#SJA2013: Why I’m voting for… Glover and Swann

Broadcaster and Olympic historian PHILIP BARKER opts not to rock the boat in his choice for the 2013 Team of the Year

It is hard enough to get to the top of the world, even tougher to stay there. It is still more impressive if you repeat the feat with a new and untried partner, which is what Helen Glover did in 2013. Having won the women’s coxless pairs at the 2012 Olympic Games with Heather Stanning, memorable as the long-awaited first gold for Britain at the 2012 Games, in 2013, now paired with Polly Swann, they went out and won the world title, making Glover and Swann prime candidates for our team of the year.

Champion once more: Helen Glover, left, now with Polly Swann, is No1 in the world once again
Champion once more: Helen Glover, left, now with Polly Swann, is No1 in the world again

In front of those huge crowds at Eton Dorney last summer, Glover and Stanning broke barriers in a number of ways. It was a first Olympic gold for British women’s rowing, after a 36-year wait.

By the end of the Olympic fortnight, other, perhaps better established names had grabbed the headlines. All deserving champions – Wiggins, Hoy, Murray and of course, Katherine Grainger on the lake. We sports reporters and broadcasters were truly spoilt for choice, overwhelmed in the stampede for the medal podium. Some medallists, even gold medal-winners, were almost overlooked, like Grainger’s largely unsung partner Anna Watkins, who captivated the entire room at the 2012 SJA Sports Awards when she described what it meant to succeed.

In 2013, Stanning went back to her commission in the Royal Artillery. Glover was left to start afresh with a new partner. She was paired with Polly Swann, who had not even been chosen for the Olympic squad, such is the fierce domestic competition for places in British rowing.

In the World Cup series, they swept aside the opposition in all three races and headed to Chungju in South Korea for the world championships as hot favourites. They won gold convincingly and Glover said in a television interview: “Even though last year was a home Olympic Games I had less pressure on me going into it. We were relatively unknown. But this year there was more weight on my shoulders and I’m proud of the way we coped with it.”

In fact, Swann wasn’t exactly unknown . She began the sport at school and came up through the British junior squad. It was Glover who was the latecomer to rowing. When London Mayor Boris Johnson was handed the Olympic flag in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in 2008, Glover had only just started in the sport after answering an ad for the Sporting Giants talent identification programme.

Had she not taken up rowing, she might instead have won gold in athletics, where she was a junior international cross-country runner . She wasn’t too bad, either, with a hockey stick.

But Glover and Swann – which sounds more like a singing, song-writing duo than a sports team – finished 2013 unbeaten, almost unbeatable, and deserving of my vote for the SJA Sports Team of the Year.

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Tue Nov 12: Laureus Lunch with All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick. Click here to book your place
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