Helen Glover and Heather Stanning brought host nation Great Britain its first gold of London 2012.
Their stunning win in the coxless pairs at Eton Dorney brought them international acclaim – and was made all the more remarkable by their unconventional route to the top of their sport.
The pair came out strong and eased past their German rivals at the 500m mark in the final. After 1,500m, they were five seconds ahead of the chasing pack.
Their relentless pace, powered by Stanning, hit 36 strokes per minute – an incredible performance in what is one of the most physically shattering sports at the Games. They were roared over the finish line by a wall of sound from 26,000 spectators, with Stanning collapsed in the stroke seat.
Afterwards, they hugged each other and saluted the crowd, which included the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry and the Princess Royal.
It was a fairytale win for the women. Four years before the Games, neither had ever rowed in international competition. Stanning, 27, a Royal Artillery Captain who has served in Afghanistan, had given up the sport to focus on her career.
Meanwhile Glover, 26, a former physical education teacher, was trying to break into Team GB’s Olympic hockey squad.
But when she applied to the national Sporting Giants talent-spotting programme, spearheaded by Olympic legend Sir Steve Redgrave, along with more than 4,000 other hopefuls, she switched to rowing.
Stanning, already a talented oarswoman, decided to resume her sporting exploits after watching the action at Beijing 2008 and deciding she had unfinished business.
When coach Paul Stannard paired the two women, their ascent to glory began. At the World Cup regatta of 2010 they failed to win anything, but finished on the tails of more established pairs, in spite of their new partnership and Glover’s inexperience.
They arrived at the World Championships in New Zealand that year as the dark horse competitors and stunned the sport by taking silver. And, in 2011, they claimed another second spot, only missing out on gold by a fraction of a second.
But that disappointment only served to spur them on. They were unbeaten in 2012, winning gold in all three World Cups before setting an Olympic record in the first heat and sealing their final victory in 27.13s.
Capturing gold at Eton Dorney was the fulfilment of a childhood Olympic dream for Glover, who told journalists: “We kidded ourselves that there was no pressure. The last thing we said to each other was ‘it’s just for us, it’s just for us,’ but it was for the whole of the team and the whole of the country.”
Stanning added: “I'm absolutely shattered and absolutely ecstatic all at the same time. I want to collapse but I’m just so overjoyed.”