Sydney University Rowing Club (SURC) representative Sarah Cook is on the brink of an Olympic fairytale with the women’s eight rowing crew.
Two months after the previously-cursed boat was resurrected at the 11th hour, the hastily-arranged crew on Monday morning (AEST) put themselves a step closer to a shock London Games berth.
In their first ever competitive race, the eight won their race-for-lanes heat at the final Olympic qualifying regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The commanding victory in six minutes and six seconds gives Australia the middle lane for the five-boat final in the early hours of Wednesday morning (AEST).
A top-two finish will seal a spot in London but coach Nick Garratt is demanding his crew set their sights on victory.
They went into the regatta as underdogs with Belarus, Ukraine and Russia all far more experienced crews.
But Australia led from start to finish, pulling away from the 500m mark, and won by three seconds over Germany.
While the Eastern bloc crews saved themselves for the final in the last kilometre, Garratt said his boat also had plenty left in reserve.
“Half of our crew have never raced an eight internationally before so it was new for them and we wanted to set an agenda, race our race,” he told AAP. “We have another gear to go.”
Although coxswain Liz Patrick, stroke Phoebe Stanley, Sally Kehoe, Robyn Selby-Smith and Sarah Cook have raced in an Australia eight before, it was a successful baptism for Hannah Vermeersch, Alex Hagan, Tess Gerrand and Renee Chatterton.
The big boat was mothballed after the twin Olympic disasters of Athens, where Sally Robbins stopped rowing, and Beijing in 2008 when it also finished last.
But pressure from women’s sport groups and female rowers saw Rowing Australia perform a backflip in late March and support a qualifying bid.
Despite being thrown together after many missed spots in pre-qualified boats, Garratt said there was immense team spirit within the crew.
“At first they just wanted to prove people wrong, that they could do it, and now there’s a lot of joy among the girls,” he told AAP. “I’m telling them not to be denied.
“It’s important for women’s rowing and also for Australian rowing.
“The whole (Australian rowing) team has embraced them and it’s a feel good story.”
This article has been adapted from Jim Morton’s article from the theroar.com.au.