Tokyo 2020: Great Britain’s rowing domination comes to an end amid war of words aimed at ‘smug’ old guard

The long-running success of Team GB is over in this particular event - but a first medal comes in the quadruple sculls instead

Tom Harle
Friday 30 July 2021 10:39

Tokyo 2020 round-up

Matt Rossiter hopes the old guard are happy that Britain’s men’s four ‘f***** up’ as a civil war broke out over the bows of the nation’s most prized rowing boat.

Not only did Rossiter, Sholto Carnegie, Ollie Cook and Rory Gibbs fail to produce a sixth successive Olympic gold medal, they nearly crashed the boat and finished fourth.

In a coxless boat, someone steers with their foot and in the closing stages, one of the unfortunates lost control and veered violently into the Italians in the adjacent lane. It emerged in an emotional TV interview with Matthew Pinsent that Cook was steering in the fierce crosswind.

Rossiter has a bee in his bonnet about criticism coming from outside, from what he has previously referred to as ‘the old guard’ of former members of the hallowed shell. He has now spoken in multiple press interviews of his frustration at comments that are taken to have come from Cracknell.

“It’s more just disappointing that those people will probably be really smug now that they are part of the legacy that won,” he said.

“That was a motivation to do well. I hope those people are happy we have not continued the gold run. It did not affect our performance. We managed to shut out the pressure from everything else really well.”

When the comments were put to him, four-time Olympic champion Pinsent said: “I’m utterly flabbergasted. I’m absolutely stunned.

“As far as I know, there’s nothing to it. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t know who he is referring to. What’s James said? I listened to James’s commentary the other day and he’s been nothing but complimentary about what they’ve done.

“I’ve heard of no negativity from anyone I’ve ever spoken to this crew. We’re proud of what they’ve done.

“What happened 20 years ago has no relevance to what happens in an Olympic rowing regatta now. It shouldn’t and I don’t think it did for this four. They have spoken about writing their own history.”

After selection was confirmed in July, Rossiter said: “The slightly older guard, I’d say, have enjoyed revelling in us not doing so well at the start of the Olympiad, to the point I’ve had to turn off my Twitter to leave it.

“Obviously there’s support but there’s certainly a vibe that some of our predecessors have been really supportive and some less so.”

Carnegie disagreed with his teammate in point of emphasis.

He said: “I think that’s just a few off comments. I don’t think that’s the vast majority by a far stretch. We’ve had incredible support from a lot of the people from years gone by, especially Pete Reed, Andy Triggs Hodge and Alex Gregory, everyone.

“So I think there’s a real sense of community in the rowing world and I think everyone has each other’s backs from all through the years.”

The race itself was humiliation in pursuit of perfection and painful to watch. Rossiter, to his eternal credit, shared exactly how it felt.

“It all happened so fast,” he said, with rowing coverage live on Eurosport and discovery+.

“You like to put your head on the pillow and feel proud and think you’ve done your best. We tried our best but we really screwed up there at the finish so it’s a bit heartbreaking.

“There’s no sugarcoating it – we’re absolutely devastated. We fully biffed into the Italians. It’s an outdoor sport and this stuff happens. It’s just heartbreaking when it’s you and not something on YouTube. In the heat of the moment we let concentration go.

“Coming fourth is the worst place in the world. It’s heartbreaking because we’ve done so well in the last two years and then when it actually matters we f***** it up. That’s sport.”

Britain’s golden streak wasn’t South Korean archery or Chinese diving, but it was one of the longest unbroken streaks of dominance for a European nation in any Olympic discipline.

It has been a burden for four Olympic newbies to bear, with men’s sweep standard-bearer Moe Sbihi moved into the eight which has been the top boat in this cycle.

Rossiter, Carnegie, Cook and Gibbs couldn’t be blamed for feeling abandoned by departed chief coach Jurgen Grobler who poured attention into the eight, which in turn failed to navigate its Olympic heat, and left them to carry the weight of history.

Sbihi, who led the men’s eight through their repechage, was part of the fifth successive gold medal at Rio 2016, alongside Alex Gregory, George Nash and Constantine Louloudis.

“You can’t change the past and you have to live with it,” he said.

“The eight are still Olympic champions and the four have been for 25 years - you can’t shy away from that. It’s how we deal with that as a team.

“We could have maybe embraced it a little bit better than we have been. Everyone deals with things differently, they did things their way.

“The burden’s no longer there now so moving forward we don’t have to worry about it.”

When one era ends, another one begins. On a tumultuous day at Sea Forest Waterway, Britain won their first-ever medal in the men’s quadruple sculls. Jack Beaumont, Angus Groom, Harry Leask and Tom Barras caught the field cold from all the way over in lane one, leading beyond the halfway mark.

They were reeled in by Netherlands who took gold in a world record time, but held off charging Australia by 0.22s.

“We’ve been part of a rowing team that’s had huge success, a huge tradition of British rowing,” said Beaumont.

“But in our sculling team, there’s a tradition of being in the shadows a little bit. We’ve built on years of hard, hard work and near misses and I’m so proud to get this silver medal.”

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