Soldier Stanning on parade as British rowers strike gold

They breed winners in the Great Britain rowing team.

Champions like Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, who became the host nation’s first gold medallists of London 2012 and the first British female rowers to claim an Olympic title.

The country had been crying out for new heroines and these two girls are the perfect role models.

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Stanning is the 27-year-old who will go back on duty in Afghanistan with the Royal Artillery in September.

Glover is the 26-year-old who only took up rowing two months before Beijing, was inspired by what she saw in the Far East and decided to give her all to not only emulate that success, but break new ground for women rowers.

She wanted to be an Olympic champion, and became one yesterday.

There’s only one place that matters for GB’s rowers – first.

Second is nowhere, as the contrast in emotions just 40 minutes later depicted when the men’s eight, including York’s Tom Ransley, finishing third in a pulsating final to take bronze. It was by no means a bronze won, more a gold lost.

Driven by 40-year-old Greg Searle looking to repeat his victory of 20 years ago in the coxed pair in Barcelona, the men’s eight went all out for victory and when they had nothing left to give, faded over the closing 500 metres as the German eight pulled away.

Great Britain only claimed bronze by three tenths of a second.

Where a bronze medal has been greeted in most sports by British competitors as a major achievement and something to cherish for ever, for the rowers, particularly the men’s eight yesterday, it represented nothing more than defeat.

“We’re crushed,” said Mohamed Sbihi of the men’s eight. “We gave it our best shot and went for broke. That’s why we’re in third, not second. It wasn’t to be.

“We were keeping ahead of the field and thought we were moving through and it was in the last 500 that it started to fall apart because we were trying to get our bow in front. We gave it our all.

“We’ve been the second-best boat all through the season and bronze isn’t a true reflection of where we are. A bronze medal is no consolation.”

Guiseley’s Debbie Flood had even more reason be downcast, after her women’s quad sculls finished sixth out of six in their final.

They were never in the hunt as Ukraine, Germany and the United States filled the podium.

Flood, 32, now heads into retirement on a sombre note, and has every empathy for what the men of the eight are feeling.

“In the immediate aftermath you are absolutely distraught because you have given your all,” she said.

“Hopefully in time they will look back on that bronze with pride, but I remember in Beijing when we were beaten into second, we felt absolutely gutted that we had lost. We train to win.”

Such a basic instinct made her exit from the rowing scene all the more galling to take.

Flood had been waiting 15 years for a home Olympics, and four years to try and improve on the second Olympic silver of her career. But alongside Frances Houghton, Melanie Wilson and Beth Rodford, they were never in contention.

Flood said: “You wouldn’t wish that on any crew, it’s not the way to go out in your home Olympics in front of that crowd.

“We’d worked really hard as a crew the four of us and it was a really tough passage through to that final. We had a really tough repechage, we were looking forward to today, to grasping that opportunity with both hands.

“The crowd cheered us off but we never got into the race, it wasn’t the race we hoped it would be. I have no regrets, we did everything we could. We got ourselves in the final, in a position to seize the opportunity.

“There’s nothing we could have done differently we just didn’t have the race we needed to have.”

On her career, which included two world titles, Flood added: “I’ve loved racing, I’ve loved rowing.

“I’ve got to process this now though, what’s done is done.

“I was so proud to race in front of this crowd.

“They were supportive of us all the way down and really proud to be British today. The women’s pair have done so well, I’m so proud of them, it’s an epic day for them.”

As Flood rows into the sunset, a world of opportunity is opening up for Stanning and Glover.

They only began racing together in 2010, just two years after Glover sat and watched Britain’s rowers succeed in Beijing from a development boot camp in Nottingham.

They went into the final unbeaten all season, and with a host nation desperate for a first gold medal, all eyes were on them at a cloudy Eton Dorney.

“We were kind of kidding ourselves that it wasn’t happening,” siad Glover of the building pressure on two inexperienced individuals.

“But as soon as we crossed the line we realised the expectation on our shoulders.”