ZAC Purchase will always have fond memories of Tewkesbury High Street, the place where he dreamed of taking on the world and then celebrated when those dreams came true.
The Olympic champion rower announced his retirement from the sport yesterday, ending a medal-filled career that saw him bag four global titles.
From modest beginnings in his home town, where he once busked with his saxophone to earn money to kick-start his rowing career, Purchase rose to the top of the sport.
A world champion in 2006, 2010 and 2011, Purchase’s career highlight came in 2008 when, alongside Mark Hunter, he claimed Olympic gold in the lightweight double scull in Beijing.
To mark that success his home town laid on an open top bus tour and the Olympic champion was given a hero’s welcome on the streets where he had once entertained shoppers..
Reflecting on his career, the 27-year-old said that the bus ride and the magical events of what went before will always live long in the memory.
“It’s been a complete roller-coaster and I wouldn’t ever have expected to achieve what I have when I was setting out,” Purchase said.
“Sport is a cut-throat environment and things worked out brilliantly for me. There is no easy way to get to the top.
“I had luck on my side and I feel very fortunate and honoured to have had the chance to race for my country and have some success as well.
“Beijing was fantastic and the aftermath too. And one of the things that will live with me for the rest of my life is going down Tewkesbury high street on that open top bus.
“To have that honour from my home town was awe inspiring and was such an emotional moment I will never forget that.”
Post-Beijing Purchase and Hunter comfortably ruled their discipline until illness hit the year before the London Games in 2012.
Hit by a virus and then post-viral fatigue, the duo were rank outsiders to claim their second world title together in Slovenia, before turning the form book on its head.
Admitting that title win was another major career highlight, Purchase said what happened in the following year will always rankle
Favourites to claim a second gold medal on home water at London 2012, the British duo overcame drama in their Olympic final when Purchase’s seat broke early in the race.
But a fairy tale finish did not come after the restart as Danish pair Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist beat them to the line with Purchase and Hunter claiming silver.
Inconsolable after their defeat, the pair did an emotional post-race interview, even turning BBC television presenter John Inverdale into a quivering wreck.
And after taking a year out to consider his options, Purchase finally called time on his career admitting that the burning desire to do the hard yards training was no longer there.
“London is one of those moments that will always haunt me, because we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve,” Purchase said.
“But I have to look over my career as a whole. Three world championship golds and an Olympic gold and silver and world records, I can be really proud of what I have achieved.
“I made the decision after London to take some time out and wait to see if I had that burning desire and passion to get back in a boat and be a part of that Olympic movement again.
“I will always be a competitive person but I no longer have that burning passion to invest not only hours, weeks, months and years of my time but also other’s as well.
“I’m married now and I have other things I want to explore and it’s time to think about doing other things in my life.
“I will always be active person and will keep fit, and I would certainly like to keep involved in rowing and sport.
“I’m on the board of the British Athletes Commission and I want to help with that, making sure that I can pass on my knowledge to the next generation of Olympic hopefuls.
“I am also looking forward to watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi and I will be in Rio in two years’ time, cheering on the British team to what is hopefully more success.”