POTENTIAL young rowing stars of the future met their idol when Olympic hero Zac Purchase returned to his home town.
The top athlete, who won a silver medal at the London Games after winning gold four years before in Beijing, was the star guest at the official opening of a new rowing club in Tewkesbury yesterday.
Tewkesbury School pupils and staff celebrated setting up their own club, based on the River Severn by Mythe Bridge, on the outskirts of the town.
Wide-eyed children looked on as Zac saw a boat that had been named in his honour.
The 26-year-old now lives in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, but was brought up in Bushley, near Tewkesbury.
He said: "Now we've got a club, there might be another champion from here. It can be realistic, whether it be in rowing or another sport.
"As long as they enjoy it, the sky's the limit."
The club was officially launched yesterday but has been up and running since July.
Head of rowing at the school, Charlie Gardner, hosted an event attended by various civic dignitaries, including Tewkesbury's borough mayor, Phil Surman.
Mr Gardner said 80 youngsters had already taken part in club activities, many of whom had been inspired by Zac's Olympic performances.
He said various groups had provided grants to support the club and this had helped it to buy three boats, each costing £7,500.
He said: "We have a squad of 25 rowers that we can currently service with our boats. I have had a lot of inquiries since the Olympics but do not have the resources to cope with the demand yet.
"We will be taking on a new cohort next term with the view to doubling our squad size by the summer."
New money has been awarded to the club by the NHS, Severn Vale Housing Society and Active Gloucestershire to help it grow.
Mr Gardner added: "With this money, we have been able to employ a professional head coach for this year who trained juniors at Gloucester who went on to become Olympians. We also plan to purchase more equipment, including coaching launches and more racing boats to cope with the growth of the club."
Zac on Olympic future, P40