Rowers: 'We really paid for that with our souls'
Sunday 17 August 2008
Britain's rowing team picked up their Olympic record where they left off in Athens: a gold medal for the men's four. "We really paid for that with our souls," said Steve Williams, the sole survivor of the 2004 boat. "Athens was an epic journey, but I think we can possibly top that this year.
"We've all had back injuries in the last 12 months. Even a month ago we were having injuries. We've had some real low moments, but you carry each other through when you don't know if you're going to get on the start line," he added.
The race into a light headwind on the sunny Shunyi course did not go the customary British way of taking the lead from stroke one and watching the others scrapping behind you. Instead, the Australians dug really deep and stole the show for three-quarters of the distance. When the British stroke, Andy Hodge, looked round with 500 metres of the course left, he could just catch sight of the Aussies' stern.
"I said, 'Jesus', and we started to take the rate up and up, and at 250 to go it was all out from there," said Hodge. "I wouldn't like to say that we planned to do that, but we really had to bring out our final gear. I'm glad to say that it worked. It shocked the hell out of me."
It was a sublime moment as Hodge put his foot down and took Williams, Tom James and Pete Reed with him. Edging forward became a leap and a bound and James, in the bow seat, passed his opposite number in the Aussie boat. "It was like when you close your eyes just before a crash," Hodge said. "You close your eyes and hope for the best. I didn't see anything, just tried to keep the boat in a straight line."
The result of that, and possibly of invoking the Almighty, was Hodge's crew (pictured) were three seconds quicker than Australia over the last 500m. The victory was down to the line.
Jürgen Grobler, who has maintained his record of coaching crews to gold medals each time he has had one at the Games since 1976, acknowledged the achievement of the Australians, who appeared on the scene only recently. But he explained how his crew cope with taking arace to the last stroke, just as his Sydney and Athens fours did.
"I know exactly over the four years what they can do, what kind of character they have, how deep they can dig, and that's what you have to do on a day like today," he said. "The last 100 metres is in the brain. It is still sending the signal down when it gets a little bit dark. To still hold together and pull together is the main message."
Alan Campbell's brave regatta while he is still recovering from a knee infection fizzled out with a fifth place in the single sculls behind a titanic struggle between the Athens champion, Olaf Tufte, and the world champ-ion, Mahe Drysdale, the Norwegian Tufte taking his second straight gold.
Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington turned their rocket booster on for the best race of their lives in the double sculls. The medals were decided on a photo finish, New Zealand winning by one hundredth of a second from Germany with Britain in bronze position a fifth of a second behind and closing.
The men's double scullers, Matt Wells and Stephen Rowbotham, also won bronze and were fading when the Estonians caught them on the last stroke to take the silver behind Australia, who also won the coxless pairs to put Australia at the top of the rowing medal table.
Britain's lightweight double scullers, Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, will be going for gold today. They are unbeaten and on fire, and will be joined at the top end of the medal zone by the women's quadruple scullers, Annie Vernon, Debbie Flood, Fran Houghton and Katherine Grainger, and the men's eight. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the men's lightweight four and the women's eight will finish in the medal zone also.
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