August 2, 2012 / 9:40 PM / 5 years ago

Rowing: Deafening Eton Dorney also a lake of privilege

Britain's Peter Chambers, Rob Williams, Richard Chambers and Chris Bartley stand with their silver medals at the victory ceremony after placing second in the men's lightweight four finals rowing event during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Eton Dorney August 2, 2012.Darren Whiteside

DORNEY, England (Reuters) - The 25,000 fans turning up at the Olympic rowing lake owned by Britain's elite Eton College have lifted Britain to its first gold medal at the Games, thrilled competitors and sometimes made it tough for the rowers to be heard in the boat.

To the deafening approval of the grandstands on Thursday, Britain took the early bragging rights in a grudge match against Australia, when they rowed through their rivals in the men's fours semi-final ahead of a medal showdown that is expected to be the highlight of the Olympic regatta.

That comes one day after Britain's Helen Glover and Heather Stanning brought home the host nation's first gold medal on Wednesday with a storming win in the pair that drove the Dorney fans, including princes William and Harry, wild.

But the flag-waving, wall of noise which greets the boats as they head into the final quarter of the race has also, on occasion, worked against the home team, spurring on their rivals and deepening the disappointment of losing.

Britain's bronze-medal winning men's eight rowers appeared downcast and devastated after a race in which they pushed gold medal-winners Germany to the limit before running out of petrol at the 1500-metre mark and allowing Canada to slip past for the silver.

"Despite all that support, we just didn't do enough ourselves to hold that lead in the last 500 meters," Britain's Greg Searle said.

In the stands, British IT consultant Pete Brooks said the crowd 'went ballistic' in its efforts to cheer on the British crew on Wednesday when they briefly popped out in front.

"Wow! The crowd over here were immense, very emotional response from 750 meters out (before the finish) and screaming their heads off at 500 meters," Brooks told Reuters.

While Australia have complained about being unable to hear calls from the cox's seat amid the noise, Canada's Conlin McCabe likened it to that of an ice hockey match at home and said it was a motivating factor in the quest to fulfil British-born coach Mike Spracklen's orders to defeat Britain at home.

"I can't complain, You've got some serious noise there and that will bring you home hard for sure," he told reporters.


Britain's slide into the bronze medal position seemed to come as a particular shock to Eton College-educated Constantine Louloudis.

The politely spoken 20-year-old 'Stan' has earned comparisons to another old Etonian, four-times Olympic champion Matthew Pinsent, following his success at junior international races and a victory over Cambridge in the 2011 boat race for Oxford.

Staring down at the table throughout the following press conference, the stroke with the cherubic face appeared to be close to tears after coming up short on the rowing and flat-water canoeing centre where he rowed as a school boy.

Set in a spectacular 450-acre parkland near Windsor, the boathouse, competition and warm-up lakes were constructed and are privately owned by Eton College.

The whole complex is managed by Dorney Lake Trust, the registered charity which operates the Lake site.

The lake was conceived as an idea by Eton teachers in the 1960s, who felt a still-water rowing course offered greater safety than the nearby River Thames, with its fast currents, varying widths and increasing traffic.

Serious planning took several years in the 1980s and 1990s and a 10-year construction period was completed in 2006.

Like many of the top notch facilities at a school founded nearly six centuries ago by King Henry VI and attended by royalty, prime ministers, politicians and sons of the global elite, Eton's Dorney Lake facility has exceeded the requirements for its sport.

The eight-lane main lake is 200 meters longer than the 2,000-metre requirement set by the international rowing federation FISA, and is fed from underground aquifers (streams) percolating through a natural gravel filter.

As well as the rowing world's Louloudis and Pinsent, Eton College is a bastion of British privilege which counts princes William and Harry among its alumnae as well as Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Fictional alumnae include James Bond, P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster and Capt Hook from "Peter Pan".

School fees cost 10,689 pounds per term for each of the three terms in an academic year. Boat club membership is an extra 295 pounds a year.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury

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