British Rowing at the Olympics

XXVIIth Olympics
September 2000
Christopher Dodd reports from Penrith Lakes
especially for the Rowing Service
Olympic Reports The world on tenterhooks as history creeps ever closer

The four and the pair came through with the goods after another sleepless night for us all. Tossing and turning and beating the alarm to its job is getting tiresome. I understand it is even affecting the crews, Matt Pinsent having honked a bowl of cereal "without the bowl", as he put it, into Penrith Lake before the four's semi. He had to reassure Tim and James that it was a good sign. If Matthew knows no fear before a big race, all may be lost.

Cracknell, Redgrave, Foster, Pinsent, Coode and Searle this morning joined the men's eight and the women's quad in the weekend's programme of finals. The four took the lead in twelve strokes and established clear water by 750 metres. Slovenia were ahead for the first eleven strokes and tried seriously to make an impression later, but couldn't do more than ensure that they were in the top three. The Americans, the only crew in Sydney whom the Brits had never raced, pushed to second by the 1500 metre mark, but were back behind Slovenia at the line. Pinsent was not required to try a push, nor did he, and they got there in 6:02.28.

The three crews who gave the British a wake-up call at the World Cup in July by spoiling their unbeaten record qualified in the other semi. The lead passed from Norway to Italy to Australia, who, roared on their way by their army of supporters, pinched first place in a time a third of a second faster than the British. Italy and New Zealand followed for the other two qualifying places.

I am not going to speculate about Saturday. How these people expect onlookers and scribes to bear the pressure, year after year and now minute after minute, I don't know. There was Steve Redgrave looking his best at a press conference saying that he is actually enjoying the week. Stone the crows, where is the miserable mumbling brooding giant with four-o'clock shadow who was riding the buses in Atlanta? Or moping under a tree in Barcelona? Or hiding behind his dark glasses in the concrete jungle of Seoul? Or...? Foster has to gall to smile wherever he goes, Pinsent has been seen talking to the others and Cracknell is going around saying that losing in Lucerne had the nice effect of not making him feel relief every time he won a race. "Here winning is not a relief. It feels better to be tracking someone down than being hunted."

Italy, beware the huntsmen. And Oz and NZ, and Slovenia and the Yanks. The boys still have you in their sights.

Coode and Searle put themselves in the gold zone after dominating the fastest pairs semi-final. They took the lead after 250 metres and held it until the 1996 Olympic bronze medallists Michel Andrieux and Jean-Christophe Rolland came up at the end and, as Searle put it, "we were perhaps too cool to the French". A tenth of a second split the two, with France in front. The tricolour boat had a rotten start but a pretty flash finish. The Brits reckon that, as long as the weather holds the lake flat and beautiful like it has been now for five days, that any lane advantage missed by coming first is not an advantage. The South Africans Ramon di Clemente and Donovan Cech also qualified, while the Aussies Matthew Long and James Tomkins won the other semi.

The significant point here is that the first four crews in the British race were faster than Long and Tomkins. Their race began with the Americans Ted Murphy and Sebastian Bea leading before shifting to Australia during the last 500 metres, with Yugoslavs Djordje Visacki and Nikola Stojic coming up into second place.

The crew reckon that this event is anybody's, and I agree. They have a very good chance indeed. The only thing that worries me is that they do not wear matching shades. Greg's appear to have a white frame, while Ed's don't. I feel sure their is an IOC rule somewhere which will be used to see them off.

Thus a remarkable British quartet are poised to achieve their first aim on Saturday, and if they do so they will also make history by clocking up a fifth Olympic title for 38-year-old Redgrave, an unprecedented achievement in an endurance sport. It will also be a third medal for Pinsent. If the pair can pull it off, it will be a second for Searle. If the eight can pull it off on Sunday and the women's quad achieve the first-ever Olympic gong for British women...

I am going back to the hotel to sleep on it.

Meanwhile, the scullers Matthew Wells and Alison Mowbray are no longer giving me sleepless nights. They both go to Saturday's B finals for places 6-12. Wells finished fifth and Mowbray sixth in their respective semis. This is a highly encouraging result for both in a star-studded line-up. The world champion Rob Waddell of New Zealand and the 1996 Olympic champion Xeno Mueller of Switzerland won the men's semis, and the women's were won by Germany's Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski and Bulgaria's Rumyana Neykova.

© Copyright Christopher Dodd 2000. All rights reserved