He was a nine-year-old boy on holiday in America when James Foad experienced the thrill of the Olympics for the first time.

Along with his family, he was there in Atlanta in 1996 to see rowing legend Steven Redgrave win what would be the third of his five Olympic gold medals.

On his return to Southampton , his head full of Redgrave’s heroics, Foad pestered his dad Chris to let him go out in a rowing boat.

Sixteen years later, James Foad is experiencing his second Olympic experience – and this time he is competing for Great Britain!

Foad is part of the GB men’s eight crew determined to beat world champions and favourites Germany to the gold in tomorrow’s men’s eight final on Eton Dorney lake.

“It was fantastic being out in Atlanta,” recalled Chris.

“We saw Redgrave and Pinsent win gold and we also saw Greg Searle win bronze along with his brother Jonny.

“That’s pretty ironic now considering James is going to be racing with Greg in the London Olympics.”

Greg Searle is aiming to win his second Olympic gold in the 2012 Games, 20 years after his first arrived in Barcelona.

James Foad’s journey from Atlanta to London is typical of any Olympic athlete.

Behind the scenes, away from the public glare, lies a heartwarming tale of countless hours of training and hard work.

Add to that countless hours of travelling, and countless personal sacrifices.

Years and years and years of it.

All that, in order to compete in the ultimate sporting extravaganza.

All that for the chance to be part of history in the making.

It was no surprise that Foad was bitten by the rowing bug when he was so young.

He was born into a rowing family – grandfather Les had started rowing when he was young in Kent, and dad Chris did likewise.

James’ uncles and cousins have also represented Southanpton’s Itchen Imperial rowing club, as has his younger brother Tom.

When he entered his teens, it soon became obvious that James could turn out to be the best rower his family had ever produced.

He made his international debut for GB back in 2005, and has hardly looked back since – though he did miss a year through a back injury.

A few years ago he left Itchen to move to Surrey club Molesey, one of the top rowing outfits in England.

With training sessions beginning at 7.30am most days, that meant Foad had to leave his Southampton home around 6am.

He did this up to six times a week through both summer and winter months, before moving permanently to Hampton in Middlesex.

A few years ago, when his rowing started to become serious, James was working in Southampton for insurance company Skandia Life.

It was an arrangement which couldn’t last and, obviously, something had to go.

On quitting his job, Foad was forced to ask his family for financial help.

Chris remembered: “I told him if he was really determined to make it in rowing, we would help him, but he had to be really determined.

“He was.

“We have helped him, other family members have helped him, and members down at Itchen have also contributed.

“I am sure not many people realise the sacrifices James has had to make.

“He couldn’t go out when he was 19 until two in the morning, like his friends did.

“James was up at five in the morning sometimes, before driving up to Molesey on his own to train.

“Then, after several training sessions, he had to drive back to Southampton again on his own.

“That can be very tiring.

“We bought him a car, paid for the petrol and insurance, things like that.

“James had a part-time job for a little while, but he had to give it up because he was away on training camps and the like.”

In recent years, James has benefitted from Lottery funding.

“It was a small amount when he first qualified in 2009,” said Chris.

“After about 18 months he got a bit more, and after winning silver at the 2011 World Championships he was promoted to a full Lottery-funded athlete.

“It’s not a fantastic amount of money compared to what the footballers earn, but it’s not too bad.

“Put it this way, it makes up for the four or five years of sacrifice.”

James never had any doubt that he would one day race in the Olympics.

“I asked him that the other day, if he ever thought he would compete in the Games,” said Chris.

“He said ‘yes, I always thought that’.

“He’s told me he wants to still be going when the Olympics are held in Rio in 2016, and possibly even after that.

“That would take him through to 33 or 34, but age doesn’t really matter – look at Greg Searle, he was 40 this year.

Though personal sacrifices have been made, there is no doubting the plus side of Foad’s sporting career.

His rowing has taken him to New Zealand, Slovenia, Germany and the Czech Republic, among others.

Now, the biggest event of his life is coming into view.

His dad can’t wait to be part of a 30,000 crowd roaring on his son and all the other GB rowers at Eton Dorney.

“I’m not nervous at the moment,” said Chris. “But I will be on the day.

“I am very excited, I can’t wait.

“The Olympics will give the country a big boost.

“Unless you have experienced first hand what an Olympics is like, then you can’t be negative about it.

“It was an amazing experience being in Atlanta, and also when I went to Barcelona in 1992 with some mates.”

‘Legacy’ has become a buzz-word among London Olympic officials, and in James Foad’s case it can be fairly easy to measure.

If he is successful in the Games, he could help attract a new generation of south coast youngsters to rowing.

“We’ve got one of the biggest junior sections in this area,” said Chris Foad, who has been Itchen Imperial’s club captain for well over a decade.

“Where we do have a problem is trying to keep rowers in the 18-19-20 years age group.

“For some reason, we struggle there – perhaps there are many other things to do apart from rowing.

“But hopefully James can do well, I really think he can turn it around and they can beat the Germans and win gold.

“I still look at the picture of James when he was in Atlanta in 1996.

“He was quite tubby then, but look at him now –he’s six foot two inches tall and as lean as anything.

“It’s amazing what can happen with a lot of hard work and some perserverance.”