Redgrave in golden goodbye

OLYMPIC GAMES: Pinsent helps his legendary partner to claim a place in history while the Searle brothers have to settle for bronze
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The Independent Online
Steven Redgrave took his place in British and world rowing history yesterday as the first Briton to win gold medals at four successive Olympic Games.

Only three other men have matched Redgrave's feat: Aladar Gerevich, the great Hungarian fencer, won six golds at successive Games from 1932; Paul Elvstrom of Denmark took sailing gold in 1948, 52, 56 and 60 and Al Oerter, the American discus thrower was champion from 1956-68.

Redgrave and his partner Matthew Pinsent are the strongest combination in the sport - they are unbeaten since the last Olympics in Barcelona - but on Lake Lanier they were attacked more fiercely than at any time in the past four years and ended up winning the coxless pairs by less than a second.

It was, never the less, an outstanding performance from the pair - from the beginning of the Games they have had the power to squash all opposition and throughout they have used it ruthlessly.

But imponderables are an ever-present threat in sport and for as long as they have been crushing the fight out of all the other crews the doubt has nagged that some tiny mistake would undo all the 5000 hours of training they have endured since their gold victory in Barcelona.

A potential nemesis seemed to lurk in the persons of Rob Scott and David Weightman, the Australians with only a minimal record in international racing, who had seized the Olympic place from the pair which had come closest to the British in the world championships last year. Scott and Weightman were the only two men in the event who had not been beaten by the British and they came to the start line fearing no one.

In the heats, the British pair had deliberately allowed the other crews to hang on to them in for the first half of the race before pushing clear. Here, they changed their tactics dramatically. They opened up with a devastating burst over the first 1000m and then watched the others try to get back into the race.

It was a challenge the Australians accepted, narrowing the gap to less than a length going into the last 100m but being ultimately unable to close it further.

"They were never going to catch us - no way," Redgrave said, before leaving it to his partner to explain the change in tactics. "We wanted to really get a grip of the race early on,' Pinsent said. "We just decided to take it by the scruff of the neck knowing that each stroke we were out in front they were going to feel worse and worse.

"We were just so in control - it was the first row since Barcelona that we really got it together, and it was just such a sweet feeling."

Alas, the attempt for a second British gold medal of the day, and the Games, foundered. The coxless four of Greg and Johnny Searle, Rupert Obholzer and Tim Foster, finished third in a blanket finish behind Australia and France. For the Searles, glorious winners in Barcelona, there was no repeat. The four have won only a couple of races since forming three winters ago after the Searle's coxed-pair event was axed from the Olympic programme, when they joined with two of their school and youth team companions.

They have a higher standard of quality when they are working than almost any other crew and have the greatest capacity to produce one outstanding race. It was not quite enough yesterday, as a slow start saw them in last place after 500m. The gap to the Australians was always just too big to bridge, but their normal flying finish took them to within inches of the French. "We've no one to blame but ourselves. With five strokes to go we knew the gold just wasn't ours and second or third just isn't good enough," Johnny Searle said.

Guin Batten, who has been rowing for just three years after a career in shot-putting, had set a place in the single sculls final as her target for this year. She made it with a stirring semi-final when she put out the defending champion Elizabeta Lipa, but the final itself was one race too far and she was not able to get on terms with three scullers who each had the expectation of winning.