The GB supporters' coach pulled into the Schinias rowing course complex at 7.03 on Saturday morning. Through the tinted windows we could see an ominous block of red and white filling the grandstand by the finish line. With their maple-leaf flags, the Canadian fans had beaten us to the course.
The GB supporters' coach pulled into the Schinias rowing course complex at 7.03 on Saturday morning. Through the tinted windows we could see an ominous block of red and white filling the grandstand by the finish line. With their maple-leaf flags, the Canadian fans had beaten us to the course. With over three hours until the men's coxless four final, we hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come.
The Canadian crew would be the main threat to Matt Pinsent's quest for a fourth Olympic gold; Steve Williams and Ed Coode's desire for their first and my husband James Cracknell's attempt at his second. As it transpired, the success of the Canadian supporters would not be matched by their crew.
Sitting in the "Family Grandstand" we were unable to view the screen that showed the race to the bank opposite. Staring at our feet, we listened intently to an English announcer whose delivery evoked local flower shows and village fetes. "Great Britain have taken a short lead," he said which was followed in my mind by, "and starting shortly outside the home baking tent is the sack race relay."
I guess such psychological distractions were my way of coping with the enormous nature of the occasion. The journey from Sydney to Athens has been a tumultuous one, not least because James has changed from rowing on stroke side to bow. This is like David Beckham starting to kick with his left foot after 20 years of perfecting his right. James has mastered his new skill in just four years.
The Canadians and the Brits crossed the line together. I was surrounded by James's family as well as my own and all heads whipped to see the result on the giant digital display. It read "Foto". We held our breath. The officials would be analysing the photo-finish. It was torture. This would be a hard way to win but it would be an even tougher way to lose. Eventually the words "Great Britain" topped the digital display and the crowd leapt into the air. Fists were raised, tears were wiped and sobbing parents hugged one another as the relief swept over us all.
A woman from Radio Five Live appeared with a pass that would allow me into the "mix zone" where the rowers would land. We walked quickly as presenter Nicky Campbell met me with a microphone to capture my breathless, garbled response.
Matt Pinsent's wife Demetra and I were able to sneak beneath the barrier to hug our sweat-soaked husbands. James's eyes were hidden beneath his sunglasses but he was obviously choked up. Demetra said afterwards that she had never seen Matthew so totally exhausted. Rowers are an emotional bunch but even by their standards this was a tearful victory. Ed Coode, James's team-mate and room-mate here in Athens, revealed that my husband had been bursting into tears at various intervals in the previous 48 hours.
Jürgen Grobler spent the week pushing his rowers to their psychological limits, relaying stories of previous champions who were so exhausted that they had to crawl onto the medal podium. "If you can stand for the presentation," he said, "you have not rowed hard enough". Our boys were able to stand on the dais but that was only because they took the liberty of rowing slowly back past the hundreds of British fans who lined the bank. Matt Pinsent slumped in the boat. The intensity of emotion was overwhelming.
Demetra Pinsent spotted me and ran down from the stand. We hugged and in one another's eyes we saw complete understanding of what the other had been through. I then turned to see James carrying our son Croyde on to the presentation area. Matt told James to keep him there while they received their medals but James passed him back to an official. "He can't get on an Olympic podium that easily," he said, "He hasn't earned it... yet."
James's mother-in-law wanted his winner's flowers but he had given them to Cherie Blair. His laurel wreath had been a gift to his drugs tester. After the medal presentation he was whisked away for press conferences and drugs tests. While he was peeing in a bottle, the Turner-Cracknell party headed for the beach and toasted their success over an al fresco lunch.
We all met up again on Saturday evening for a celebration dinner in a Greek taverna. The rowers were tired but happy. We spent the night in the simple hotel room he had been sharing with Ed surrounded by water bottles, half-packed kit bags and mouldy bananas. But in a gesture of romance we pushed the two single beds together.
James compiled an album on his iPod which he called "Final". He listened to it in the hour before the race. It started with some slow-paced Coldplay, moved through Franz Ferdinand, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Strokes before rising to a crescendo typified by The Beastie Boys and The Prodigy. Finally Eminem spoke: "If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted - one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?"
The British rowers answered that question themselves and made a nation proud.
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