Never mind the All Blacks, Great Britain has a team that is just as dominant in world sport, and with an unbeaten run that’s even longer. PHILIP BARKER nominates his choice for SJA Team of the Year
You have to go back to 2011 for the last time rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning lost a race, and that was by just 0.1sec . Barring injury, they will surely start favourites for gold at the Olympic regatta after retaining their world title at Aiguebelette in France this summer, almost four seconds ahead of the second place New Zealanders.
On that golden day back in September, they made a lightning start and were almost a boat length up at the 500-metre mark. They very soon had clear water and won in 6min 52.99sec. It was a victory achieved with such ease that Glover described it as feeling “like a training run in a sense. It was kind of won at halfway”.
They’re not given to superlatives in British Rowing, but supremo Sir David Tanner broke ranks to describe Glover and Stanning’s row as “one of the best GB performances of all time”.
Add to that effusive praise from five-time Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave and its clear you have no ordinary pairing, which is why I’m backing them to follow Katherine Grainger and and Anna Watkins and scoop an SJA award.
Glover and Stanning’s success is the more remarkable when you realise that Helen had no ambitions to become a rower. A talented sportswoman at Millfield and the University of Bath, where she played hockey and surfed, it was only when she took part in a talent identification programme that her ability in a boat was harnessed. For her part, Stanning has combined rowing with a top flight military career in the Royal Artillery.
Throughout 2015, Glover and Stanning have been invincible as they became World Cup and European championship winners. They are used to setting the pace together.
At the 2012 Games, when many in the media were getting twitchy after a few days without a victory, Glover and Stanning set everything on an even keel on the not so calm waters of Eton Dorney with Great Britain’s first gold medal of the London Olympics. They were also the first British women to become Olympic champions and join the select group of non-royal Britons to appear on a postage stamp in their own lifetime.
For good measure, they laid the ghost of gallant failure at the Olympics which had dogged British women crews.
Stanning took a year out in 2013 to serve a tour at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, but she kept training on land throughout to maintain her fitness, and Glover kept winning on the water with a new partner, Polly Swann. The only time she tasted defeat was in an eight.
Stanning was reunited with Glover in 2014 , coincidentally on the very Aiguebelette course where they struck gold in the autumn. They crowned the 2014 season with a world-beating gold medal in Amsterdam, two seconds clear of the Americans and Kiwis.
Stanning still admits to some nerves. “Originally the nervousness was about the fact that we were at the world championships. Now it’s can we do the race we want to do? Can we control this part of the race? Can we get the result we want and deserve? The nervousness comes from different elements.”
Glover is currently ranked No1 in the World Rowing lists and Stanning is also in the top 10, but they insist that unbeaten sequences and “creating dynasties” are of no interest. If they do win a second Olympic gold in Rio next year, they’ll be among a very exclusive club.
- Philip Barker is a sports broadcaster who has worked for Eurosport, the BBC and Sky Sports, and is a long-standing SJA committee member
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