WHEN the GB men’s eight won the World Championship gold medal for the very first time last weekend it marked the climax to a successful week for Leander athletes in South Korea.
Despite three Olympic golds to their credit in the event since 1908, Great Britain had never before won the world championship title.
But chief coach Jurgen Grobler yet again pulled off a master stroke, placing all the top medallists from London 2012 in the same boat, and coaching them to perfection following a disappointing fourth place in Lucerne.
GB may not have finished top of the medal table in South Korea that honour went to Italy, followed by Australia, with GB in third place — but 14 Leander athletes returned with medals, marking a solid first step on the road to Rio 2016.
The men’s eight included three Olympic champions from the 2012 four — Alex Gregory and Pete Reed from Leander, together with Molesey’s Andrew Triggs Hodge — and Olympic bronze medallist Will Satch in the stroke seat.
After 250m GB were a canvas down on the German Olympic champions, but stroke-by-stroke they inched up to a canvas lead and by halfway they had taken half a length lead.
With memories of the Olympic final still fresh in spectators’ minds the crowd held their breath, expecting a German response, but it never reached fruition, as the GB boat powered on to a memorable victory. Leander’s Dan Richie said: “It is great to be part of history. It’s pure elation but also relief as we went across the line.”
Helen Glover and Polly Swann went to the line for their first World Championships final together in the women’s pairs and came away with the title.
Olympic champion Glover, of Minerva Bath RC, and Swann, of Leander, had had an unbroken run of success this season, with three World Cup gold medals to their credit.
Together they were first to the 100m and responded hard and fast when the USA briefly led at 500m, moving out to a length advantage on the Americans, to create the perfect conditions from which to control the second half. Swann put her head in her hands as she crossed the line and explained: “I really couldn’t quite believe it. It feels fantastic to be world champions. I think we raced that pretty well and put in a few good pushes when it mattered,” she explained afterwards.
In the lightweight men’s four Leander’s Will Fletcher and Jono Clegg, together with Reading University’s Adam Freeman-Pask won places to compete alongside Chris Bartley who won the world title in 2010 and was an Olympic silver medallist last year at Eton Dorney.
With the British supporters in the grandstands roaring them on, the British quartet picked up the pace to take the bronze medal behind Denmark and New Zealand.
“For the three new guys, it is just amazing at their first World Championships in an Olympic boat. It’s been hard work but it’s been a pleasure to be with them and work with them,” said stroke Chris Bartley.
Croatia, Germany and Estonia made the early pace in the men’s quadruple scull final, but GB began to show at halfway. As the Croatian world champions cruised to gold the Germans found enough to hold on for silver with GB winning an unprecedented bronze.
“We just kept calm even though there was a bit of pressure on us. Everyone just knew what we had to do and as a new crew it’s a first medal for a British quad, I’m just happy,” said Leander’s stroke Pete Lambert.
The Chambers brothers, Richard and Peter, racing in the lightweight double, went off sharply to lead before the Italians took up the baton as the race moved through 350m gone. Norway went with them and the GB and Swiss boats kept in touch just behind.
As the second-half pressure piled on the GB double took bronze behind winners Norway and second-placed Switzerland who both overtook Italy in the final phase.
Twice Olympic silver medallist Frances Houghton and Vicky Meyer-Laker, a 2011 European finalist in the women’s eight, raced the all-Leander women’s double scull, the boat in which Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger took gold at last year’s Olympics.
With two World Cup medals behind them this season, including gold at Eton Dorney, hopes were high for success in Korea. But it was the Lithuanians who dictated the race pace, going on to win ahead of New Zealand and Belarus, GB slipping to fourth.
A reshuffled crew order in the GB women’s eight brought added zest to their performance but with the US Olympic champions making all the running the crew had to work hard to stay in the mix for medals. Despite moving up to fourth in the final 500m they could never overhaul Canada, who took bronze behind Romania, with the USA winning gold.
Speaking after the race Leander cox Zoe de Toledo said: “We had a pretty blinding finish, So it’s just a case of working on the middle in the future.”