British Rowing at the Olympics

XXVIIth Olympics
September 2000
Christopher Dodd reports from Penrith Lakes
especially for the Rowing Service
Olympic Reports Mission, ecstatically, accomplished

Somebody in the stand watching the Olympic eights final said "Shit! The Poms won that on the first stroke." He was probably right. A four-year campaign to break the statistic that a British eight had not won an Olympic or world title since the Stockholm Games of 1912 ended with sweet victory over the Australians, with Croatia forced back by the green and gold boat into the bronze award.

This time Andrew Lindsay, Ben Hunt-Davis, Simon Dennis, Louis Attrill, Luka Grubor, Kieran West, Fred Scarlett, Steve Trapmore and cox Rowley Douglas did what they always intend. They pushed out of the blocks, allowed no one to best them, registered a lead - less than a second - after 500 metres, and motored for the next 500 as Croatia gave chase. A massive push there and another just before the 1500 mark gave them more space over Croatia, with Australia still fourth behind Italy and the world champion Americans nowhere, even though they had swapped over six and stroke to put veteran Jeff Klepacki into the pace-setting seat.

Now the Aussies were coming, relentlessly cutting down the Croatian advantage over them as the home crowd raised their clamour for the last time in a week's enthralling rowing at the best-ever Olympic regatta. On and on they came until Douglas had to turn his head less and less if he chose to have a look. He chose not to. He held the reins while the Aussies cut the gap of four seconds between them and the Brits at 1500 metres to four-fifths of a second at the line. Douglas looked at the sky and dived for the deep - and had a fair way to go to catch his eight skidding to a halt.

They brought a photograph of the 1912 eight from the Golden Oars exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum with them to Sydney, and if they needed luck, Leander '12 brought it.

For the Brits things were on a roll when the eight was on the start. Guin and Miriam Batten and Katherine Grainger celebrated Gillian Lindsay's 27th birthday by helping her win Britain's first ever medal in the Olympics. What's more, it was a silver, by one hundredth of a second, which left the poor Russians bewildered, alone on the interview pontoon and downright disheartened. They sat with their heads down waiting interminably for the photo verdict as the German gold medallists and the British made whoopee before the tv cameras.

The race went according to the plan settled the night before for the Brits, which was to Go! Go! Go! Having established a good stride in third slot, they turned their attention from the leaders to the Russians when Lindsay, who makes the calls, realised that they were close.

There were poignant moments in the embraces and galumphing. Jurgen Grobler and Harry Mahon were there as well as Martin McElroy, the campaign manager of the eight's four-year creation. So were Matt Pinsent and Tim Foster. Foster even attended the eight's press conference, the reluctant 7 man of 1999 now embracing the men from whom he has had to keep his distance for a year. Just think: there are eleven more Brits with Olympic gold round their necks than there were two days before - including Foster. And with the girls Mike Spracklen, a coach with an outstanding record. When they reached the "flash quotes" pontoon Steve Redgrave vaulted over the photographers to be the first there, and no official even gave it a thought to stop him.

British rowing set a target after Atlanta of two Sydney medals for the men and one for the women. Delivered: two golds, one silver. Brilliant. Of course, Ed and Greg's result was a tragedy, and the demise of Dot and Cath. But you can't have everything, and we have had a glorious time down at the lake. Matthew Wells, who finished fourth in the B final of the singles, may find himself ranking ninth instead of tenth after the Latvian sculler Andris Reinholds, aged 29, second in the race, was disqualified from the Olympics today after failing a drugs test that showed positive to steroids.

I can't believe its all over, the days by the lake with ideal conditions, heat, friendly volunteers and officials, good rowing and even a good spread of medals among the participants. This regatta, and these Olympics, will take a lot of beating.

© Copyright Christopher Dodd, 2000. All rights reserved.