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Heartache and happiness for rowers
Published 13/08/12

THERE were scenes of jubilation and heartache for Leander rowers as the Olympic regatta concluded on Saturday.

With four gold, two silver and three bronze medal-winning crews, London 2012 was Great Britain’s most successful regatta ever. Twelve of those medals were won by Leander rowers, taking the club’s Olympic medal haul to 111.

But there was disappointment for Leander’s Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, from Marlow, who failed to defend their Olympic title in the men’s lightweight double scull.

The first final of the day at Dorney Lake was the men’s coxless four, with GB looking to defend their Olympic title.

Leander’s Pete Reed and Alex Gregory, alongside Andy Triggs-Hodge and Tom James, were looking to take Britain’s fourth consecutive Olympic title in the event, a run which began with Sir Steve Redgrave’s historic fifth gold in Sydney in 2000.

The most decorated British rower was on the pontoon to congratulate the men after they won by a margin of 1.22 seconds.

Reed, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who also won gold in the four in Beijing, said: “Double Olympic champion, I can’t believe it. The hours we do, the pain. It’s all worth it at the end. What we did today took guts. We did exactly what we said we were going to do. When what you say you are going to do is so far beyond what you think you can do, it takes bravery.”

Gregory, the only one of the four not to compete in Beijing, added: “I was pretty nervous before the race. There was definitely pressure but we dealt with it really well. That is the challenge we set ourselves, to be able to perform under that pressure.”

He gave special thanks to Jurgen Grobler, GB’s chief rowing coach, who recorded his sixth consecutive gold medal win for British Rowing.

There was drama in the men’s lightweight double sculls event.

Just moments after the start of the final, the GB crew stopped sculling and Purchase could be seen holding his seat in the air.

Initially there were fears that the breakage had occurred after the 100m mark, meaning that the duo could be eliminated from the race.

But the umpire ruled that a wheel of Purchase’s bow seat had broken away before the crucial point, meaning the race was restarted.

Second time round, GB got off to a strong start and dominated the race until the final 500m, when victory was snatched by Denmark.

Hunter and Purchase were inconsolable. After remaining seated in their boat for several minutes, they were helped on to the pontoon by Sir Steve and his wife Ann, who is a medic at the Games.

Hunter said: “We gave everything, we tried everything, we wanted to win so badly. We are sorry to everybody we have let down.The mental and physical side of racing is always the same but the emotional side is always different, especially at the Olympic Games.

“If you win it is jubilation, you feel fantastic. If you have put everything on the line and you lose, there is no hiding place. You just shut down. We came here to win, it’s as simple as that. Everybody will say ‘it is great you won a silver’ but we came for gold.”

Speaking to the Standard this week, Hunter said: “That race was a tough one to take. It is still painful when I think about it. I am trying to forget about it and enjoy the rest of the Olympic experience. If you dwell on it then it will spoil the Olympics and I want to cheer on the other athletes.”

Hunter said he planned to take six months off rowing, adding: “I want to have some time being normal again then work out what to do from there.”

On Friday, there was delight for Leander rower Anna Watkins as she won gold in the women’s double scull with triple Olympic silver medallist Katherine Grainger. The women won by a length-and-a-half over Australia in the final, showing why they were pre-race favourites.

Watkins said afterwards: “I can’t quite believe we got to this point. I had to ask Katherine if it was a dream. I had tried to keep my mind away from this moment. We’ve had so many successful races and it was just another race but it was the right one.”

Grainger said the medal justified her decision not to retire from rowing.

She said: “To be honest I feel this medal, of all of them, is the people’s medal because so many people have been behind me and wanted this as much as I have. It makes it much more special.”

The GB men’s lightweight four won silver behind South Africa in one of the most exciting races of the regatta.

The crew was made up of Leander’s Richard Chambers and Chris Bartley, alongside Chambers’s brother Pete and Rob Williams.

Richard Chambers, 27, said: “We did a cracking job, just not good enough to get the gold. Our rowing was pretty terrible in the last 200m — we were all blown out and just trying to get on with it.”

Bartley said: “It is amazing. My hero is Sir Steve Redgrave and to come off after our race and be interviewed by him is a pretty big deal for me.”

Gillian Chambers, mother of Richard and Pete, said: “It was amazing, I am so proud.”

On Thursday, the GB women’s eight finished fifth. The crew, which included Leander’s Vicky Thornley, Louisa Reeve and Annie Vernon, could not match defending Olympic champions USA, who are undefeated in this Olympiad. Canada won silver and the Netherlands took bronze.

Vernon said: “Having the opportunity to compete at a home Games was everything I’d dreamed of. The crowds, the Games-makers, the atmosphere, even the weather!

“We came fifth, which was disappointing when the rest of the team performed so well, but we did all we could and are proud of what we did.

“Now’s the time to relax, enjoy the rest of the Games, support Team GB, and make the most of being an Olympian.”

GB men’s double scull also missed out on a medal, finishing fifth in their final.Sam Townsend, from Tokers Green, and his partner Bill Lucas were in second place early in the race but could not match New Zealand, Italy and Slovenia, who claimed the medals.

Meanwhile, Debbie Flood has reflected on the performance of the GB women’s quadruple scull, which came sixth in the final on Wednesday last week.

Flood, of Deanfield Avenue, Henley, said: “We were extremely disappointed with our race in the final but it has been a tough year and it just wasn’t our time, we were racing some outstanding crews.

“It was such an honour and a privilege to race in front of a home crowd and knowing there were so many people supporting us at home screaming at their TVs.

“The support has been overwhelming and we gave it our all and are proud to have represented GB. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped us over the years, supported and followed us.

“What a Games to be a part of — the rowing team has brought back so many medals and it’s exciting to be a part of that team and see so many of my close friends win medals.”

David Tanner, performance director for British Rowing, said: “I am so pleased with our consistency and the ambition of our rowers. I am a lucky man to have people who have a great attitude in life, enjoy their sport and deliver.”

ground.” Nash added: “It’s unreal and awesome to row with this man.”

Sir Steve Redgrave, a five-times Olympic champion, said: “They are the future without a doubt. Will’s a big guy and could row in any of the boats. It was an amazing performance and one we didn’t expect.”

Satch’s stepfather Martin Unsworth, who was at Dorney, said the experience was emotionally draining.

“I cried through the whole race,” he said. “It was so close. They are 22 and 23 and weren’t even expected to compete but they have come up with an Olympic bronze medal.

“We had a whole bunch of people there and a few parties to celebrate. Will’s mates all wore orange wigs. It is absolutely brilliant, mind-blowing.”

Mr Unsworth, a lecturer at The Henley College, added: “The boys got off to a good start and at about 500m they were chasing the pack. Their middle 1,000m was very strong and they went from fourth place to second.

“We were thinking it could be a silver medal when they overtook the French, then they came back at us. New Zealand were long gone but Will and George really fought for the line.

“Will says he was desperately trying to get his paddle in the water for the last 10 strokes.

“Afterwards he was very calm — it was as if he had just been out for a walk with the dog.”

Satch’s mother Sally, a rowing coach at Shiplake College, said he had always been driven, even as a small boy.

“He’s not necessarily a natural but he’s a really hard worker and he believes in himself,” she said.

“This is a massive shock. Initially they were told to train for Rio 2016 and not to worry about these Olympics.I’ve got utter respect for what those two boys have done.”

Satch, who is originally from Hurley, plans to take two months off rowing before resuming training.

“It will be nice to have a holiday and think about what I am going to do next,” he said.

“I have been training pretty hard for quite a while now but to be an Olympic medallist is another step up. This gives me massive confidence for Rio in 2016.”

Published 13/08/12

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