Gloucestershire rowing stars target Olympic gold
A FABULOUS five from Gloucestershire will form part of the power-packed Team GB rowing squad for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Reigning champions Zac Purchase and Pete Reed will head a team of county competitors who will go for gold at Eton Dorney Rowing Lake next month.
Reed, a former Cirencester Deer Park School pupil, is back in the four and will be a red-hot home favourite to retain the gold medal he won in Beijing four-years ago.
Just as in 2008, he is joined by another county competitor as Wormington's Alex Gregory takes the place of former Cheltenham schoolboy Steve Williams.
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Purchase, from Bushley near Tewkesbury, will again line up alongside Mark Hunter in a bid to retain the lightweight men's double sculls crown they scooped in Beijing, a feat they too are favourites to achieve.
The Gloucestershire group will be completed by Gloucester's Beth Rodford in the women's quadruple scull and Hartpury's Natasha Page in the women's eight.
In announcing the largest rowing team to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games, British Rowing's performance director David Tanner said the aim was to once again lead the way on Olympic water.
"Our ambition is to come to defend our record of being the lead rowing nation at the Olympic games," he said.
"We won six medals in Beijing so the aim is to achieve that, and of course we are ambitious and want more."
Two of those six medals won in Beijing were gold, with Gloucestershire rowers competing in both of the golden boats – the men's four and the lightweight double sculls events. And with 50 days remaining until the Olympic flame is lit in East London, all five of the Gloucestershire rowers said the announcement brought home to them the close proximity of the games.
"It's not far away now," said Reed, from Nailsworth.
"I can remember being at this stage just before the games in Beijing and the time just flew by.
"We are getting on with it now, it's the final big push to the Games and we need to ensure that we don't waste a single session.
"I'm thrilled to be part of the biggest British team ever at our London Olympics.
"I have been training for this all my life in one way or another.
"I am a proud lieutenant in from the Royal Navy, a proud Olympian and a proud Briton.
"I'm racing to win."
Gregory had to endure the disappointment of missing out on Beijing as he travelled as the reserve in the four, but he said the honour of competing at home would more than make up for that blow.
"Four years ago I was the spare man and was on the outside of it all," he said. "I got to go to Beijing and I did all the training but didn't compete and I wasn't really part of it.
"Now I am part of it and it couldn't be better to be involved at a home Olympic Games.
"It is going to be a once in a lifetime event for us and the country and I can't wait."
Like the men's four, Purchase and Hunter will be under pressure as home favourites and reigning champions.
That would have been ramped up by a below-par performance at the second World Cup regatta of the season in Lucerne two weeks ago when Purchase and Mark Hunter finished sixth.
Purchase revealed that illness in the camp was perhaps behind that performance and said that nothing would get in the way of him achieving his Olympic dream.
"This is going to be our greatest team ever in the Olympics and it's an honour to be competing at a home Olympic Games," he said.
"The thrill of performing in front of a home crowd, in front of your family and friends will be something you will never be able to repeat.
"We will never be over confident as we know that people will raise their game, so we will make sure that we are doubly committed and totally focused on the goal of winning gold."
For Rodford, a stalwart of Gloucester Rowing Club, the Olympic Games will cap a memorable summer that has seen her take part in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee pageant on the River Thames on Sunday.
As coxswain of the Gloucester Rowing Club boat, Rodford got a taste of the special party atmosphere that is likely to be on show at Eton Dorney.
"It was a fantastic experience to be involved in the pageant, and to be able to do that with Gloucester Rowing Club was so, so special," Rodford said.
"To sit in the boat and savour the crowds and see the Union Flags flying was incredible.
"It gives you a taste of what things will be like when the Olympics start."
Rodford will be able to call upon an especially familiar face when the British Rowing team checks in to their Olympic Village accommodation next month in Gloucester team-mate Page.
The pair raced in the same boat, the eight, in Beijing before Rodford made the switch to the quadruple scull.
Still in the eight, Page who hails from Hartpury, has had to endure a far more troublesome route to qualification having suffered from blood clots on her lungs last year.
Now fully recovered, she has special reason to celebrate her call into the squad.
"That was such a horrible feeling to have that diagnosed less than a year from the games," she said. "I never doubted that I would make it into the squad but it perhaps makes it even more special to be sat here with my team GB tracksuit on and in the squad."
The rowing competition at the Olympics will take place from July 28 to August 4.