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Helen Glover and Heather Stanning deserve place in GB Olympic history | Kevin Mitchell

1st August 2012

Team GB’s first gold of the Olympic Games was an exhibition in determination, bravery and sporting excellence

Nine years ago at Gordonstoun, where Prince Charles went to school, Heather Stanning’s classmates voted her the girl most likely to be an Olympian.

They could hardly have dreamt – and neither could she – that she would repay their confidence by winning Great Britain’s first gold medal, alongside her stalwart pal from Truro, Helen Glover, at the London Games, and that Charlie’s mother’s song would resonate across the waters here to mark the deed.

Stories don’t come a lot better than that. On the pond Eton School built for its privileged few, they delivered for a nation in the women’s pair. What a bloody relief.

For five days, we had not scored a boundary. It was as if we had turned into Geoffrey Boycott, tickling the scoreboard rather than rattling up a ton. Then, for about seven minutes just before noon on the fifth day of the Games, it happened. An entire country roared, piercing the tranquillity along a stretch of Berkshire water not far from the Queen’s major castle, in celebration of the golden deed, done at long last, by the team of Glover and Stanning, of whom disinterested parties knew little until lately and who will be celebrated for life as not only Olympic champions but saviours of a nation’s psyche.

If she were home and listening at one of her many windows, Her Majesty could not have missed the din as wet bobs and dry bobs alike, ruddy-faced rowing types and goggle-eyed innocents lucky enough to grab a ticket, raised hell for Glover and Stanning, a duo for less than three years, now joined forever, like Torvill and Dean. And even those not disposed towards the monarchy might have mumbled a word or two during the first playing of the national anthem a little later.

“I don’t remember smiling,” Glover said, “because I never let myself think: ‘We’ve done this.’” Stanning said she was “ecstatic and shattered at the same time”. And she revealed a little of what went on out there: “We didn’t want to give anything back. Helen was saying: ‘Give us more.’”

And give they did.

It was a victory not only to ease national anxieties but one to savour in its own right, as they left world-class rivals spent in their wake over what looked from dry land like 2,000 metres of exquisite torture.

Others better qualified extolled their technique. Hard-core fans trilled at the way their weapons cut the water and marvelled at their synchronicity.

They timed their run, we were informed, so perfectly that, from the first 500 metres they could not lose. Another 500 and the gap grew again. So it did in the third quarter and, by the end, they had left no sinew unstretched as they cruised across the line in front of Australia (how good is that?) and the world champions, New Zealand (nearly as good).

Commentators reached for record books and statistics, and all were agreed that Glover and Stanning were special indeed.

But you needed only a pulse to see their soul. You could almost feel their hearts beating. It was impossible to miss first the pain of their effort, then the relief of a job well done, followed by the joy. So piercingly did they touch the crowd the din did not die for fully a couple of minutes after the race had finished.

If they could have done so, we would have asked them to do it again. If they could have done so, they probably would have. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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