Helen Glover's Olympic gold first for UK talent scheme

  • 1 August 2012
  • From the section UK
Media captionGlover & Stanning win first GB gold

For some athletes, competing in the Olympics is not just about winning medals - for rower Helen Glover it is about inspiring a generation.

Glover and team-mate Heather Stanning have made it into the history books by winning Great Britain's first ever Olympic women's rowing gold medal.

And they were the first Team GB athletes to win the top prize at London 2012, when they competed in the women's pair at Eton Dorney on Wednesday.

Former PE teacher Glover, 26, only took up the sport four years ago after being unearthed by UK Sport's national talent scheme Sporting Giants.

"I hope my story can be an inspiration for kids in PE or at home thinking about taking up a new sport," she told the BBC.

"Just go on, go for it - you don't know what's going to happen," she added.

Olympic progression

Prior to 2008 Glover, from Penzance, had no rowing experience, yet she applied to the programme and has progressed to become an Olympic champion.

Sporting Giants was launched by five-time Olympic gold medal-winning rower Sir Steve Redgrave in February 2007.

The scheme aimed to discover contenders who could be fast-tracked into sports, particularly rowing, handball and volleyball.

The basic criteria was that candidates must be tall, a minimum of 6ft 3in for men and 5ft 11in for women, be between 16 and 25 and have some sort of athletic background.

Glover came from a sporting background, playing hockey for the England squad, captaining her county team and playing tennis and swimming for her county.

But it was only when she found Sporting Giants that she was able to realise her sporting ambitions to a GB level.

"They tested 4,500 of us in groups of 200 at a time," she said.

Image caption Helen Glover (right) was discovered by UK Sport's talent scheme

"I remember sitting in a room in Bisham Abbey and someone saying: 'A gold medallist in 2012 could be sat in this room. Look around you'. I thought: 'Right, I'm going to make that me.' It was quite surreal."

And UK Sport, which runs the scheme alongside the English Institute of Sport, had nothing but praise for Glover.

"We are absolutely delighted," said chief executive Liz Nicholl.

"Everyone at UK Sport is even more delighted with this particular medal as it shows just how a proactive approach to talent development can pay dividends.

"To have achieved what she has in just four years is testament to Helen's commitment and focus. This has truly been an outstanding start to the rowing finals and hopefully this will inspire more success at Dorney Lake."

Sporting Giants have also idententified other Team GB competitors including Vicky Thornley in rowing, Richard Jefferies in canoeing, and in handball, Kathryn Fudge, Louise Jukes, John Pearce, Mark Hawkins, Dan McMillan and Bobby White.

Following her identification, Helen joined the GB rowing team's programme in Bath and was coached by Paul Stannard.

"Helen took the ultimate leap of faith, committing to a new sport and pursuing an all-encompassing lifestyle with commitment, tenacity and dedication," said Chelsea Warr, head of athlete development at UK Sport.

"It's our role to help sports examine the raw materials, explore what potential success looks like, and work out to as high a probability as possible," Miss Warr added.

Sporting Giants has been the springboard for a further six campaigns including Girls4Gold, Pitch to Podium and Paralympic Potential.

Now UK Sport is looking towards the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and beyond, for which a number of projects have already started.

"In our talent health check, we profile every summer Olympic and Paralympic sport and have identified where there are talent gaps and opportunities," Miss Warr told the BBC.

"We're already 18 months into a project for Rio and with this pretty impressive case study we've got a clear blueprint of what predicts success in sport.

"We see a significant opportunity in female combat sports such as boxing and taekwondo."

Miss Warr said the key is to support strength in sports such as rowing and canoeing, as well as finding talent gaps.

"We've always had evidence that a systematic approach to training can impact on the world stage. There is nothing like a real-life example and a gold medal is something really special.

"Britain is not just focused on a boom or bust approach, it's dedicated to making sure there is a pipeline of development and our current athletes are halfway on the road to 2016."

But for now, all eyes are on London 2012 and Glover's rowing squad team-mate Vicky Thornley.

She was also uncovered through Sporting Giants and will row in the final of the women's eight on day six of London 2012, on Thursday.

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