British Rowing at the Olympics

XXVIIth Olympics
September 2000
Christopher Dodd reports from Penrith Lakes
especially for the Rowing Service
Olympic Reports Divine draw for the Four September 19th 2000

A third day of perfect calm and clear blue sky deep in Sydney's western suburbs, and a draw for the semi-finals of the Olympic coxless pairs that must surely indicate that someone benign - if not British - is tweaking the sunbeams up there.

Get this: Semi-final 1 - Germany, US, France, GB, Slovenia, Romania. Semi-final 2: Egypt , Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Yugoslavia.

Now, I know that complacency is the worst enemy at this stage, that nobody should be forgotten and all that, but the Famous Five - James, Steve, Tim, Matt and Jurgen, must have allowed a little smile to play on the lips when they saw that. After a copybook heat which knocked the Aussies for six and put smiles back on their supporters' faces everywhere - and their supporters are everywhere, even a few home grown Pom bashers here - the three crews who knocked them off their perch in Lucerne are in the other half. Not only do Italy, NZ and Australia meet together, but they also have Norway, holders of the world's best time.

Divine interference in this matter was the influence of Mike Williams, treasurer to the international governing body FISA. A 20 cent Aussie coin was tossed to decide which draw method was to be used to sort the crews, and it was Williams who so inspiredly tossed it. Ed and Greg have a good draw in the pairs, too, and the more you look at it, the more you think that that this event is much less a foregone conclusion than it seemed a month ago.

That was the good news, that and the continued progress of Alison Mowbray and Matthew Wells in the single sculling, both of whom passed into Friday's semi-final round with flying colours.

The bad news is Dot Blackie and Cath Bishop, sitting bewildered, no, numbed under the Southern sky having crossed the line last in their pairs rep. Dot and Cath lost the plot somewhere since they won the silver medal at the world championships in 1998. They won the world cup in 1998 and 1999, but slipped to fifth in the world championships last year. They waved goodbye to Mike Spracklen's Marlow group, largely on the grounds that everyone else there were scullers, and threw themselves onto Henley Reach where strong men's club crews from Leander and Upper Thames, not to mention half the men's heavyweight team, were happy to give them pacing and eat breakfast together etc.

I talked to them in Seville in March and they thought they had turned the corner. But here in Sydney it is clear that the corner has not been turned, and it's too late now. This is the cruelty of the Olympic spirit of faster, higher, and stronger. Dot and Cath are slower and weaker, despite the thrilling races we have seen them perform in the past, despite their dedication to the job in hand, and despite their humour and good nature and the way they have willingly shared their thoughts and feelings through Cath's regular column in Regatta Magazine. It feels so inadequate to wish them a good B final.

Frances Houghton and Sarah Winckless were soon left behind in their double sculls repechage. A late surge brought them past the Swiss boat to third place, but it was miles off the two qualifying places filled by Lithuania and the US.

It is unrealistic to expect either Mowbray or Wells to be in the top halves of their semi-finals, but you never know. Mowbray is more analytical as she sculls better, while Wells has a strong streak of pure optimism which will make him have a go at Waddell and Porter, to name two whom he meets on Friday. He is rejoicing, anyway, that after missing the first half of the season with injury, he wakes up and looks out at the Olympic flame burning in Homebush stadium across the way. Here is a guy who is going places, even if on this occasion he may run out of wind like he did in the last 500 metres of his rep.