London 2012 rowing regatta the best of all time, says FISA


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The Independent Online

The London 2012 Olympic rowing regatta has been declared the best of all time by the sport's world governing body FISA.

Despite cross-winds forcing secretary-general Matt Smith into some tough decisions over lane draws for the finals, Eton Dorney emerged as one of the best venues of the Olympic Games.

The regatta had everything - from Great Britain's record-breaking performances to the heart-warming tale of Niger's Hamadou Djibo Issaka, who came 33rd and last in the single sculls but was roared home like a champion.

In between, New Zealand won three gold medals to finish second in the overall standings behind Britain, whose haul of four golds and nine medals in total was their greatest ever.

South Africa won their first rowing gold medal with a thrilling victory in the lightweight men's four while Australia, to everyone's surprise, do not have an Olympic champion.

FISA general-secretary Matt Smith said: "The president of FISA (Denis Oswald) has just called it the best Olympic regatta ever.

"A spectator evaluation said that 97% were happy and Eton Dorney was called the best Olympic venue.

"Some purists would like the Olympics to take place in Lucerne every time, but then no-one would know our sport.

"Here we have the fantastic opportunity to show 25,000 spectators (every day) our sport.

"We have to accept the outdoor aspect of it, we cannot expect perfect conditions."

Over 400,000 people enjoyed the regatta at Eton Dorney, the majority of them thrilled by Great Britain's performance but there were also flags from across the globe in the grandstands and on the grass banks.

For New Zealand, single sculler Mahe Drysdale and the men's pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray exorcised the ghosts of Beijing 2008 by winning gold in commanding fashion.

Drysdale, who battled for a bronze four years ago just days after suffering from gastroenteritis, finally added an Olympic crowd to his five world titles.

The Kiwi men's double scull of Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan also won gold in a successful regatta for their team.

There was no stronger favourite in the regatta than Bond and Murray, who have dominated their class all Olympiad and duly romped to gold.

Bond and Murray beat France into second place, just as the All Blacks did to win the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

"The All Blacks are the pinnacle of sport in New Zealand and I wouldn't put the pressure we feel on the same level as them," Murray said.

"By the sheer nature of our sport we're not on display on a week-to-week basis but my biggest fear of this whole campaign was not to be able to deliver what I knew I was capable of.

"I'm just pleased that we did. Something like 17,000 strokes were taken in training for every stroke of that final - it was a lot of effort and we're pleased that it was all worthwhile."

Australia were at the other end of the scale, leaving Eton Dorney without any gold medals after their men's four and women's double scull were both beaten into silver by Great Britain.

"I think the rowing hierarchy will be disappointed," said veteran Australian oarsman Drew Ginn.

"I think if everyone goes away and reviews it properly, we'll realise we've not quite finished off the four-year campaign.

"You certainly would have thought we'd come away with at least one gold and possibly a few more medals."

London 2012 will be remembered as a breakthrough regatta for African rowing, with South Africa winning their first Olympic gold and Djibo Issaka blazing a trail for Niger.

Affectionately dubbed "Issaka the Otter", the 35-year-old arrived in London with only three months of rowing experience behind him.

Much of his training was done in an old wooden fishing boat as Niger awaits delivery of its first competition rowing boats, which are due to arrive next month.

Djibo Issaka finished 33rd and last in the single sculls, but his efforts will spearhead Niger's attempts to build a rowing programme.

Now, we don't have any boats. No boats," Ahmadou Youssoufou, a member of the Niger Olympic Committee, told Press Association Sport.

"With the help of FISA we are getting two single sculls and two double sculls and some oars.

"They are coming in the next month so we can begin this sport in our country with the equipment.

"We have rivers and we have lakes. We think we have a real potential to do this sport in our country.

"We see that Hamadou has potential for us. I think it is a good performance for him. We are very proud of him.

"At the next Olympics, Hamadou will be stronger and faster."