DORNEY, England, July 30 (Reuters) - The British men’s eight surged to a place in the Olympic final on Monday, keeping alive the dreams of the squad’s oldest rower Greg Searle and the new great hope of the team, Constantine Louloudis.
If the British win the final on Wednesday they would become one of the stories of the Games, with the 40-year-old Searle returning to the sport to claim a second Olympic gold 20 years after his first with his brother Jonny in Barcelona.
For rowing aficionados, however, the focus is also on 20-year-old stroke Louloudis, who is racing on his home course of Dorney Lake which is owned by his former school, Eton College, and who has been tipped to follow in the footsteps of another old Etonian, Matthew Pinsent.
Such is his natural talent he was chosen to sit in the key stroke seat of the eight and set the rhythm of the boat despite missing all the international races this year through injury.
They had to qualify for the final via the repechage after losing their heat to favourites Germany, but their position never looked in doubt as they led from the start.
With the men’s eight the fastest race in the Olympic regatta, the crew were then able to hold on to their lead and maintain their composure and strong rhythm despite several boats coming back at them in the final stages.
“Stan is a really key guy, it’s great to have him back in the boat, he’s allowed everyone else to play to their strengths,” crew mate Alex Partridge told reporters. “It’s great to have him back.”
The eight finished less than a second ahead of Olympic champions Canada and should challenge for gold or silver in the final against Germany and the United States who won the other heat.
“The draw for Greg, who has been there and done it all, was to compete at his home Games, he’s just about young enough to do it but it’s still a very big ask to get back to this level,” Britain’s most successful Olympian Steve Redgrave said when the team was announced.
“He was out of international rowing for 10 years. But what he can add is his physical strength. When he was on the team before he was one of the best athletes in the world.”
Searle told Reuters recently that when he approached men’s coach Jurgen Grobler to discuss returning to the fold in 2009, some nine years after he retired after the Sydney Games, he first had to explain that he meant as a rower and not as a coach.
“I felt in 2009 that I could get into the team and have a role within the team, so I decided to go for it,” he said. “Since then it’s been awesome all the way through.”
Editing by Ed Osmond