Trust Britain’s rowers to get the host nation out of a hole.
Rowing has long been the country’s consistently performing sport at the Olympics, winning a gold medal at every summer games since 1984, and the women’s pair ensured that run continued at London 2012 on Wednesday.
Under intense pressure — Britain’s two princes, William and Harry, were in the crowd — Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won the women’s pair at an atmospheric Dorney Lake, establishing a huge early lead and ultimately winning by a length from Australia. New Zealand took the bronze.
Not only did the win end Britain’s agonizing wait for gold after four barren days of Olympic action, Glover and Stanning also became the first women to win rowing gold for Britain after decades of dominance by men’s crews.
It was truly a landmark win, in many respects.
“I want to collapse, I’m so overjoyed,” said Stanning, who is an officer with the British army.
After crossing the line, Stanning leaned back into the lap of Glover and punched the air. They then cupped their mouths in disbelief.
After all, they were spares for the country’s eight boat only two years ago.
“If I can do it, take the chance,” Glover said. “In not just rowing, but anything.”
Before receiving their medals, they raised their arms together and jigged on the spot with beaming smiles. The medals around their necks, Glover began to cry.
After gold-medal hopes Mark Cavendish and Lizzie Armitstead (both cyclists) and the diving pair of Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield all failed to top the podium for Britain over the opening four days, the focus had turned to Glover and Stanning.
They broke the Olympic-best time in the heats and are unbeaten in 2012, so were tipped to easily win the final.
And it looked as if they would run away with it after taking a lead of 3.42 seconds ahead after 1,000 meters, stretching that to five seconds from second-place New Zealand at the 1,500-meter marker.
As they raced along the packed the grandstands in the final 300 meters, the Britons visibly tired but were too far ahead to be caught. A smile even broke from Glover.
“I don’t even remember smiling as I never ever thought we’ve got it,” she said.
The United States was only 0.2 seconds behind New Zealand at the line in fourth.
The victory of Glover and Stanning could begin an unprecedented medal rush for the host nation at Dorney Lake across the four days of finals.
Two more golds could come from the women’s double sculls (Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins) and the lightweight women’s double sculls (Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland).