Water may be the same everywhere you go, but the breezes over Eton Dorney are plainly favouring the host nation – bearing, as they do, the ardent cheers that yesterday sustained two more wins from just three entered heats.
If the lightweight double scull crews, male and female, won through in contrasting fashion, both were united in the reserves they discovered. You could almost see Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, in particular, dig into one last seam of courage as the galleries implored them to hold a magnificent rally by their rivals.
Having been drawn in adjacent lanes, both the British and New Zealand boats seemed intent on making a statement. Hunter and Purchase had arrived as the defending Olympic champions, but their preparation had been so abysmal – lame sixth places in both Lucerne and Munich – that Sir Steve Redgrave suggested only an abiding kernel of class made another gold appear anything less than “ridiculous”. Suddenly, however, it seems an entirely sober aspiration.
They broke away like greyhounds, at a hectic 50 strokes a minute, and built an advantage of half a length over the first 500 metres. By halfway, they seemed to be stretching Storm Uru and Peter Taylor, but it was back down to half a length with 500 to go and thereafter, the margin almost halved by the finish, it became an increasingly brutal battle of attrition.
“We had some convincing to do – not only to everyone watching, but also ourselves,” Purchase admitted. “For us it was a case of going out and showing we are a crew to be reckoned with. It’s a real confidence-builder. Being drawn against the Kiwis we knew we had to produce a good race. But everyone knows Mark and I are capable of rising to the big occasion and they don’t get any bigger than the Olympic Games.”
If their male counterparts had to retrieve the lost paths of glory, the emerging Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland were claiming a share of the limelight claimed by the other partnerships in their camp: whether Glover and Stanning, who had got the regatta off to a flying start the previous day, or Watkins and Grainger, who finally take to the water today.
As for Purchase and Hunter, the principal obstacle in their heat had appeared to be New Zealand. Their opponents tried to assert early, but Hosking and Copeland had edged ahead by halfway, and steadily drew clear thereafter. Even the first shower of the regatta was not enough to quench a luminous conviction that anything is possible for British oars this week. The New Zealanders, perhaps broken by their early dash, ultimately proved unable to hold Denmark for the second qualification berth. Hosking’s recent switch to stroke has clearly given these two new impetus, and they set a time seven seconds faster than the medal favourites, Greece, in their heat.
In the only reverse of the day, the Ladies’ Eight were overwhelmed by a superhuman crew. Unbeaten since winning gold in Beijing, the Americans surged remorselessly clear, albeit the British were ultimately held for second with disappointing ease by Australia. “It wasn’t our best row,” conceded Jess Eddie. “It’s probably good to get one like that out of the way.”