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British Army’s Golden Girl: Double Olympic Champion

Former Olympian Major Heather Stanning OBE RA, a Battery Commander serving with 47 Regiment Royal Artillery, made history by winning Team GB’s first gold medal at London 2012.

Alongside her rowing partner Helen Glover they became the first British female rowers to win an Olympic crown.

That winning partnership saw them successfully defend their Coxless Pairs title four years later at Rio 2016, and at the pinnacle of Heather’s career she announced her retirement from the world stage later that year.

On the eve of the event that made her a double Olympic champion, Major Stanning reflects on the Games as a spectator, rather than a competitor:

“This is clearly the first Games since I retired, so it is going to be strange watching athletes and friends competing and not being there myself.

“My life has moved on and it is time for the next generation to have their shot at the titles and records.”

One of those athletes is fellow Gunner and boxer Karriss Artingstall, who serves with 1 Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, and is making her Olympic debut.

Speaking from Larkhill, Wiltshire, the home of the Royal Artillery, Heather said:

It is so exciting knowing that the Gunner flag is still being flown at the Olympics by boxer Karriss Artingstall. Maj Heather Stanning

“It is so exciting knowing that the Gunner flag is still being flown at the Olympics. I just hope Karriss can enjoy the occasion and takes a moment to appreciate all the hard work she has put in to get to where she is.

“She’s in a unique position, not only does she have a nation behind her, she also has an Army cheering her on too.”

Heather commissioned as an officer from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in August 2008, but as a teenager she looked at both the Army and the Navy as a career and whilst both parents served in the Navy, she was drawn by the opportunities the Army offered to play sport, take part in Adventure Training and travel.

On retiring from elite sport, Heather resumed her military career, she was promoted to Major whilst at the Rio Olympics, one of the reasons for returning to her Army career and points out “the skills and values I learnt at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst certainly shaped me into the athlete I became.”

She has been an inspiration not only to a generation of sports fans but also to the 85 service personnel now under her command, taking up the post of sub-unit commander during the COVID lockdowns.

“Coming together as a team when we weren’t physically together was a challenge”, said the 31 (HQ) Battery Commander. “Through sport I have learnt to get the most out of someone; you need to understand how they are motivated.”

And for the officer and former Olympian with two distinguished careers, who inspired her?

Dame Kelly Holmes was a huge inspiration for me. Maj Heather Stanning

“As a youngster looking at a career in the military and also being obsessed with sport, Dame Kelly Holmes was a huge inspiration for me.

“I got my motivation and inspiration from those I trained with day to day…I mean have you seen the recent documentary on Helen – training with her day to day is all you need for inspiration!”

Despite having hung up her Team GB colours, Heather is the current holder of the Olympic Coxless Pairs with former team-mate Helen, a title she is keen for Great Britain to hold on to:

“It will be emotional watching Helen compete. I know how hard she has trained for this and the sacrifices she is making to be in Tokyo.

“But the experience she has will mean, regardless of the result, she and new rowing partner Polly Swann will put on a fantastic performance.”