Great Britain claimed another gold medal out on Rio’s Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon on Saturday when the men’s eight steamed to victory in the final, leaving their rivals in their wake.
Jürgen Gröbler’s team led the way from start to finish and by 1000m, the halfway point, had built up a two and a half second lead on Germany; an ocean in rowing terms. The Germans fought back in the closing 500m to reduce the margin – but the result was never truly in doubt and the Brits cruised home with a 1.3sec gap.
The team, who had not won a race all season, had been a picture of harmony and unison for 2000m but as they crossed the line, they broke ranks and exploded into a mess of a celebration. Some splashed the water, some collapsed with exhaustion, some hugged.
Gröbler, the brains behind GB’s domination of men’s Olympic rowing, put the victory in the eight up with his best (and he’s had a few down the years: Redgrave, Pinsent et al)
“It’s a highlight of all my coaching,” the German, who also oversaw the men’s coxless four victory on Friday, said. “It was a tough four years and especially this year, looking after two crews all the way through. But if you have that reward, what can I say? The guys did a brilliant job, they followed the coxless four in the same style and everything is just fantastic.
“Having 13 Olympic champions, I haven’t done that before. That is fantastic.
“No question, with all the tradition the eight in our sport is the blue ribbon event. Managing nine people is challenging. But it is good, the power in our race was fantastic. They executed it as we discussed.”
Andrew Triggs-Hodge and Pete Reed now have three gold medals each having won titles in Beijing and London in the men’s four. They were joined by Scott Durant, Tom Ransley, Matt Gotrel, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, Will Satch and cox Phelan Hill on the podium.
“Andrew and Pete’s achievements are very special and they have been fundamental to us,” said Gröbler. Triggs-Hodge repaid the compliment, describing the German as a “genius”. “I can't put it into words,” Reed added. “We've never been so ready. They're an amazing bunch of guys. That was a big, big, race.
"It's time like this that you just think you could do this forever. This is the greatest sport, it's the greatest feeling. Even the sacrifices are worth it. When you think it's too much, when you think you can't do anymore.
“It was different to any other race. It was really hard,” he added. "My first realisation was Scott screaming behind me that we'd crossed the line and then I knew I could stop and the pain could stop and I could celebrate. I was in bits. That was everything I had.”
So what now for the 35-year-old who is a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy? "Good question. I don't want this to be the end. I feel as strong as I've ever been, I feel as ready as I've ever been. I need to think about what rowing in Tokyo in the 2020 Games would mean, what I would gain.”
Satch, 27, said that it was difficult to keep his feelings in check on the road to Rio but was delighted with the win.
“It’s just a real surreal moment. It’s been building up for four years but also the last couple of weeks. I’m an emotional bloke but it’s been hard to hold me stable. But we did it. It’s a really proud moment. It’s awesome, heroic.”
Getting eight people pulling in the same direction is a challenge (not literally, or that wouldn’t lead to gold) explained Gröbler but one that he had enjoyed from a team that had done well in training but failed to turn up on the big occasions – until Saturday.
“They are not difficult guys but of course it’s eight individuals you have to bring together. It’s like in the football, if you can manage it and create harmony and make them think and focus on one big thing it is always challenging,” he said. “We did not have so good a season. Up and down. Our expectations were always higher. The training data was always better than the regatta results. We knew there was a lot of potential but sometimes you can’t find the right button to make it click and make it work.” It clicked on Saturday.
And how did Gröbler sum up the regatta as a whole after Team GB finished top of the rowing medals with five: three gold and two silver? “In every team not all your dreams go in the right direction. But what can you ask more than three gold medals? In 2000 we had it and 16 years later we did the same thing again. It is fantastic.”
Bennett, in his first Games, was gobsmacked “I’ve just won a medal at the f***ing Olympics. And it’s gold!”
As for the future, Gröbler has not decided his plans but GB needn’t panic just yet as he sounded optimistic. “I haven’t made any final decision but I still enjoy my job and working with the guys and as long as we have the feeling that you are not looking too old or you can’t be in the driving position then … we will see.”
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