“Let’s face it, we’re never going to win the World Cup” soccer tournament, said Tina Panum, 36. “So for us, they are our sports celebrities. We know their names. They are recognized on the streets. We live for this sport!”
Rowers impress the host nation
In host country Britain, a surprise bronze in men’s team gymnastics and heartthrob diver Tom Daley have indeed kept many a local eye on the gym and the pool. But British attention also seems to focused on the roads, velodromes and waterways, where cycling and rowing are racking up huge television ratings (and gold medals) for Team GB.
Chris Hoy, who led his team to gold in sprint cycling last week, is already gracing boxes of Kellogg’s Bran Flakes, U.K. edition. The insane cycling fever gripping Britain, spread also by last month’s historic win at the Tour de France by Bradley Wiggins, has already sent bicycle sales soaring nationwide, with tens of thousands of new enthusiasts reportedly signing up to cycling clubs in recent weeks.
Two miles west of Windsor Castle, near the hallowed halls of the Eton College that regularly churn out British prime ministers, dandies and adventurers, a still-water lake is now commanding the attention of a nation. Though rowing has long been seen as a quintessentially British sport, it is also occasionally dismissed here as the posh pastime of the elite. But even the general public in class-obsessed Britain now appears to be going wild for a sport in which the home team, as it is so wont to do in rowing, is bringing in some major Olympic coinage.
Since the 2012 Games began, Britain has scored a pack-leading nine medals in rowing, including Britain’s first golds of the Games by the women’s rowing team of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. Amid mobs of fans donning Union Jacks — and some bowing to the image of the sport by wearing tuxedos jackets with shorts and sandals — the team of Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins struck more British rowing gold on Friday.
“Astonishing,” Zac Purchase, one half of Britain’s lightweight men’s double sculls rowing team, said of the team’s domestic backing. “To get that kind of support? We’ve never been anywhere and been clapped during our warmup. That’s just a completely new experience for us and one we’re really, really enjoying. The buzz and the cheering, it just makes you proud to be British.”
Karla Adam, Barry Svrluga and Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report.