Thursday, 13 December 2018

Pride and joy for rowers in Rio

HENLEY’S Olympians are celebrating after helping secure a bumper medal haul in Rio.

HENLEY’S Olympians are celebrating after helping secure a bumper medal haul in Rio.

The Team GB rowers won five medals, three golds and two silvers, with 12 Leander athletes among the crews.

It means the Henley club now has 123 Olympic medals, which it marked by hanging a huge banner on the outside of the clubhouse.

Club captain Alex Gregory, who was part of men’s four that won gold, said: “We always knew Rio was going to be special for us rowers, with the magnificent location and its incredible backdrops, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.”

The racing at the Lagoa Stadium came to a climax with the men’s eight — stroked by Leander’s Will Satch — taking gold after dominating their final.

Less than half an hour earlier the women’s eight won silver, Britain’s first ever medal in the event. Team GB topped the rowing medals table after also retaining the women’s pair title and taking silver in the women’s double sculls with Leander’s Vicky Thornley partnering Katherine Grainger, who has now won medals at the last five Olympics.

The men’s eight, which also included Leander’s Matt Gotrel, Tom Ransley, Matt Langridge, Pete Reed and cox Phelan Hill, led their race from start to finish as they finished ahead of Germany and the Netherlands.

Reed, who became a triple Olympic champion, said he was grateful to chief coach Jurgen Grobler and the rest of the crew, adding: “They are just the most amazing bunch of guys and that was a big, big race.”

Satch, 27, was watched in Brazil by his mother Sally, stepfather Martin Unsworth and girlfriend Zara Milne, hoping he could better the bronze he won at London 2012.

Mrs Satch, of Reading Road, Henley, said: “It was overwhelming and unbelievable. I was really emotional.

“It was a massive sense of relief for Will and for us and he has got what he has wanted for the last four years.

“He came over and gave me a massive hug and kiss. He’s just completely buoyant.

“I’m not sure where that gold is going to be relegated to, probably round his neck for a very long time and then probably under the pillow and then into the knicker drawer!”

Mr Unsworth added: “The wait was nerve-racking as the crew were bouncing off the walls, having won their heat on the previous Monday.

“I was on the finish line and looked up at the big screen to see GB leading from the off. At halfway they were a boat’s length up and were never going to be beaten.

“We are so, so proud of Will. The sport of rowing is brutal — they sacrifice so much to have a medal hung round their neck and this time it was gold.

“Thank you, the Henley Standard, for supporting Henley’s own born and bred golden boy.”

Mr Unsworth also recalled the night before Satch’s final in the men’s pair four years ago, saying: “We sat under a tree at the team hotel and Will talked of his dream of getting to the Olympics and making the final.

“He and George Nash won a bronze medal. It then had to be gold next time.

“Exactly four years on, the night before another Olympic final, we walked along Ipanema beach. Will said it was surreal.

“He was about to stroke the GB men’s eight — it does not get much bigger than that — yet he was calm and collected.

“This time it was not a 23-year-old wishing and hoping but a man at the end of an Olympic cycle full of belief that the men’s eight would win gold.”

Gregg Davies, headmaster of Shiplake College, where Satch learned to row, said: “The college is thrilled for him — everyone from the gardeners to the caterers and all of the teachers.

“Everybody here knows Will as he comes around and talks to everyone.”

Satch, who lives in Bell Street, Henley, will fly home on Tuesday.

Nash was in the four that won gold with Gregory, Moe Sbihi and Constantine Louloudis.

After a close-fought battle with the Australian crew in the middle of the race, the Britons won convincingly. It was a record-breaking fifth successive Olympic gold medal for the GB men’s four.

Gregory, 32, who lives in Ipsden, dedicated his medal to his children, Jasper, six, Daisy, two, and seven-month-old Jesse. His partner Emily Airey stayed at home to see the race but then flew out to Brazil to be with him.

Gregory said: “At times the water was challenging and the racing was always tough, but I’m so pleased to be bringing home the result my crew and I were under pressure to get.

“I’m proud of what we did and so pleased to be continuing the long tradition we have in this boat class. Rio is an Olympics that I will never forget.”

The women’s eight, which was involved in a thrilling finish before finishing behind the United States, contained Leander’s Polly Swann, Karen Bennett, Katie Greves and cox Zoe de Toledo as well as Olivia Carnegie-Brown, a former pupil of Queen Anne’s School in Caversham.

Swann said: “At 500m to go I thought we were going to win. I believed with every stroke we had what it took.

“It does not take away from this silver, it is incredible. These girls are strong, sassy, inspirational and I am so proud of them.”

Carnege-Brown was watched in Rio by her grandfather John Hives, a former chairman of the Henley Show, and his wife Frances, who live in Nuffield.

Mr Hives said: “We’re delighted and it’s an amazing achievement for not only Olivia but for the whole team.

“The team spirit among the girls was quite incredible and I think that’s a result of the support they have received from their coaches and British Rowing.

“Going to Rio was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

Meanwhile, 28-year-old Thornley was delighted with her first Olympic medal after she and Grainger led for most of their race before finishing behind the Polish crew.

She said: “All the training has really been worthwhile and those hard days in the winter have definitely made this even sweeter.

“I knew we had a special race in us but that was even better than I imagined!

“I have been dreaming of winning an Olympic medal since I started rowing and so many times I was not sure it would ever happen.”

Grainger, 40, added: “We have had so many messages of love and support, encouragement and enthusiasm every single day we have been here.”

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who won a second gold in the women’s pair following their victory in London, paid tribute to their coach Robin Williams, who lives in Makins Road, Henley.

Williams was diagnosed with bladder cancer in December 2013 and underwent surgery at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. In February 2014, he was told he was in remission.

Stanning said: “Without Robin we would be nobody. Without Robin we wouldn’t be the team we are. He’s the third member in our boat. He’s the best coach in the world.”

Grobler, who has now led 12 Team GB crews to Olympic gold, said: “In the last four years we have developed winning athletes, medal athletes, podium athletes.

“It’s wonderful for British Rowing, it’s wonderful for our sport.”

Sir David Tanner, Team GB leader for rowing, said: “With three outstanding golds and two superb silvers, our 26 rowing medallists have done Team GB proud at these Olympics.

“They will be returning home having achieved their dreams here in Rio. To be top of the rowing medal table for the third successive Olympics is something to be truly proud of.

“Well done to our rowers and the outstanding coaching and team support staff, not only out here in Rio but those at home who backed us all the way.”

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