UNDER pristine turquoise skies on Saturday, and buoyed up by a capacity crowd of 35,000, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning surged through their heat in an Olympic record time.
While Helen, a former PE teacher, and Stanning, a captain in the Royal Artillery, form an understated duo, their ruthless dominance at Eton hauled them within sight of an historic accomplishment.
Setting off on an irresistible tear, they could afford to ease off before the finish line and still prevailed in a time of 6min 57.29sec. Not even the cacophony rising from the grandstands in the final 200 metres could derail their remorseless march towards the final.
The magnitude of such a prospect scarcely registered in their unruffled demeanour.
They simply radiated the confidence borne of three successive World Cup victories, and of a debut Olympic display that cemented their billing as overwhelming favourites.
“This is our lake,” Glover said. “The experience gave me butterflies. As soon as we reached the 600m mark, we were in the thick of all the spectators. I just felt really proud in that moment. It was our standard of rowing, without the fireworks you expect in a final. We are happy to have executed in the manner we did — we were in control of the whole race.”
The defending Olympic champions Romania came a surprise third with the United States in second place.
Glover and Stanning reacted to being pipped into silver place at the 2011 world championships by dominating the women’s pair this year, winning gold at all three of this summer’s World Cup regattas.
Saturday’s performance sent out a powerful message of intent to the rest of the field, with heat two winners Australia coming home in a time four seconds slower than the British crew.
New Zealand, who beat Glover and Stanning by eight hundredths of a second to win the world championships last year, trailed home unconvincingly behind the Australians.
“It was definitely a heats race for us,” said Heather Stanning afterwards.
“It was a solid performance. We felt quite controlled in our boat. The fact we’ve got all the people cheering for us gives you a surge, it makes you sit up tall and be proud to be representing them.”
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