Grainger and Watkins take gold for Britain in women's double sculls
Friday, 03 August 2012
August 3 - The packed stands here resounded with sustained celebration shortly after noon in salutation of a long journey which had ended in triumph for 36-year-old home rower Katherine Grainger, who partnered Anna Watkins to victory in the women's double sculls to secure Olympic gold after three successive silvers.
Strictly speaking, it was New Zealand's day at the regatta here as the all-conquering pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray – whose dominance effectively forced the British pairing of Olympic champions Andy Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed into the men's four boat for these Games – took the gold in the men's pair 40 minutes before their compatriot Mahe Drysdale won the men's single scull.
But while the Kiwis celebrated a golden hour, which emulated the respective 800 metres and 5,000m victories of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg within 30 minutes of each other at the Rome 1960 Olympics, the bulk of spectators jammed into the steep stands either side of the finish line were revelling in Grainger's own golden hour.
Shortly after she and her partner had held off Australia's Kim Crow and Brooke Pratley, whose dogged challenge created shadows of doubt until a second British surge at the halfway point, Grainger was engulfed in a bear hug by Britain's five-times Olympic rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave, working here for the BBC, who had said more than once before the Games got underway that if he wanted any Briton to win gold here on the lake, it was the woman who had come so agonisingly close so often.
It was more than a hug.
It was an embrace, lasting a full minute, and as they pulled away they looked into each others' eyes.
This went beyond being a man-and-woman thing, even though it involved Britain's greatest male and female Olympic rowers.
This was a moment of shared recognition between two champions, and as the camera roved onwards Redgrave, not known as one of life's great emoters, was blowing out his cheeks and looking terribly serious.
The medal ceremony saw Grainger doing much the same thing as the National Anthem played.
At one point her face seemed to working almost as hard to hold back tears as her body had worked on the lake behind her to secure the object of her desire.
Asked about the Sir Steve embrace, Grainger responded: "To be honest he didn't say much.
"He knows what it means.
"He's been around a lot during my Olympic journey, and he's been a huge support through everything, especially in the years before this fourth final.
"So he has experienced what we have experienced, and he felt it was a job well done.
"I have been lucky enough to get a medal at every Games I have competed in, but once any athlete has achieved a medal the standard unavoidably goes up.
"Having had three medals which, for me, weren't the right colour, it did become the one I wanted to complete my collection.
"Once I got in the boat with Anna I knew we had the potential to be the best in the world, but then it was about delivering in front of a home crowd at the biggest sporting event in the world."
On the question of whether she would have felt unfulfilled as an athlete had she not won Olympic gold, Grainger – who said she and Watkins had not formed any thoughts about whether they would continue as a pairing ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics – was unequivocal: "In a word, yes.
"I think this Olympic gold has been far more special for me because it was proving so elusive."
Watkins said they had known the gold was theirs "just before halfway," adding: "Once we got out to nearly a length and we were still moving away we were pretty confident.
"Over the last 100m we knew nothing could go wrong.
"We knew we had a pretty good finish if we needed it, and the crowd noise was lifting us.
"We just had to concentrate on getting every stroke right, but we had the time to enjoy it, which is more than you can dream of."
Since coming together in the boat, she and Watkins – a 29-year-old from Leek who won bronze in this event with Elise Laverick at the Beijing 2008 Games – had been unbeaten as they had won successive world titles.
But unbeaten race number 23, at the home Olympics, topped everything.
"We will never live that again," said Grainger, who in her spare moments is working on her PhD in law at King's College, London.
"It's very hard to put into words what if feels like to finally be an Olympic champion.
"But it's every bit as wonderful as you might think.
"It wasn't a given today, and an Olympic final should not be.
"We trained so hard we felt we should be ten lengths in front, but of course that's not the way things are."
Watkins added: "It felt like coming home into a stadium.
"The noise was behind us, in front of us, all around us.
"It is such an amazing feeling.
"But I still think I will wake up tomorrow and check that we have done it."
Grainger, of course, was already a world champion six times over.
But this was the prize she had coveted all her life, the pot of gold at the end of a silver rainbow which stretched back to the Sydney Games of 2000 where Sir Steve had won his fifth and final Olympic title.
That first silver in the quadruple sculls, the first ever Olympic medal for British female rowers, was a source of joy.
The second, in the coxless pairs at the Athens Games, was a source of mixed pride and disappointment.
The third, again in the quadruple sculls, where the British challenge was overwhelmed at the last by the home crew at the Beijing Games, was desolating.
After that defeat, Grainger had to think very carefully about committing to another four-year cycle where there was no guarantee of a happy ending.
How deeply glad she must be to have gone back to the river yet another time.
It was another grand day on the lake for the home nation as single sculler Alan Campbell and the men's pair of George Nash and William Satch won bronze.
Nash, 22, and Satch, 23, earned bronze behind the New Zealanders, narrowly beaten to the line by the French pairing of Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette, who had their reward for trying to exert early pressure on the massive favourites.
Drysdale put in an exhausting effort to defeat the favourite, the 2008 Olympic silver medallist from the Czech Republic, Ondřej Synek, with Campbell winning the race for third.
Despite winning five world titles, and an Olympic bronze four years ago, the 33-year-old Drysdale had approached these Games with a similar mindset to Grainger.
"My career was incomplete without this," he said.
"That was one of the toughest races of my life – I had absolutely nothing in that last bit.
"I knew I had a medal but I just had to hold on.
"I have been waiting 12 years for this."
Campbell said: "The two best rowers in the world got away from me.
"I just couldn't take another stroke at the end of the race."
The men's quadruple sculls title went to the German crew, with Croatia taking silver.
August 2012: Britain's men's rowing four take silver in "brutal" race
August 2012: Home celebrations as rowers Glover and Stanning earn Team GB maiden gold medal of London 2012