Over the next term, HSC will be attempting to discover the identity of Hampton’s Greatest Sporting Moment, with your help. This article recalls Greg and Jonny Searle’s Olympic success in 1992. This will compete against three other moments in Group Three. Vote in our Twitter poll on Friday to decide your favourite moments – the winner will progress to the quarter-final stage!
For the Abbagnale brothers, the Barcelona Olympics of 1992 would be something of a lap of honour. They’d won the Gold Medal in the Coxed Pairs in 1984 in Moscow, and then repeated their triumph in the same event in 1988 in Seoul. So the Games of 1992 represented a chance to crown an extraordinary career with a third consecutive Olympic Gold. After all, Giuseppe was 33 when the Games began, and Carmine 30: so this third Gold Medal would be the icing on the mascarpone, a chance for the rowing world to say grazie and arrivederci to a rowing institution.
The Searle brothers wanted none of this. Ten years younger than the champions and competing in their first Olympics, the Hampton-educated brothers were lying in the Bronze Medal position as the race entered its third quarter. But gradually the British boys were wearing down the Romanians in second place, so although the Italians were still well in the lead and nailed on for that third Gold, the prospect of a Silver Medal for the London-born brothers seemed realistic if they could hold their nerve and fight off any Romanian counter-attack.
It was at this point that the original script for this race was abandoned. A sudden and abrupt surge of momentum from the British brothers launched an attack on the Italians that left the Romanians out of the picture and must have shocked the champions, who could do little more in the last quarter of the race than watch helplessly as the brothers Searle shot past them to hit the finishing line a full half-length ahead. It was one of the most dramatic moments of the Games.
There were tears on the podium, and a niche in the history books, as this was the last time the Olympics would host a coxed pairs event. But for the young champions – Jonny was 23, Greg (two years out of a Hampton School uniform) just 20 – an immensely promising future was suddenly opening up. The following year, the brothers won the World Championships in the coxed pairs event, and in the 1996 Olympics, held in Atlanta they took Bronze in the coxless fours alongside another Old Hamptonian Rupert Obholzer. Among a clutch of other accomplishments, Greg went on to a fourth place in the 2000 Olympics, followed by a remarkable Bronze in the 2012 Olympics at the age of 40.
But for sheer chutzpah, the joy of being young and tearing up the script, it is hard to think of many more dramatic sporting episodes than the irresistible half-minute attack the Hampton brothers launched on the lead the Italian champions had amassed over the first three-quarters of the race: as inspiring and dramatic a half-minute of sport as any in the course of the 1992 Olympics, or perhaps any other.