James Lawton: Heather Stanning and Helen Glover take pleasure in the rowing pain

 

Eton Dorney

After all the great achievements in rowing it is always the same. You just get back to the pain.

It is the other shoe that has to fall before you can step into the promised land and it can be as fierce as a martyr's conscience. Once again you were reminded of this when Britain's first golden girls – with not a wisp of hair out of place now – spoke of a gift rather than an ordeal.

"In a strange way, you enjoy it because it tells you that you have done what you set out to do," said the 26-year-old Helen Glover, who four years ago had never sat in a competitive boat.

Her team-mate, Army officer Heather Stanning, 27, who expects to report for duty in Afghanistan next month, put it rather more extravagantly in the first rush of the adrenaline that came when she knew the nation's expectation and –maybe even more vitally her own – had been met on this stretch of water where it is the sons of Eton College who normally define their character.

"I'm absolutely shattered and ecstatic at the same time," declared Captain Stanning. "I want to collapse but I'm just so overjoyed I want to jump around at the same time."

That part of the nation which had been getting increasingly nervous about the wait for this first gold medal was surely in pretty much the same category. However, with each stroke, each racking up of another notch of that pain level, our worst fears began to look increasingly absurd.

These, you could see from their whiplash, burning pace over the opening 500 metres were not chance and speculation girls. They were not here for any speculative lunges of pace. They were here to do a job, nail it from start to finish, and, of course, suffer whatever was required.

They did it so solidly, with such a proprietorial authority, they might have borrowed a trade-name that sounded something like Redgrave and Pinsent.

The first name in that partnership once said that if anyone ever found him near a boat again they should do him the mercy of putting a bullet in his head. That was four years before he won his fifth gold in Sydney.

Yesterday the firm of Glover and Stanning were considerably less melodramatic after their first.

Both suggested they were suddenly at a loss to know what to do – book a holiday, have a few drinks, or maybe just stay part of the rhythm of Team GB for a little while in the belief that more medals were on their way.

In the end they achieved an agreement entirely consistent with the perfect rhythm of the stroke-making called by Glover as they hit the worst of the pain and the loudest of the cheers when they hung on over the last 500 metres and held off the late rush of the Australians and third-placed New Zealand.

They would have dinner with the families who had supported them all down the years – and, more than anything, understood that they had about them an especially deep need to make a mark. Stanning agreed that it had been said of her back in school that she was the most likely pupil to win an Olympic medal, "even though I tried everything without being particularly good".

Glover talked about her sense, as a PE teacher back in Cornwall, of the power of sport to inspire young people, as it did her four years ago when she was selected from one session of 200 candidates applying to British rowing's Start programme, and her family said they always knew she had an insistent need to compete at a high level.

Her younger sister Freya reached for the word that best summed up the new heroine. "She was always the life and soul of the family," she said, "but always determined to win – even if it was a board game at Christmas. Helen was always the most diligent."

What a fine and appropriate word – and what a superb performance from two young Englishwomen who went off to do the nation's work in the haunting beauty of the water and the meadows on a sultry morning. Both went to war with diligence.

They set a withering pace that put them ahead of their most dangerous rivals, the Aussies and the Kiwis at every point of the race.

"We often start fast," said Glover, "and it seemed every time I looked up we were a little further ahead. But we knew the quality we were facing and we knew that we were going to have to produce everything we had at the finish. It is hard to describe all the emotions that were running through my head as we reached the line, but I suppose the greatest was that we had done our job."

At the start of it they tried to tell themselves, and accept the word of their coach Robin Williams, that the effort was on their own behalf, and how they would always remember their day at the heart of their country's hopes, and for a little while it worked.

Then they came to the start line and realised that all the scene lacked was an updated version of the old general's finger pointing out of the poster and the legend: Your Country Needs You.

It did yesterday, certainly, and the response from Glover and Stanning could hardly have been stronger. With the likes of the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry on the banks – not to mention Redgrave – they could no longer suspend the reality.

Whatever they wanted for themselves, there could no longer doubt they were reporting for national service. For a captain of artillery, who insists that when she flies off to Afghanistan she will simply be going back to work, this was of course no great strain.

Nor was it for Helen Glover. She had a similar diligence – and was also, of course, oblivious to pain.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee