The Italians, seven times world champions and one of the great crews in rowing history, had built up a lead of four and a half seconds at the half-way stage. Dumitru Popescu and Nicolai Taga, of Romania, were in second place and the Searles in third.
However, Greg, 20, and Jonny, 23, seem to have been convinced all their lives that they would one day take the top prize in sport, and take it together. In an extraordinary climax to the race they drove to the finish line, cutting the deficit of a boat's length in the last 200 metres and racing the Italians to a halt. It was as striking a reversal of the old order as any in rowing.
'Everything was going black at the end,' Greg, the 15st 11lb powerhouse, said. 'But being brothers we both switched into the same autopilot and got moving. There is no one I would rather row with and no one I would trust more than Jonny. We have always been competitive with each other and now it's brilliant to be on the same side.'
Underlining their effort, their cox, Garry Herbert, a 22-year-old history student, said: 'I wanted them to be prepared to die for us, and they nearly did.'
'Garry was brilliant,' Greg said. 'He told us exactly where the Italians were and he really motivated us with things like: 'If not now, when? If not you, who? How much do you want this?' We knew then that we wanted it more than them.'
The brothers from Chertsey, Surrey, are coached by Steve Gunn, who should have spent this summer teaching at Hampton School, where the Searles first learned their rowing.
Instead Gunn chose to drop almost everything to take his former pupils to their first Olympics. He knew they would win if it was close enough for them to make a fight of it. 'How many races like that has Jonny won for me over the last seven years or so?' he said.
It was when Jonny began to win medals after taking up the sport at school that his younger brother forsook rugby for rowing and went on to match his brother's achievements by winning junior world gold medals in 1989 and 1990.
The brothers raced together for the first time in the eights in 1990, when they came fourth in the world championships. In 1991 they took bronze, still in the eights, before switching to the coxed pairs this year.
Gunn resumed his work with the brothers after their victory over Britain's other gold medallists, Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, in the Olympic trials at Nottingham in April.
The spectators thought the Abbagnales would stay ahead yesterday because the Searles had not yet shown in the regatta sufficient speed to catch them. But few knew that Jonny broke a rib in their famous victory over Redgrave and Pinsent.
For five weeks he carried the injury, but after an X-ray it was strapped and he took two weeks off before the Lucerne regatta, where he raced without proper preparation. Their fourth place there seemed to many the measure of their Olympic challenge.
At altitude training camp in Austria their times, measured as a percentage of the supposed gold medal time, were the slowest of the British boats for the first week when the programme demanded that the rate of strokes to the minute be kept low. But as the rate came up so they climbed through the rankings.
The team psychologist, Brian Miller, has spent months developing the race preparation and focus skills of the team, but he denies any responsibility for their victory. He says that if all the athletes had to put their hands in a flame for as long as was endurable the Searles would be the last to quit.
At 20 and 23 they are 10 years younger than the Abbagnales. They will not keep their hands in the Olympic flame for as long as the gladioli growers from Naples but only because they have so much else they want to do in life.
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