Rowing pair storm to hosts Britain's first gold
KATE HOLTON AND PAUL CASCIATO
Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning stormed to victory in the women's Olympic rowing pair on Wednesday to give the host nation their first gold of the London Games in front of Princes William and Harry and 25,000 screaming fans.
The British duo took a commanding early lead and held on at the finish to claim the first Olympic gold won by a British women's crew and to settle the nerves of a nation which had been without a gold medal five days into the Games.
The 27-year-old Stanning, who has taken time out of the army and could deploy to Afghanistan next year, and Glover, 26, only got together in 2010 after missing out on qualifying for other boats.
"Ecstatic," Glover told reporters on the bank of the lake. "It's so surreal, it will take forever to sink in. We're just really relieved, thank you so much everyone."
In the last race of the day, the German men's eight held off a strong challenge from Britain and a late charge from defending champions Canada to win the blue riband event in a thrilling sprint for the line.
Germany started the race as favourites after winning the last three world championships and going unbeaten in their world cup races since 2009.
With the men's eight the fastest race in the regatta, the Germans needed to get a quick start and then hold on as the whole field came back at them in the second half of the race.
"It was very difficult because the British were very fast in the first 1,000 metres. We had to break that," Germany's number five Richard Schmidt told Reuters.
The Canadians, who won gold in Beijing, looked delighted with their silver medal while Britain's crew looked dejected.
"I think we wanted to take a bit of a risk and go for gold," British cox Phelan Hill told Reuters. "Unfortunately, we just did not have quite enough at the end."
The dejection in the British crew, including Greg Searle who was hunting his second Olympic gold after winning in Barcelona 20 years ago, contrasted with the jubilant women's pair, who punched the air as they crossed the line and waved to the crowd.
The British duo were expected to win the title after dominating the international season and following their heat, in which they set an Olympic best time.
Minutes after the race they stood on the podium, arms aloft and struggling to hold back the tears.
Glover and Stanning had mostly rowed under the radar in the build up to the Games, with all the focus on Katherine Grainger who is hoping for her first Olympic gold in the double scull after winning three silvers at consecutive Games.
The performance followed a stunning few years for the pair and reflected the strength of the British system, with Glover only starting to row four years ago after being picked out as someone with potential for her 178 cm height.
Stanning, at 181 cm, started two years before that. She has been given time out of her job in the army to compete at the Games but she is expected to return later this year.
The British pair had jumped out to a length lead in the first 500 metres of the 2,000 metre course and controlled the race to win from Australia in silver and New Zealand in bronze amid deafening roars from the grandstands.
British women rowers have won a string of silver and bronze medals in the last three Olympics and numerous world titles, but have had to wait until their home Games for their first gold since women's rowing was introduced at the Olympics in 1976.
Glover and Stanning were both products of a British recruitment programme to find tall athletes with little prior experience of rowing.
The win in the first final of the regatta could be the first of many for Britain as several other crews, such as the women's double and the men's lightweight four, start as favourites.