British Rowing at the Olympics

XXVIIth Olympics
September 2000
Rachel Quarrell writing on the races as seen on TV.
Olympic Reports H4- heats, Sunday September 17th


Only a couple of race reports in this format at the start of the week, kicking off with a look at the event the whole world is watching, the formidable battle for success in the men's coxless fours.

Heat one, and the draw brings together the great rivals of the Brits and Aussies, with Slovenia, Romania, and Yugoslavia completing the set. The Australian four has had a shift in order recently, leaving Ben Dodwell sandwiched between the Stewart twins, at 2, and Bo Hanson stroking. The big story here is not necessarily qualification, as three crews from each heat get straight to the semi-final. Instead the crucial part will be times, and order: after their disastrous result at the Lucerne World Cup, the British four will be hoping to get through ahead of the Australian four, with enough ease to reassert their dominance. The Australians, although the "new-look" Oarsome Foursome, inherit their predecessors' expectations: the green and gold have held this Olympic title for eight years now, and the home advantage is theirs too.

The heat is rising at Penrith now, mid-morning Sydney time, but the water remains calm, no serious wind troubling the racing yet. Recently conditions have gradually worsened during the day, so an early rowing schedule is giving the crews a good chance of fair competition.

The call-over starts, and it looks (and sounds) like the chairman of Henley Royal, Mike Sweeney, starting this race. Mind you, he's now so important in FISA that it shouldn't be him, more likely a tribute clone. In general, though, rowing is such a tiny sport that the FISA umpiring collective constantly have to take turns officiating at competitions. There is clearly every expectation of utter fair play, since it's pretty amusing how often the "right" blazerati are on hand to watch over their national heroes and heroines at the big races.

The traffic lights switch, and all five crews whisk away quickly as a pack. Almost all finish the first stroke together, and the British blades bite into the water for the second, a fraction in front. AUS wind up to a lower rate, and as the Brits and Slovenians race out ahead, the Aussies look cool and calm, playing a waiting game. As the commentators remind us, GBR still went out early even during their loss in Lucerne, so the early quarter of the race may not tell us much. 500 metres out, though, and with the leading crews still rating 39, GBR have a 3/4 length over SLO, with AUS a shade behind.

As the fours begin to settle to their cruise pace, SLO are still edging AUS out, but remember there are three qualifying places, and a long way to go. A push comes, at 900 gone, AUS rate rising a clear couple of pips, and they sneak through the Slovenians steadily. Then the GBR lift comes, just as the Aussies finish theirs, and it's less than a canvas overlap between GBR and AUS - nearly clear water.

1300 metres coming up, nearly into the last quarter of the race, and the crowd is yelling all twenty men on. AUS push it hard, is this their big move to wreck the British four's composure? The green bowtip is coming back a few inches a stroke, and the British blades notch up the rate from 36 to 37 to hold back the assault. 200 metres to go, these two crews locked in a head-to-head well ahead of the pack, and Pinsent has just said what looked like "long, long, long" as he hangs off his blade, levering through each stroke solidly. As the camera pans from the home crew to the challenging leaders, the gap is now clear water. SLO still third, everyone now sure of the place they can reach, so nobody needs to bring out their top speed, but that's a fast heat to set a standard for the other H4- races. From the British point of view, that was the only result which would make them smile.

We didn't get coverage of the second heat in this event, which was won by the Italians, with world speed record-holders Norway second.

In the third heat, dark horses France are matched against the pacy challengers from New Zealand, who have shown flashes of brilliance in this competition in the last two years. Egypt and New Zealand make up the numbers in this smallest heat.

France get the quickest second stroke in, and look very confident, whizzing off with the Germans hot on their heels. They look to be matching Redgrave and co, even down to the margin they have over NZL and GER as they pass the 500-metres-gone marker. Germany are still holding their own, but the Kiwi crew have pushed their way through into second place now, still several seats behind the French. FRA now have nearly a length and a half advantage, and are rowing long and relaxed. Germany, now well behind New Zealand, are by comparison rowing short and solid, but they are a new line-up.

France are drawing away every stroke during this middle section, and it's not at all obvious if the Kiwis are letting them, or are outclassed. None of these crews appear to be particularly stressed, though, so it may be a typical "easy" heat, France content to qualify first in a slow time, NZL equally happy to get to the semi-finals and not concerned as to which lane they draw in that. GER now coming up quite rapidly as the French approach the last stretch, and taking their chance to practice race lifts and pushes while not under pressure. EGY are rowing valiantly and look classy, but don't quite have the speed they need to avoid the repechage.

FRA sprint for the last fifteen strokes, rating high across the line, and come in four and seven seconds behind ITA and GBR, winners of the second and first heats respectively. Meanwhile NZL and GER photofinish for second, a very close result which goes by less than a bowball to the Kiwi four.

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