Britain cemented its place as an Olympic rowing giant in London 2012, securing nine medals and four golds at the home tournament which is widely spoken about eight years on.
In exclusive interviews as part of Eurosport's Return to London 2012 series, Helen Glover (gold), Katherine Grainger (gold) and Coxed eight member Greg Searle (bronze) reflect on the tournament and their successes.
HG: I think I was really lucky in that because I hadn’t been to a Games before I had no expectation whatsoever and I could ask people questions. I think the beauty of being in a rowing team is that there’s so much experience around you.
I could ask questions about how to deal with pressure, about little things like what to do with your mobile phone – do you leave it on or do you leave it off? Things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of were being told to me for my first ever games and I had no expectations of what was going to happen.
So I think actually that I was really lucky that not only did the Games fall as my first Games but it fell in my lifetime when I was at my prime and who could ask for more than to have a home Games when you’re competing – we’re so lucky!
KG: It felt immensely different (to previous Olympics). Even though I’d been to a few before, none of us had experienced a home Games and none of us really knew what to expect. I think the biggest difference was the public awareness was absolutely immense.
Even a year out, I remember bumping into a complete stranger in the street who told me “I know where you’ll be on the 3rd of August next year” – and I didn’t know where I’d be on the 3rd of August next year! It was such a privilege to be part of because we felt this building sense of excitement and anticipation from the whole country, months and months out.
No one else in our generation had ever experienced a home Olympics, the last one had been in 1948. There were all these generations who had not experienced this so you felt this was a very special opportunity we were all going to have.
Katherine Grainger celebrates her Olympic gold medal
Image credit: PA Sport
GS: It’s lovely to reminisce about 2012. (The home crowd) was the thing that brought me back to be honest.
I think in the build up to the Olympic Games, I think we knew that Olympic Games were really good and people would really enjoy it and it would be fantastic but actually in the build-up I think a lot of people at home were not quite sure how good it was going to be.
Then as it got closer the excitement built. I remember on every lamppost it said ‘Inspire a generation’ and part of my own reason to come back was that I had my own generation.
My kids would be able to watch, they’d be age 9 and 11, and I’d have the opportunity to compete in front of them. So, the motivation to come back was so special that we were going to host this here.
I think all of us probably felt responsibility that it had to be good. We didn’t want to let people down and that was a different pressure that I’d felt from before because the expectation was there obviously close to home with the people who support us all the way through it.
People who you don’t know are looking forward to your race and you’ll either make them happy or you’ll leave them disappointed depending on how you perform and that’s not something that we’re that used to really.
ON WINNING MEDALS
HG on gold: I always worry that my answer is going to be really disappointing because I was just relived! I was just relieved that I didn’t make a mistake. We knew that we were favourites in that event and I knew that all we had to do was just row without mistakes and row a strong race, and we could win. So I was just relieved.
Also, what we’d done a really good job at was normalising this because I convinced myself it was just another race. The last thing our coach said to us before we got in the water was “it’s just another race.”
And so to me I wasn’t racing in an Olympic final I was racing the girls I’d raced all year and it honestly took me about six months to call myself Olympic Champion. I would be introduced into rooms for public speaking or on to programmes like this and I would genuinely feel like they were talking about somebody else and it was a bit of an outer-body experience because I couldn’t believe that it was something that I had done.
So when I crossed the line I knew I’d won a race and I was relieved I hadn’t mucked up but I was almost experiencing it as a rabbit in headlights.
This was just too big of a moment to compute, to understand. Four years ago I didn’t know a thing about rowing, I would never have even called myself a rower, and here I am on top of the podium. So, I was swept along with this really exciting and really unforgettable moment but experiencing it in a slightly detached way.
KG on gold: I can honestly say that it was more than I ever expected and I’d spent 12 years in some way building up to that moment. I did those other results (three silver medals) and they’d been part of this journey that was somehow mapped out. Anna (Watkins) and I didn’t really talk about what it might mean when we did finally get that result but we were really excited about trying to deliver that result.
For both of us it was joy beyond anything we ever predicted and it didn’t just live up to my expectations it blew my expectations out of the water for what that win would finally mean. People always say “was it a bit of an anti-climax at the end?” Total opposite, total opposite!
Being on that podium you’re surrounded by 30,000 people every day down at Dorney Lake and when the National Anthem is played and the flag is raised and you have 30,000 people singing along, slightly out of tune, with the Anthem it’s beyond magical.
It’s what every athlete dreams about and to get that moment at that time. Everything came true so I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled.
Greg Searle (bottom row: second to the right) was part of the team that won bronze in the Men's Eight Final
Image credit: Getty Images
GS on men’s 8 bronze: Unfortunately, we were up against a dominant German crew who’d won every race for the last four years. But it didn’t stop us sitting down the night before the race and saying: “We’ve got two ways of approaching this, we could assume that we could make the silver safe or we make a choice which is we win gold or we lose” And any other position effectively is losing.
We more or less sat around and said “we know we haven’t won a race for four years, the Germans have won everything but the only race that matters is the Olympic final.
There’s the Olympic crowd, there’s 30,000 people cheering for us, the pressure is on them because all the expectation is on them.” So we all signed up and said “we’re going to race this race as if it’s a 1500m race, we’ll put ourselves in front with 500m to go and then we’ll just have to trust our training, trust the home crowd and see if that can get us over the finish line and ahead of the German 8.”
It was not the most sensible, necessarily, commitment that we made to each other but the night before the race we all believed that it was the best thing to do and what would make us proud for the rest of our lives really.
We crossed the line and I had real confusion because I could see the Germans celebrating so I figured they must have won and that was really disappointing because I thought we must have won! But then I knew it would be difficult in the last 500m and these crews would come back at us.
We had to wait actually for the photo finish so it was a desperate moment where I could see it was Germany first, Canada second and a blank space. I definitely had a feeling of relief when I realised we got the bronze having been fourth at the Sydney Olympics. It was nice to at least come in and collect a medal.
Sitting here now I feel really satisfied in the way we took it on and the commitments we made to each other, and that we ended up with a medal feels a great return for us and for me on the whole comeback.
You can watch Return to London 2012 from May 24-31 on Eurosport 2. The Opening Ceremony is live on Sunday at 4pm, and from Monday to Saturday we will have daily shows involving some of the biggest names from the Games.
Sunday 24th May (4pm) will see Eurosport 2 screen the widely acclaimed Opening Ceremony from the Olympic Stadium.
Monday 25th May (2pm and 4pm) will focus on cycling with Sir Bradley Wiggins and Lizzie Deignan discussing road cycling before six-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy and Jo Rowsell review the unprecedented Team GB successes in the velodrome.
Tuesday 26th May (2pm, replayed at 7pm) will see Tom Daley join the team to review his medal-winning performance in diving whilst Adam Peaty – ear-marked as a future prospect back in 2012 - and double Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington will reflect on the big stories of the Games from the pool.
Wednesday 27th May (2pm, replayed at 7pm) will feature gymnasts Max Whitlock, Beth Tweddle and Kristian Thomas looking back on a Games that saw Team GB secure four medals for the first time in a single Olympics and kick-start a golden era for the sport in the UK.
Thursday 28th May (2pm, replayed at 7pm) will see rower Helen Glover, winner of the first Team GB gold of the Games, as well as five-time Olympic medallist Kath Grainger and Men’s Eight medallist Greg Searle, discussing the memorable moments from Eton Dorney.
Friday 29th May (2pm, replayed at 7pm) focuses on combat sports with boxing star Anthony Agogo discussing his and Team GB’s impressive performances in the ring, whilst medal-winning pair Jade Jones and Gemma Gibbons reflect on their taekwondo and judo successes respectively.
Saturday 30th May (2pm, replayed at 7pm) will give viewers the chance to relive the iconic night of the games – known ever since as Super Saturday. On a memorable night at the Olympic Stadium, Team GB secured three gold medals with Greg Rutherford, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill and Sir Mo Farah all topping the podium. Greg and Mo will look back on the historic evening and discuss some of the other seminal moments. Seb Coe and Tony Minichiello also join the chat.
Sunday 31st May (midnight) will see the week come to a close with Boyle’s equally impressive Closing Ceremony to book-end a celebratory period in the country’s sporting history.