THE dream of winning an Olympic gold medal is tantalisingly close to becoming a reality for Chris Bartley, who has the opportunity to emulate his former classmate Tom James this afternoon.

Bartley and James, both 28, learned to row while they were students of The King’s School in Chester, lining up in the same boat at countless competitions and training sessions on the River Dee.

But while James got his hands on an Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, winning gold in the men’s four, Bartley is still to taste success on the greatest sporting stage of all.

His wait, however, could soon be over.

Bartley is a member of the GB men’s lightweight four crew which qualified for this afternoon’s final in the fastest time.

The GB crew are favourites to win gold and can count on the support of a 30,000-strong home crowd when the big race begins at 12.10pm.

Bartley, who hails from Farndon, said: “The aim has always been to win Olympic gold, ever since this crew was put together three years ago.

“We don’t want anything else.

“Gold is what I’ve dreamt of, it’s what I want and we’re doing everything we can to deliver it.”

It is a crunch day for local rowers at Dorney Lake.

Four years on from his victory in Beijing, James is back in the men’s four and will race in the semi-finals at 10.10am. The Australians will be GB’s biggest rivals should both crews, as expected, qualify for Saturday’s final.

A third former King’s School student, Daresbury’s Olivia Whitlam, will also be in action at Dorney today.

The 26-year-old will go in the final of the women’s eight at 12.30pm, where GB are not expected to challenge for a medal having had to qualify through the repechage.

“It’s frustrating and annoying that we have not put down a good race yet,” admitted Whitlam. “We’ve trained as a squad for a long time now and it would be good to do that but we haven’t so far.”

Whitlam will be joined in the women’s eight by former Bishop Heber High School and Abbey Gate College student Vicky Thornley, of Holt, near Wrexham.

Rowers and coaches from The King’s School Rowing Club will gather at the club’s River Dee boathouse this morning to watch all the action.