Team GB's lightweight men's four pipped into silver medal position as South Africa claim first ever rowing gold

 

After
simmering through the heats, this regatta is reaching a scalding boil. In qualifying, boats
have been exchanging positions with painful reluctance, if at all, but
today a home crew played a stirring role in the finish of the week so far.

In getting as close as they did, admittedly, the men of the lightweight four initially struggled to separate pride and despair. Neutrals, however, would urge them not only to treasure their silver medals, but also to acknowledge a significant breakthrough for their sport. For the oarsmen who thwarted them so narrowly were the first to win gold for South Africa – including, at stroke, a pioneer for the black community in Sizwe Ndlovu.

And what, after all, might the Australian and Danish give for that silver, as testimony to their own contribution to a four-way, half-length shoot-out that was exhausting merely to watch? The Danes had thrown down the gauntlet, opening up by a length on Australia at halfway, and the British took time to find top gear. Closing to third, they had an overlap at 1,500 metres, but it was the Australians who had all but drawn level. The Danes bravely broke that challenge, but lost their rhythm in the process – enabling the British, inspired by the patriotic tumult, to make rapid gains on their other side. And here came South Africa, fast and late. It was anybody’s race. The home crew nosed past the Danish stern yards from the finish, only to find that the lead had already changed hands, moments before. Three boats flashed over the line within a canvas, leaving the Australians somehow bereft.

Perhaps even the latter, however, would not begrudge bronze for the Danish veteran, Eskild Ebbesen – a sixth Olympic medal, in his final race. And the British soon stifled aggrieved mutterings that they had been most exposed to the crosswind. Chris Bartley threw up repeatedly. Gradually, however, they retrieved their bearings. The odyssey of Richard and Peter Chambers has been one of the stories of the week, and now they had become the first British brothers to win a medal since Greg and Jonny Searle, fellow oarsmen, shared bronze at Atlanta in 1996. And, even if blood is thicker, water has been a gratifying medium for consanguinity of another kind, with Bartley and Rob Williams.

Richard Chambers was quick to recognise second, in such a race, as an ample honour. “Whatever medal we won, it was going to be hard to celebrate,” the Ulsterman explained. “We were in absolute agony. We had to dig in and fight to the death. But we’re ecstatic. It’s definitely a day to celebrate. And massive credit to our competition.”

Bartley still felt groggy at the press conference a couple of hours later. “I don’t remember much of the last 250, to be honest,” he said. “We were so determined to make that podium, you’ll literally do anything to get there. The pain is so extreme, there’s nothing to compare with it unless you give it a try. So, yeah, give it a go.”

His grinning invitation seemed unlikely to find many takers, there and then, but the overall momentum of the British sport must now serve as an inspiration in Ndlovu’s homeland. “There are around 20 black South Africans for every 100 whites in rowing,” he said. “So I’m excited about what we have achieved today, and hope I can serve as a role model back home. Rowing’s more expensive than other sports, so black kids tend to get drawn towards rugby and soccer. Hopefully this will inspire a generation to take it up. It’s got to be good for our rowing community.”

The 29-year-old discovered the sport at high school in Johannesburg, but training facilities since have hardly matched the Lottery lagoons of the runners-up. “We have hippos and crocs,” he said. “One time, we passed the hippos and on the way back one popped up four metres from the boat. So we stopped and our coach took pictures, it was like a safari extreme.”

Not that the hosts themselves have experienced anything quite like this week. “It’s amazing, 25,000 or 30,000 people cheering for four midgets in a boat,” Richard Chambers marvelled. “What have we done to deserve that?” It is hard to see how this true band of brothers might have done any more.

News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat