THE hearts were thumping. There was a sharp intake of breath. And then came a huge roar.
Twice last week the townsfolf of Coleraine held their collective breath as they gathered to cheer on three of their own to Olympic success.
At mid-day on Thursday Coleraine Baptist Church threw open its doors to welcome everyone in to watch the Chambers brothers do battle in the Men’s Lightweight Fours. And they were all very much singing from the same hymn sheet from the moment they talented duo appeared on the big screen.
Frenzied chattering ensued as excitement levels reached fever pitch. It had taken four years for the boys to reach this point - now their destinies would be decided over the course six minutes - the biggest six minutes of their lives to date
A slow start saw the quartet off the pace turning smiles to frowns, showing just how much a podium finish meant to everyone watching.
They needn’t have worried.
It was as if someone began to steadily crank up a volume switch in the building as the boys’ boat went past one opponent, then another...then another. By this stage everyone was on their feet in the church roaring their lungs out and desperately willing the Chambers and their two teammates to the finish line.
The atmosphere was electric. The Team GB squad had both their South African rivals and the finish in their sights.
The crowd almost lifted the roof off the building as the boats crossed the line neck-in-neck.
Within seconds the result flashed across the screen - Coleraine had two Olympic silver medallists.
Huge applause reverberated around the church accompanied by beaming smiles and sighs of relief. Slowly but surely people slumped back into their seats - perhaps not just as exhausted as those in the Team GB boat, but certainly feeling the effects of the epic encounter.
The minister of Coleraine Baptist Church, Pastor Trevor Watson, gave a thumbs up as the wary rowers headed back to shore to be presented with their medals.
Asked how the atmosphere compared to that of his Sunday services, he joked that the only way he could come close would be to finish up 20 minutes early this weekend.
“I hope there’s as good an atmosphere on Sunday morning!” he said.
“It’s a fantastic thing for the church,the family mean so much to us. Everyone from the town just wanted to come and get behind them.
“They didn’t have to justify themselves to us today. They did their best and they can have no regrets.
“The boys came up through the church and their dad Eric is very active here. I don’t know, maybe Eric will now go for the Olympic games in Rio next time!”
One of those young people was Adam Crutchley who said the boys’ medal-winning heroics had made his 10th birthday “the best ever”.
“It was brilliant,” he said.
“I know both of them and them winning medals is the best birthday present I have ever got.”
Yesterday’s big screening was the brainchild of church elder Mark Stewart and he was delighted with how the day turned out.
“We wanted to open up the church to the community and we actually advertised the final before they had qualified, but we were very confident!” he said.
“Most of the Bann Rowing Club members are away today so they were really happy we were doing it and some of them are here.
“The buzz has been fantastic and the family are over the moon with the support from back home.”
And so on to Friday’s events with hundreds again gathered this time at the Town Hall. Just as Alan Campbell set off in the energy sapping single sculls the heavens opened, but it wasn’t going to dampen the spirits of those who had witnessed the previous day’s events.
The two powerhouses - Drysdale and Synek - began to push clear of the field leaving Alan in a straight shoot out with Swede Lassi Karonen. The big man showed all the grit an determination needed to win an Olympic medal, drawing on all those tough training sessions on his native north coast to beat Karonen to the finish post before slumping to a heap in a mixture of physical exhaution and emotion.
Campbell’s exploits drew huge cheers from the watching crowd in his hometown...he had finally done it!
“We are bursting with pride,” said Bann Rowing Club’s vice-captain Stephen Smyth. “Big Alan has won the biggest race of his life by putting in the best race of his life.
“Nobody deserves it more. He’s a tremendous ambassador for rowing and a tremendous ambassador for this part of the country.
“It was Alan who kicked off this tidal wave of Olympic competition. He went to Athens eight years ago, then four years ago he and Richard Chambers went to Beijing.
“Now the pair of them along with Peter Chambers have gone to London and all three of them will be coming back with medals. This is a small rowing club and a small town, so our pride knows no bounds. We couldn’t be more delighted for them.”
The trio’s exploits at Eton Dorney is only going to increase the popularity of the sport in the borough. The work Bann Rowing Club have done and continue to do with it’s dedicated band of talented coaches is phenomenal.
“It’s absolutely fantastic for us to have Olympic medal winners from Coleraine and from Bann Rowing Club,” said Joel Cassells, who looks to be the next rower to roll off the Bann conveyor belt.
“They are a real inspiration to u s young rowers. It’s incredible to think that I was rowing and training with Peter just three years ago and here he is now a silver medal winner. It shows what true hard work and determination can bring you.”
The doyen of local rowing, Bobby Platt, had a wry smile on his face, but you knew inside his heart was bursting with pride as he had just witnessed the young lads he coached all those years ago achieve their dreams at the very pinnacle of the sport.
The final word was reserved for Alan’s proud granny, Anna Campbell, who said Olympic medalist or not she’d always be proud of her big grandson!
Aren’t we all Mrs Campbell!