32 triumphs entered the Hampton’s Greatest Sporting Moments competition two months ago; now, only eight remain. The draw has been made: the First VIII’s triumph in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup in 1985 will compete against Chris Mahoney’s Olympic Silver in the first quarter-final.
Quarter-final One: First VIII win Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup vs Chris Mahoney’s Olympic Silver
The history of Hampton’s Boat Club is a storied one: it includes Olympic gold medallists, Boat Race wins and many team successes too. Yet across its illustrious past, and despite the presence of two of the UK’s most celebrated contemporary Olympic rowers – Greg and Jonny Searle – it may be that there is no rowing alumnus more successful than Chris Mahoney OH (1977).
During his time at the School, Mahoney was already making a name for himself across the junior rowing circuit. He competed in two World Junior Championships – typically a breeding ground for future Olympians – in 1976 and 1977, winning a bronze medal in the latter.
After leaving Hampton, Mahoney headed to Oriel College, Oxford, and made up part of their prestigious Boat Race squad. Arriving in a boat that had won five out of the previous six races against Cambridge, Mahoney was hard-pressed to find a way into the squad, but managed to break in and played his part in three consecutive Boat Race victories, in 1979, 1980 and 1981, where he was appointed President of the Oxford University Boat Club.
Sandwiched in between his Boat Race wins, though, was a trip to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The Men’s Eights competition is one of the most esteemed Olympic rowing races, often thought of as particularly difficult to be successful in on the river.
And Mahoney’s Britain crew took their time adapting to the intensity of Olympic competition. In their Heat, they finished second – behind the Soviet Union crew – meaning they were forced into the Repechage, where the top two crews would progress to the Final and a chance of a medal.
Great Britain were unable to win the race, finishing second behind Australia, but did enough to stave off the competition of Cuba and Hungary, and Mahoney’s crew were awarded a place in the final as a result.
Given their initial travails, Great Britain were considered rank outsiders for the final, lining up alongside Olympic rowing heavyweights in the Soviet Union and East Germany.
But rowing is notorious for its shocks and surprises, and the 1980 Men’s Eights final conjured one up like few others. In an excruciatingly tense race, Great Britain pulled away to win an unexpected silver medal, leaving the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Australia closely in their wake.
With an Olympic silver medal in hand, Mahoney returned to the UK to fulfil an illustrious rowing career, completing his third Boat Race victory the next year, coupling that with Grand Challenge Cup victories at Henley Royal Regatta in 1981 and 1984.
Having won an Olympic silver, three Boat Races and two Grand Challenge Cups, Mahoney could well claim to be one of Hampton’s most successful rowers. Either way, it’s some achievement.