Rowing: Mixed coxed four salvage British pride on the Eton Dornay lake
Over the course of five happy and glorious years Tom Aggar reigned in Paralympic rowing. Every time he pulled away from the bank, be it in Germany, China, Poland, New Zealand or Slovenia he returned with a gold medal or a world title. Yesterday morning at Eton Dornay, the scene of so much British Olympic success, he set out as one of the host nation's best chances of Paralympic gold, but there was to be no gold and not even the consolation of a medal. Aggar finished fourth.
It is, as Keri-Ann Payne pointed out in offering her sympathies, the worst place to end up. Payne, the open-water world champion, had come in fourth in the Olympics, a pre-race favourite left with nothing to show for four years of hard, gruelling graft.
There was British consolation for Aggar's shock loss with a gold arriving in the final race of the regatta via the mixed coxed fours – a boat that has taken the role of Britain's flagship, Olympic or Paralympic, for the last three decades. Without that win, from David Smith, James Roe, Naomi Riches, Pam Relph and cox Lily van den Broecke, Britain would have ended without a medal and would have failed to achieve their pre-Games target. Failure is not a feeling those involved with British rowing – David Tanner oversees both the Paralympic and Olympic crews – are at all familiar with. One gold is a step down from the two golds and a silver of Beijing, where rowing made its Paralympic debut.
There was also a fourth place for Nick Beighton, an army captain injured in Afghanistan, and Samantha Scowen in the TA mixed double sculls. It took a photo-finish to rule them out of the medals, by two-tenths of a second. "Fourth is probably the worst place to come. I'd almost rather come fifth," Scowen said.
The 28-year-old Aggar has absolutely dominated his sport for five years, ever since he won the first of four world titles in world record time in Munich in 2007. He won gold in Beijing and appeared in ideal form coming to what he described as "the biggest stage."
At halfway Aggar, a former rugby player who was paralysed from the waist down after an accident seven years ago, was in contention with China's Huang Cheng, the danger man, and Aleksey Chuvashev of Russia. But he could not hang on and faded over the second half, with Australia's Erik Hollie passing him to claim bronze.
"It's really tough for me to swallow," said a dejected Aggar. "It's tough to call. The standard has improved year on year and I've managed to stay ahead of that curve, putting in some personal bests all throughout the year, but it wasn't my day. I've managed to beat all three of these guys earlier in the year.
"I went out hard to lead from the front and two of the guys to my left came through. In the last 500 when I asked for more and dug deep there was nothing there and nothing to call on. I'm just devastated with it."
The four were the last boat on the water and made sure Britain did not end without gold. Germany had set a world best time in the heats and led at halfway but Britain responded with a surge in the last quarter to win by nearly two seconds.
"We've trained for this one moment for years and there was no way we were going to let anyone beat us," said Relph. "This is our lake."
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