Names: Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter
Sport: Rowing (lightweight double sculls)
Hometown: Purchase: Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, England; Hunter: Romford, Essex, England
Age: Purchase: 26; Hunter: 34
Why you should care about them: Are you British? If you are British, there's no way for you not to care about these guys. Rowing is a big deal in Britain, probably a way bigger deal than it should be. (Sorry!) And the Brits own rowing. They've won at least one rowing gold in every Olympics since 1984.
But it took Britain a while to conquer lightweight rowing, which first became an Olympic sport in 1996. The gold won by Purchase and Hunter in Beijing was the country's first ever in the lightweight division.
In lightweight rowing, the crew members must have an average weight of 154 pounds, and no rower may weigh more than 160 pounds. The lightweight division was introduced to allow people who don't fit the traditional description of a rower (long arms, long legs, broad shoulders—think Winklevoss) to compete. Purchase and Hunter compete in "sculling" which means they each use two oars, as opposed to "sweeping," where the rower uses both hands on a single oar.
In the water, Purchase and Hunter have to be in perfect sync, but on land, they're strikingly different. From the Guardian:
Hunter learned to row down near the Isle of Dogs, "wading in my welly boots out in all the mud and crap, past the trolleys and bodies in the water, past the big boats that would come by and soak you. It was disgusting". Purchase was at a "totally different end of the spectrum". He started at the King's School in Worcester, going up and down the Severn in the shade of the cathedral.
Following their gold medal in Beijing, Purchase and Hunter took off in completely opposite directions. Purchase went on a partying binge, telling the Guardian he was "burning the candle at both ends." Hunter, meanwhile, took a job coaching at UCLA.
The post-Olympic bender left Purchase mentally and physically exhausted. He spent a while away from the sport to recuperate before returning to team up with Hunter and win the 2010 world championship.
Olympic/world championships experience: The duo took gold at Beijing, and followed that up with golds at the 2010 and 2011 world championships.
Sexy-pose threat level:
Olympic archetype: Misty May and Kerri Walsh
Scouting report from some guy on the internet: YouTube commenter "darkblueyank":
...interesting that [Purchase] doesn't put his thumbs over the ends of the oars, or just fleetingly.
Scouting report from home country: From the Guardian:
Last time around in Beijing Hunter and Purchase proved unstoppable and are also the reigning world champions. Their preparations this year, though, have been far from smooth, with illness disrupting their recent performances. They could finish only sixth in Munich and the opposition, particularly France, are improving fast. "They have a lot of pride and they'll be fighting, but you can't class them as favourites now," said Sir Steve Redgrave recently.
Main rival: New Zealand
Medal prediction: Bronze
Did you know?: Purchase can play the saxophone.
Forecast for 2012: Purchase and Hunter have struggled in their final pre-London tune-ups. They won a World Cup Series race in Serbia in May, but had two consecutive last place finishes at races in Germany and Switzerland in June. It's cause for concern, but hopefully nothing serious. A recent story from the AP projected Purchase and Hunter to win the bronze, behind New Zealand and France.
The pair won their heat last Sunday and their semifinal on Thursday. They go for a medal tomorrow.
Relevant Bob Costas facial expression:
For a handy master schedule of every Olympic event, click here.