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London 2012: Hunter hurting after losing title

14:53 04 August 2012

Great Britain

Great Britain's Mark Hunter (right) and Zac Purchase show their emotion after winning silver in the final of the lightweight men's double sculls at Eton Dorney

PA Wire/Press Association Images

British duo disappointed with silver

Mark Hunter could not stand up without assistance, partner Zac Purchase could not stop crying.

The 2008 Olympic champions looked like broken men after being overhauled in the final stages of the mens lightweight double sculls by their Danish rivals, but they had the consolation of a silver medal.

Coming on the back of golds for the Great Britain mens four and the women’s lightweight double sculls, it was little consolation.

While Hunter received physical and emotional support from Sir Steve Redgrave on the pontoon, Purchase conducted the hardest of post-race interviews and said: “We’re completely gutted. We will spend days, weeks, months, the rest of our lives trying to work out what happened.”

What happened was the reigning champions almost didn’t race at all.

Purchase’s seat came loose within seconds of the start of the original race and he signalled to the umpire, who stopped the action.

After some quick running repairs at the lakeside, the British duo were allowed back to their post as the incident had occurred within the first 100m.

And they looked to make the most of their second chance as they immediately pulled clear of the field to establish a half-length lead.

Hunter, a former pupil at Romford’s Bower Park School and Havering Sixth Form College who would cheer West Ham’s Frank McAvennie and Tony Cottee from the Upton Park terraces as a youngster, and Purchase were quickly into their rhythm and a second ahead after the first 500m.

That advantage was trimmed to six-tenths of a second at the 1,000m mark, but was back at a full second entering the final quarter of the race.

The tension was almost unbearable, with Danish duo Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist looking threatening in the next lane, and as the finish line drew closer they produced a late surge to snatch gold and deny the Brits a second successive Olympic title.

Speaking at as press conference some 90 minutes later, Hunter said: “Losing our Olympic title hurts tremendously.

“There has been so much support, the nation has been incredible, and we feel we let everyone down by not winning.

“We gave everything and raced our heart out. We came here to win, simple as that. People will say it’s great we got silver, but we only came for gold.”

The British duo were not wearing their medals as they faced the media, which said it all.

Hunter, who snatched a quick glimpse at the gold medal hanging around the neck of Quist, added: “If you win, there’s jubilation and it’s fantastic.

“When you lose, there’s no hiding place and you just shut down. There’s no recovery from that when you lose.”

But Hunter might not have been here at all, having taken a year out of racing following success in Beijing.

A keen footballer and swimmer as a youngster, Hunter even tried martial arts, before taking up rowing aged 14.

Excited by watching Redgrave, Greg and Jonny Searle win gold in 1992 and further inspired by Redgrave’s visit to the Poplar Blackwall & District Rowing Club – along with his three Olympic gold medals that following winter – Hunter set his own goal.

But having achieved that ambition four years ago, he considered quitting at the top of his game.

A qualified Waterman & Lighterman, and a Freeman of the Thames, Hunter and Purchase went to the 2008 Games as the men to beat, but proved unbeatable.

Then Hunter went to California – he is a big San Francisco 49ers fan – and worked as assistant coach of the women’s rowing squad at UCLA.

By his own admission, he exercised very little, other than jogging on the beach but head coach Amy Fuller-Kearney, a gold medallist in 1992, persuaded him to try and qualify for London 2012.

Fuller-Kearney had competed at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and told Hunter he didn’t want to miss the chance of a home Games.

He joined forces once again with public schoolboy Purchase – the two have been dubbed the smoked salmon and jellied eel of rowing – to restart training and won gold at the 2010 World Cup in Munich and the 2011 World Championships in New Zealand.

Purchase was subsequently laid low with a post-viral illness, affecting last year’s World Cup plans, but returned to help Hunter defend their World Championship title in Bled.

Another gold in the first of this year’s World Cup series at Belgrade was followed by fifth and sixth-place finishes, suggesting their crown was slipping.

But the duo won their heat and semi-final in comfort at Eton Dorney this week and had the favoured lane six draw for the medal race.

The stage was all set, after Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James and Andrew Triggs Hodge had produced a ‘masterpiece’ of a race to beat Australia in the mens four and Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland followed it up with a surprise gold in the following race.

The equipment failure proved a bad omen as the champions were dethroned, but Purchase added: “It’s been a great turnaround, since finishing sixth at the World Cup.

“It’s been a pretty emotional season, we’ve had our ups and downs but we did our very best. We’ve pulled it back from sixth place (at the World Cup) to silver, but it still hurts. We came for gold.

“It’s just a case of so close. The crowd here at Dorney have been superb, the team has had an awesome regatta, by far the best we’ve ever raced at. But I’m just really disappointed for the people who helped along the way.”

As for the future, 34-year-old Hunter only has his sights set on the second week of these London 2012 Games.

He said: “There will be a lot of partying and getting drunk next week.

“It’s time to socialise and see what else we can achieve as a team. It’s way too early to think about anything else.”

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