Team GB Olympic Gold medallist unearthed by UK Sport's Talent scheme

Published 1 August 2012

gloverstanninguksport 2012 AFP

The first Gold medal for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games has been won by Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the Women’s Pair, with Glover becoming the first ever ‘Sporting Giant’ to win at the Olympics.

Her stunning success at Eton Dorney today with Heather Stanning caps a remarkable journey for the 26 year old from Penzance.

Prior to 2008 she had no rowing experience – and in just five years, she has progressed from a rowing novice to Olympic Champion.

Helen’s involvement with rowing came about as a result of the UK Talent team’s ‘Sporting Giants’ national talent identification programme. The first of its kind, Sporting Giants was launched by Sir Steve Redgrave in February 2007, aiming to unearth tall, powerful, talented contenders who could be fast-tracked into sports, particularly rowing, handball and volleyball.

Although Helen came from a sporting background, playing hockey for the England satellite squad, captaining her county team, playing tennis and swimming for her county, and running for England, it was only when she came forward for Sporting Giants that she was able to take her sporting ambitions to a GB level.

She recounts the experience: “They tested 4,500 of us in groups of 200 at a time. I remember sitting in a room in Bisham Abbey and someone saying: ‘A gold medallist in 2012 could be sat in this room. Look around you’. I thought: ‘Right, I’m going to make that me.’ It was quite surreal.”

UK Sport Chief Executive, Liz Nicholl, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Team GB has secured its first gold medal, but everyone at UK Sport and the EIS is even more delighted with this particular medal, as Helen was first discovered through Sporting Giants, and it shows just how a proactive approach to talent development can pay dividends.

“To have achieved what she has in just five years is testament to Helen’s commitment and focus. We all wish Helen and Heather the best and congratulate them on a truly wonderful performance and incredible achievement. This has truly been an outstanding start to the Rowing finals, and hopefully this will inspire more success at Dorney Lake.”

Following her identification, Helen was placed on to the hugely-successful GB Rowing Team’s Start programme in Bath and was coached by GB Rowing’s Paul Stannard, developing into a world-class rower.

GB Rowing has itself benefitted from over £27m of National Lottery funding for the period 2009 - 2013.

Sporting Giants was the first of a number of Talent ID campaigns which have subsequently been led by the UK Sport Talent team. Others include Girls4Gold (2008); Pitch to Podium (2008); Tall and Talented (2009); Fighting Chance (2009); Paralympic Potential (2009); and Power2Podium (2011). In all, 11 athletes from these campaigns are set to represent Team GB in London.

Chelsea Warr, Head of Athlete Development at UK Sport said: “This is a precious medal, not only for being the first of the London Games, but because of how it was achieved, which is truly remarkable. Helen took the ultimate leap of faith, committing to a new sport, and pursuing an all-encompassing lifestyle with commitment, tenacity and dedication. It’s an exemplary example of how systematic talent identification and development programmes can impact on the world stage.

Warr added: “The selection process was long and demanding, with several rounds of testing assessing what Helen (and the other Sporting Giants) could do now – but more importantly, what they could do in the future - an examination of their ‘headroom’; their trainability; their ability to respond and commit.

“It’s our role to help sports examine the raw materials, explore what potential success looks like, and work out to as high a probability as possible, which individuals can make it. Helen has certainly made it, as today’s performance showed!”

Natalie Dunman, Lead Talent Scientist at the English Institute of Sport (EIS), said: “Sporting Giants was the first systematic national search for sporting talent and we’ve been really pleased with the success that has come from it so far, with 21 athletes competing at international level and that’s now 14 international medals won to date.”

“Sporting Giants has been the springboard for a further six campaigns and while we are seeing a number of athletes that have come through these initiatives competing in London, we have the evidence to show there are even more in the pipeline for Sochi 2014, Rio 2016 and beyond.”
Glover’s rowing squad team mate, Vicky Thornley; who was also uncovered through Sporting Giants (and again had no previous rowing experience); will row in the final of the women’s eight on Thursday.


Total applications: 3,854 (Aged 16-25: 2,974)

  • Males (16-25): 2,420, Females (16-25): 554
  • 4:1 applicant ratio male:female
  • Tallest Female: 192.7cm (6’4”), Tallest Male: 217.3cm (7’2”)

9 Sporting Giants have been selected for London 2012:
Helen Glover (Rowing), Vicky Thornley (Rowing), Richard Jefferies (Canoeing), Kathryn Fudge, Louise Jukes, John Pearce, Mark Hawkins, Dan McMillan, Bobby White (all Handball)


To date, UK Sport Talent ID athletes have produced:

  • 277 international appearances
  • 1 world record (Para-Cycling)
  • 100 international medals, including:
    - 1 Olympic Gold medal
    - 15 World Championship medals (4 Gold, 8 Silver, 3 Bronze)
    - 30 World Cup medals (15 G, 5 S, 10 B)
    - 8 European Championship medals (1 G, 6 S, 1 B)
    - 18 European Cup medals (7 G, 6 S, 5 B)

Across 17 sports: Volleyball, Boccia, Para-Cycling, Disability Athletics, Taekwondo, Rowing, Flatwater Canoe/Kayak, Skeleton, Bobsleigh, Cycling, Shooting, Adaptive Rowing, Sitting Volleyball, Archery, Wheelchair Basketball, Handball, Basketball

For more details on all UK Sport’s talent identification schemes go to:

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