THE eyes of the world were on four British lads when they took a rowing gold medal at the Beijing Olympics – but for one Chester school the success was extra special.
The achievements of the men’s coxless four crew on Saturday began a week of outstanding achievements for Team GB, taking them to third in the medals table and the country’s best performance at an Olympics in 100 years.
But for The King’s School in Chester, it was seeing former pupil Tom James crossing the line that meant the most.
They can even claim to have introduced the Olympian to rowing, when he first took to the waters of the River Dee 10 years ago – just as King’s pupils, aged 13, are doing this week.
Even at that early stage, his ability and perfect technique were clearly evident.
Master in charge of rowing Robert Parry said: “Head coach Neville Orme coached Tom and perhaps set him on his way.
“Neville tells a story that the first time he went out with Tom, he was going so fast that Neville had to tell him to slow down.
“His potential has always been there. Physically he’s not the biggest person in the boat but it’s not always about size.”
James, 24, of Coedpoeth, Wrexham, and his team-mates powered through in an exciting finish to overturn the Australians’ three-quarter length lead.
He has previously also rowed in the World Championships and World Cup after making his GB debut aged 19. He was a member of the men’s eight which finished a disappointing ninth at the 2004 Olympics in Athens but stepped up to the flagship coxless four last year.
Mr Parry said: “It’s fantastic for the club – we’re enormously proud of what Tom has achieved.
“We have 130 boys and girls rowing and I’m sure every one of them was glued to their TV.
“To row through was amazing. I thought I was a fairly calm person but I found I was kneeling on the floor shouting at the TV. Afterwards I wondered how I got into this position!
“Tom is a product of years of investment in rowing at King’s.
“We owe a lot to the governors and previous headmasters.”
King’s also played a part in James’s rowing life when he returned as part of the Cambridge University crew to practise on the Dee a week before last year’s Boat Race.
And who knows – there could even be another future Olympic hero among the children who went out on the water this week.
Mr Parry said: “I hope we’ve got someone there in 2012. Tom will be there again and we have another rower (Nick Fearnhead) in the development squad.”