DORNEY, England, Aug 1 (Reuters) - The victory by Britain’s Heather Stanning and Helen Glover to secure the country’s first Olympic gold in a women’s crew follows years of heavy funding, an impressive talent programme and some training tricks from their much-loved coach.
Robin Williams’ methods included getting the pair to row with their eyes closed to get a better feel for the boat and placing a rubber bungee cord under the boat to increase the drag and resistance.
While both those are quite common routines, Williams also used to push the girls’ boat along with his speedboat to show them how fast it could move if they got their technique correct.
Unorthodox it may be, but it worked.
The duo powered to the line on Dorney Lake on Wednesday to win Britain’s first gold of the London Games and the first gold for a British women’s crew since the discipline was introduced at the Olympics in 1976.
Softly spoken Williams described the experience of cycling along the tow path to follow his crew as harrowing because there was nothing more he could do. “You push them off the dock and you hope you have done everything you can do,” he told reporters.
“It was fantastic seeing it unfold. It’s quite nice on the peleton because as your crew pushes out in front you start overtaking (the other coaches).”
The success of the British pair reflects the strength of rowing in the country, with Glover only starting to row four years ago and Stanning two years before that.
Stanning, an army captain who may be sent to Afghanistan next year, started racing with Glover in 2010 after the pair missed out on qualifying for another boat.
Her partner was picked out to row at a talent identification scheme in 2008 called Sporting Giants which is designed to attract unusually tall people to certain sports. She qualified after standing on tiptoes to get past the height limit.
Britain became the most successful rowing nation at the Beijing Olympics and is expected to repeat that in London, after the sport grew off the back of the success of five-times Olympic champion Steve Redgrave and his partner Matthew Pinsent who boosted the profile of the once-elite discipline.
It moved on to another level when the introduction of funding from the National Lottery in the late 1990s allowed the best rowers in the squad to become professional and train full time.
“We’ve got a deep pool of women, there’s a lot of talent in the group and we’ve had a fantastic couple of years,” said Williams, who moved to work for the national team after winning seven University Boat Races with Cambridge.
“The funding that rowing enjoys now is amazing and it allows us to do an awful lot. We’ve got an army of people behind us. We lack for nothing so there is a responsibility on us to produce results.”
Despite the impressive system, however, it had still taken a British women’s crew 36 years to win an Olympic gold medal.
The pair hope it will be the first of many.
Presented before a packed news conference hours after the race, the beaming Britons told how they hoped their win would give a lift to a sport that has long remained in the shadow of that of their more successful male colleagues.
“I just really hope there will be a snowball effect,” the 26-year-old Glover said. “I worked as a PE teacher I’ve seen how inspired young people can be from watching sport be entertaining, interesting and fun, so I really, really hope to have the same effect.” (Editing by Alison Williams)