Hunter proves rowers are not just a class act

East Ender relishes prospect of London Games after showing you don't have to be posh to mess about in boats.

If one image encapsulated Olympic endeavour in Beijing, it was not the victory salutes of Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, or, from a British perspective, those of Chris Hoy or Rebecca Adlington. It was the spectacle of Mark Hunter, arm around his lightweight double sculls partner, Zac Purchase, a pose struck in comradeship with his fellow gold medal-winner but, more importantly, to stop himself from slumping to the ground as he was interviewed by the BBC's John Inverdale and Steve Redgrave after the triumphant final.

Frankly, he resembled a lad the worse for wear in a town centre on a Saturday night. "I was in a whole lot of pain," he recalls. "I was all over the place. Normally when we finish racing, we wind down. Because I couldn't do that, it all welled up inside. I just couldn't control anything. I had to go off to be sick behind a van that was parked up. I had to sort myself out. I was an absolute mess."

That moment conveyed what it requires to win an Olympic gold; the culmination of four years' training. It placed the fitness of professional footballers or rugby players, admirable though that is, into context.

"It's a different type of pain which they probably never experience," the Londoner says wryly. "You're going to go through different energy systems, and at the end your body has to kind of flush out all the waste products you've produced. That's why it's so hard, and that's why it's so great when you are successful and have pushed yourself to the utmost limit as to what you can do as a person."

Twelve days on from that Olympic final and Hunter is, thankfully, a rather more composed individual at the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake near Reading, the GB team's base. It is dress-down Thursday, with jeans having largely replaced the tracksuits of the 23 medallists. They pose for photos. All is tranquil on the water, save for Britain's non-Olympic crews, mostly younger rowers or late starters, preparing for the forthcoming European Championships.

Nothing stops here, as oneof Britain's most successful Olympic sports prepares for the future. The Olympians may not meet again for some time. Some may not return. That is the way of things when your next "big game" is four years away, and even the World Championships are a year distant.

So what does an Olympic medallist do now? One senses that even the pain involved is addictive. Will Hunter return for more punishment, even though he will be 34 by the time of the London Olympics. "2012?" he ponders. "I'll think about it in a year's time. Being in London, it's going to be massive. Being an East End lad, I'd love to compete in my home Olympics."

Hunter is off to coach female rowers at the UCLA in America.They compete against other universities in a West Coast league. "It's a huge thing over there," he says. "I always said I was going to have a year away from the national team to recuperate and chill out. Just mentally switch off and have some fun. I want to learn to surf, do beach volleyball. Meet new people. Have different experiences. Go out of my comfort zone."

Hunter is a rower who gives the lie to perceptions that the sport is necessarily elitist and draws its participants from independent schools. He grew up in East Ham before moving to Romford, and attended a comprehensive, then a sixth-form college. Most of his schoolmates harboured ambitions of being footballers. "Yeah, I enjoyed that, too," he says. "But being in a team sport like that, you knew that there would be some not giving 100 per cent, even if it's not always obvious. In rowing, you can see very quickly if someone's not pulling their weight. That's what I liked about it."

By 14, he had joined Poplar and Blackwell Rowing Club. "My dad was club coach down there. People used to socialise there after work and enjoy their rowing. Dad introduced me to every sport possible. I tried football, swimming, judo, karate, badminton and tennis. But I just found a love for rowing. Mum and dad put so much into what I've done. I had no funding to start with, I was always borrowing money. This [he fingers his medal] is theirs as much as mine."

A couple of brothers also had a hand in it, too. "I watched my first Olympics in 1992, Barcelona, when the Searles [Greg and Jonny] won [the coxed pair, steered by Garry Herbert, now a BBC commentator]. That was so inspiring. I decided I wanted to go on the same journey and do it myself."

If he had not succeeded, he would still have made a career for himself on the water. After a seven-year apprenticeship he qualified as waterman and lighterman on the Thames. That means he can pilot passenger-carrying craft or cargo-carrying barges. Not exactly the background many would expect of an oarsman at Leander in Henley-on-Thames, one of the most exclusive rowing clubs.

"It was really good when me, an East End boy, went to Leander, one of the biggest rowing clubs in the world, and became captain. It just showed that the sport had changed. That it was more open and friendly. From my experiences, hopefully people will realise that they can go to rowing clubs and try it out. They won't be told to go away because they're not the right class of person. It's open to everyone. I just hope that what Zac and I have achieved will motivate youngsters to really move on and try to emulate us, and be part of it next time."

How life has changed for Hunter in the past fortnight. Two Saturdays ago, all he could feel was "an obscene amount of pressure, because we were favourites". And now, after holding the Greek and Danish crews at bay to become the first British lightweight crew to win gold? "I feel calm, complete. That's the best way of putting it. To achieve what we did was just awesome."

The journey he started in his mind back in the summer of 1992 was complete. "And finished in style," he reminds you.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game