DORNEY, England (Reuters) - The failure of the British men's eight to hang on to the Germans in their neck-and-neck sprint for the Olympic line signals the end of a fairytale dream for the popular rower Greg Searle and a bitter blow for the sport's great new hope.
The British crew finished in third after losing out in their high-stakes gamble to take on the triple-world champions Germany in the earlier part of the race.
The boat included the 40-year-old Searle who was in the hunt for a second Olympic gold after claiming his first 20 years earlier in Barcelona, ex-Eton schoolboy and rowing prodigy Constantine Louloudis and Britain's first Muslim international rower, Mohamed Sbihi.
"We took it on in the first half of the race and we knew there would be pain in the second half because of that," Searle said. "To hit the front at the right time was what we aimed to do. We just couldn't hang on."
With so many strong characters on board the boat had been seized on by the British press as a sign that the once-elite sport of rowing had opened up to all.
While Louloudis' mother has worked as a lady-in-waiting to Britain's Princess Anne, the mother of the state-educated Sbihi works in their local store of British retailer Marks and Spencer. He has also donated money to a Moroccan charity to make up for missing his cherished Ramadan fast.
"You obviously hear of prejudice, ideas about stereotypes about it being an upper middle class, white-based sport," Sbihi told Reuters in an interview earlier this year. "On the first day I turned up I realized that wasn't the case. I realized that everyone was equal, and that is what Islam also teaches you."
As the eight crossed the line the British crew looked crushed after earlier moving level with the all-conquering Germans.
The defeat is likely to come as a particular shock to Louloudis, the politely spoken 20-year-old 'Stan' who has earned comparisons to another old Etonian, four-times Olympic champion Matthew Pinsent, following his success at junior international races and a victory in the boat race for Oxford.
Staring down at the table throughout the following press conference, the stroke man with the cherubic face who was racing on his home course of Eton Dorney appeared to be close to tears.
In the days leading up to the final his coach John West had told Reuters that the flattering talk surrounding the young rower would count for nothing if he did not deliver on the day. Struggling to answer questions in the hours after the race, Louloudis appeared to realize that on Wednesday.
"It's all sinking in," he said quietly. "I don't think I have ever really had to dig that deep."
Additional reporting by Paul Casciato, editing by Justin Palmer