of a woman with 27 years worth of stories of how single-minded her daughter can be. “Her two brothers are just a wee bit older than her and anything they could do, she could do better. That’s what she’s always been like. As a family, we’ve moved around a lot. We’re nomads. But Lossiemouth is where we’re from. The west coast and Arisaig has always been one of the children’s anchor points in life.”
Stanning and Glover; a double act with a back story. The Scot has spoken about her place in the scheme of things at these Olympics, how had she not been sitting in a boat yesterday she would, most probably, have been in uniform checking bags at security as part of the emergency security drafted in late in the day. “A strange thought,” she said.
Her training at Sandhurst steeled her for this; all the long hours readying herself for the services, all the sleep deprivation, all the tiredness and irritation, all bottled up and used as motivation in the barracks and also on the water of Lake Dorney. Her union with Glover has been a whirlwind of success, a beacon of hope. Glover had never sat in a boat before 2008. Her mother encouraged her to apply for a place on the Sporting Giants Talent ID programme, a scheme that required her, in the first instance, to be 5ft 10in in height. She stood on tiptoe and just about made it.
“My mum rang me up and I was on my way to a night out in university during my third year,” she explained. “Mum said this (programme) sounds like you. I sent in an application online. I remember trying to steal some wi-fi from someone to send it in and everybody was shouting at me to hurry up for the night out and then I didn’t think anything else about it. I went out to Africa for three months to do voluntary work and when I came back there was a letter for me.”
That letter changed her life.
“At the time of the last Olympics I’d been rowing for about two months. We went away to a camp in Nottingham and we all sat down and watched the rowing. I watched what these girls were doing and I said. ‘Okay, I’ve set my targets quite high here, I’m still falling out of the boat’. I watched in awe and it made me work hard and appreciate the big task ahead of me.”
Eighteen months ago, Stanning and Glover teamed-up. In many ways, they were the also-rans of British rowing, only being pitched together when the pair of them failed to make the women’s eight team. They are different characters; Glover more confident and the leader in the boat, Stanning more giddy and happy to be led, but their understanding and the power of their combination was immediately evident. They took silver at the world championships in 2010, then another silver in 2011, then a conveyor belt of gold this year, the highpoint coming here amid incredible scenes.
“Crossing the line, I felt a complete mixture of emotions,” said Stanning. “I was absolutely exhausted. I wanted to collapse and I wanted to jump up and down at the same time.”
She didn’t need to. In the stands lining the route there were thousands doing enough whooping and hollering for the pair of them.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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