Gold rush continues as British rowers scoop two more titles
Saturday, 04 August 2012
August 4 - The host nation took its total of London 2012 rowing titles to four here – thanks to the flagship men's four, winning a fourth consecutive British gold in their event and the lightweight double scull of Katherine Copeland (pictured, right) and Sophie Hosking (pictured, left) – on a stretch of water that has proved so golden for the home team that they might now be tempted to re-name it Eton Adorney.
There was silver too for the hosts as they finished with nine medals in total, one more than their previous record Olympic haul at the 1908 London Games – but for the shattered defending men's lightweight double sculls pairing of Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase it felt more like gold lost.
After succumbing in the final 25 metres to the Danish pairing of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist, who finished 0.61sec ahead in 6min 37.17sec, the British pair were a picture of despair as they drifted down past the line, Purchase sobbing with his hands over his face, Hunter ahead of him, sunk in bleak exhaustion.
If there was bitter disappointment for these two home rowers, however, there was elation for their team mates in the two previous races on a day when the racing was concluded with an emphatic victory in the single sculls for Miroslava Knapková of the Czech Republic.
Three of four who had won gold in the four at the Beijing Games were present again, with Alex Gregory the newcomer joining Tom James, Pete Reed and Andy Triggs Hodge in what was billed as – and what turned out to be – a private battle with the Australian boat that had beaten them at the last World Cup in Munich, with William Lockwood, James Chapman, Joshua Dunkley-Smith and 37-year-old Drew Ginn, a member of the original "oarsome foursome" which won this title at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
That was the last time a non-British crew won this event as the home four maintained what has become one of the sport's great traditions thanks to a bold race strategy which saw them take a lead virtually from the first stroke which they never lost, finishing in 6:03.97, even though the Australians, who clocked 6:05.19, never lost touch.
The United States crew took bronze in 6:07.20.
Triggs Hodge described the level of expectation beforehand as "utterly terrifying", adding: "The support we have had gave us such a lot of belief and confidence, but it also put us near to a cliff edge where you realised it could end up being disastrous.
"Even during the race there was a part of me that was waiting for something to go wrong.
"So it is a huge honour to sit here as home Olympic champions.
"I feel very humbled by it all – I really do."
Gregory, the only remaining member of the British four that won the world title last year, also admitted to feeling the tension.
"I was pretty nervous before the race," he said.
"The other guys said they weren't, and that made me feel a bit better.
"But I think they were lying!
"I was particularly nervous because these three had won in Beijing, so if we hadn't have done it here I think all eyes would have been on me."
For Reed and Triggs Hodge, switched to the four this season after it became apparent that they might never beat the inspired New Zealand pairs crew of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray – gold medallists here on the previous day – this was an especially sweet victory.
And sweet too for the men's head coach Jürgen Gröbler, who had once again taken the hard decision, just as he had when ditching Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell's pairs ambitions and putting them into a four which went on to win the gold at the 2004 Athens Games.
"I can only feel happy right now," said Reed.
"Andy and I have had a tough Olympiad – it was a silver Olympiad, to be honest – and we had many trials and dark times.
"But I remember when Jurgen spoke to us about the coxless four, Andy and I were excited straight away that we would be racing in such a strong boat.
"Losing to the Kiwis made us better and stronger and able to fight harder.
"I have got no regrets about the last four years."
Ginn, meanwhile, broke down briefly in tears as he was asked to reflect upon his career and likely future after an Olympic regatta where Australia failed to take a gold for the first time since Sydney 2000.
"For me at 37 years of age I would love to go on, but it takes a lot," Ginn said.
"I'll make a decision at Christmas.
"You don't just back off.
"You dig deep inside yourself.
"It takes a toll with the family.
"I always said beforehand I would take the time afterwards to assess the future, but the reality is I have had two back surgeries.
"Just being here was something.
"After my back injury in Beijing I was not sure I'd row again."
As the great Olympian spoke, Britain's four gold medallists looked over with respect and empathy.
Copeland and Hosking, who had only teamed up this season, had qualified fastest, but they were headed for the first half of the race by the Greek pairing of Christina Giazitzidou and Alexandra Tsiavou, who eventually took bronze behind the Chinese crew of Dongxiang Xu and Wenyi Huang.
Speaking after a victory which, among other things, will guarantee the pair featuring on a stamp issued by the Royal Mail, Copeland commented: "I can't believe this is real.
"Yeah, we're going to be on a stamp tomorrow."
Referring to Britain's other rowing gold medallists, Copeland added: "I really don't see myself like any of those people.
"I know this isn't the Oscars, but can I thank my mum and dad?"
When Hunter and Purchase finally got to land, the former had to be helped out of the boat – by Sir Steve Redgrave and team doctor Ann Redgrave – and could barely speak to the BBC as he apologised "for letting everyone down".
Purchase, distraught, was able to clarify the problem he had had with his seat, which had jammed at the start, forcing a re-start after nervous repairs had been effected by team officials.
It was hard to believe that the home pairing had not lost vital energy after getting away to the best of the starts, but Purchase said: "It didn't have any bearing on the result, to be fair.
"We did the best race we could.
"We've really enjoyed being part of this amazing team.
"I just wish we could have been a bit quicker."
The incident recalled the circumstances of the previous evening, when Britain's team pursuit team were allowed to re-start a race which eventually saw them take gold after Phillip Hindes had miscued and fallen.
The rowing race could be halted within the rules, as the incident took place within the first 100 metres.
The re-run saw New Zealand add a bronze to the two golds secured the day before, as Storm Uru and Peter Taylor finished in 6:40.86.
After sixth place finishes at their previous two regattas, silver could have been something for the Brits to celebrate here, but that was not how it felt on the day to the gold medallists of Beijing.
Maybe in time.
August 2012: Grainger and Watkins take gold for Britain in women's double sculls
August 2012: Britain's men's rowing four take silver in "brutal" race
August 2012: Home celebrations as rowers Glover and Stanning earn Team GB maiden gold medal of London 2012