At every Games there are races that will go on to be spoken about for years to come. The men’s eight in London might well be one such race.

The German men's eight racing to gold at the 2012 Olympic Games Rowing Regatta

Standing on the medals pontoon on 2 August  2012 were 2012’s Olympic medallists from Germany, Canada and Great Britain. How they got there and the drama of the four previous years makes their achievement all the more amazing.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Canada’s crew reigned victorious having dominated the final from the first stroke. If you re-watch that race you will see determination, drive and pain etched across every face – even that of the cox! Taking silver in Beijing was Great Britain while the United States took bronze. Germany were never in contention for medals that day as their turbulent Olympic cycle and crew that had just a mere two months preparation together had failed to make it to the final.

The beginning of the London Olympiad saw some real changes in terms of what this boat class had to offer – who would become the ‘top dogs’ and who would struggle to find their way to the podium was all about to change.
The granstand is crowded with spectators at the 2011 European Rowing Championships in Plovdiv (BUL) on Sunday, September 18.

In the German camp a complete reassessment was underway and the experienced coach Ralf Holtmeyer was drafted in to reform the results of the eight. Kristof Wilke, stroke of the eight in London described how things changed post-2008: “We all lived in Dortmund and could train in the eight every day. Normally in a post-Olympic year you train less than in other years but for us that wasn’t the case. In 2009 we trained as much as in 2008 and that was the foundation for our later success.” Holtmeyer’s influence on the group worked instantly.

The German men’s eight opened their London campaign in a style they were to become accustomed to – a winning style, which began on home waters at the 2009 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Munich. Later that season the real proof of their winning ability was proven as they became 2009 World Rowing Champions. Little did the German men’s eight, known as the “Deutschlandachter”, know but they had begun a winning streak that would remain unbroken for the duration of the Olympic cycle.
Germany celebrate, as Canada and Australia race to the line in the final of the men's eight at the 2012 Olympic Rowing Regatta at Eton-Dorney near London, Great Britain.

As for the Canadians, in 2009 and 2010 the final at the World Rowing Championships proved to be out of their reach. The eight has for so long been the pride of Canadian men’s rowing and so such results were nothing less than surprising  to outsiders. However, under the guidance of coach Mike Spracklen, the eight would not be allowed to fail. He was developing talent within the crew which would start to come to fruition in 2011. At the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia that year, the Canadian crew stood on the podium as bronze medallists. For some of the crew it was their first ever time on a senior world podium. What more could Spracklen’s crew do?

Beijing’s silver medallists, Great Britain, spent the years leading up to the Games chasing gold. The pressure of knowing they would be competing at an Olympics on home water pushed them to crave the highest honour – gold.

The services of coach Mike Teti were drafted in to bring the un-qualified United States men’s eight up to a level that would first see them qualify for the Games through the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta early in the 2012 season. They did qualify and went into the London Games with an ambition to win and an unknown speed in terms of how they would fair against the top crews.
Stroke of the German men's eight, Kristof Wilke, celebrates after becoming an Olympic Champion

By the time the London Games came around the excitement to see who would come out on top was at boiling point.

The final was tense. The Germans squeezed out into an early lead, with their sights clearly on gold. Through the middle stages of the race the British crew launched a strong attack, much to the excitement of the crowd. Would this be the moment when their unfulfilled ambitions would be realised? It was not to be as the Germans held the push and then counteracted, putting themselves back in control at the front of the field.

The closing stages of the race had the thousands of spectators on their feet and the peloton of coaches following the race were at full speed. It looked as though the water was almost moving itself to allow the six charging crews to pass through, such was their speed.
The German men's eight celebrate winning gold, after an Olympic campaign of unbroken regatta wins

In the final strokes of the race each and every rower in the race was sure to have been in a world of pain. The Germans seemed sure to win gold but it was nothing less than an out-and-out battle for silver and bronze. The Germans  kept control and completed their four-year winning streak with the best reward – Olympic gold. Just when it mattered, the Canadians pulled it out of the bag and crossed the line behind the “Deutschlandachter”. Then the US put in a huge push in a challenge for bronze but it was too late. The host nation, Great Britain, had done just enough to hold on to that third-place finish. And so the 2012 Olympic medallists in the men’s eight were decided.

Following the 2012 Olympic Games, there have been many coaching changes and some athletes from crews who challenged in the men’s eight London final have retired. It is hard to know who will begin the 2016 Olympic cycle on top. However, if this past cycle is anything to go by, it is sure to be fast, furious and filled with dramatic twists and turns.

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