Rowing: Cracknell and Pinsent prepare to relaunch medal pursuit

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As "God Save the Queen" sounded and the Union flag rose to herald the gold medal for Katherine Grainger and Cath Bishop on the podium under the bright sunshine over Idroscalo's water, another British pair paddled forlornly away, far across the lake towards the boat dock.

As the sun rose for the women, so it sank for James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent - the first time that Pinsent has not had a gong round his neck since 1988, and all of them gold since 1991. "Other people make a big deal about the track record," said Pinsent, the 33-year-old three-times Olympic champion. "I never set out to be a Trivial Pursuit question. Of course I'm proud of what I did over those years, but you know, in some ways I'm relieved that that's over."

Cracknell, a medallist every year since 1997, found it hard that his belief had been suspended in the race which left them with nothing. "Frustration is obviously the first feeling," he said immediately after the race, which left their heads and spirits down. "It's hard to justify not doing your best on the day that mattered. At least we didn't have our best-ever row and come fourth. We had a pretty average row and came fourth, so we know there's more to come. Well, that's about it really, right now."

The Australians Drew Ginn and James Tomkins, pulverised by the British pair a year before when they came fourth and Cracknell and Pinsent set a world record, turned the tables in spectacular fashion. They went straight out ahead. The Britons were among the chasers after 500 metres, but after a further 1,000 they opened the throttle and nothing happened.

"It's hard to turn a chase for a minor medal into something that you feel passionate about when your whole race and your whole day is about winning it, which is probably why it went so badly wrong in the last bit as it did," Pinsent said.

The result may be a seismic change in how the public perceives its heroes, but in the context of the men's team, this is a blip. The pair are focused enough to do what the Australians did, lick their wounds and come back. The eight, the four, the double scullers and the quad all performed well, so the chief coach, Jürgen Grobler, does not have to return to the drawing board.

"I think the men's team demonstrated progress, specially the eight, and holding our position in the coxless four," he said. "Okay, it looks not so good, there's a big one missing from our top performers in the pair. Those things happen. We'll go home and decide what the next step is."