Gold for Pinsent's four - by eight-hundredths of a second

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The Independent Online

Matthew Pinsent joined the Olympic immortals this morning when he led the coxless four to gold for Britain after the tightest of photo finishes on an unforgettable morning at the Schinias rowing centre.

The man from Eton, who had garnered three Olympic golds while racing in the shadow of Sir Steven Redgrave, made it four in a row to go within one of the record of his big pal and Britain's greatest Olympian.

But the margin over Canada was the blink of an eye - just eight hundreths of a second.

For James Cracknell it was his second gold to go with the one he won in Sydney, while for Ed Coode and Steve Williams it was their first taste of Olympic triumph.

What a fantastic ending to a story which had been bedevilled by disruption, injury and political in-fighting for the best part of 18 months.

And what an endorsement of the talents of German coach Jurgen Grobler who ruthlessly axed Tony Garbett and Rick Dunn from the boat to incorporate Pinsent and Cracknell from their ill-fated initial challenge in the pairs.

In the end it was a crew which had been together just six weeks and had rowed just one regatta before coming to Athens.

But with Pinsent's inspiration and good old-fashioned British grit and determination the four saw off the challenge of the technically superior Canadians in a race rippling with tension.

Fans, nervous with anticipation but buoyed by the earlier silver won by Kath Grainger and Cath Bishop in the women's pairs and the bronze gathered by Sarah Winckless and Elise Laverick in the women's double sculls, had pitched their Union Jacks in front of the stands which formed a colourful backdrop in front of the Schinias mountains.

They were swiftly roaring their support as Britain took an early lead at 500metres, however, the margin was just 0.41 seconds with the Canadian danger boat holding its form and Australia third.

At the halfway mark the margin was still just 0.44 seconds with virtually nothing between Britain and Canada and a nervous ripple went around the stands.

And then came the most important phase of the race. This past week Pinsent had admitted that they had lost concentration during the second-half, failed to increase their effort when it was vital.

There is no place for such complacency in Olympic finals. This time the experience, desire and sheer grit of the British crew was clear to see in the grimace of Cracknell and the jutting determination of Pinsent.

At 1500m the Canadians had clawed their way into the lead by half a second and we feared the worst.

But then came that grit and all those painful hours though as they raced to the line it was impossible to tell which boat held the advantage.

In the end it needed that photo-finish and there was an anxious wait before the scoreboard flashed up the result which all Britain wanted to see - gold medallists by the slenderest of margins.

Britain's time was 6:06.98 with the Canadians eight hundreths of a second back and Italy third. But it was medals, not times, which mattered.

And Pinsent had joined a hall of fame of gold medal winners at four successive Games such as the great Carl Lewis, Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom and American discus thrower Al Oerter.

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