A Ukraine triumph: the Olympic women’s quad
Some events see crews established and set through the Olympic cycle. Not so for the women’s quadruple sculls. Leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games the top contender countries shuffled and reshuffled their crews as they looked for the best combination.
The top contenders through the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup season had been Germany, Ukraine, China, Great Britain and the United States.
Germany has a rich history in the women’s quad. They held the Olympic gold spot from 1988 through to 2004. During this era, in 1996, Germany set a World Best Time that remained until earlier this year when it was broken by Germany. The cards seemed to be stacking up again for Germany coming into the London Olympics especially after winning the 2011 World Rowing Championships. But at the first World Rowing Cup for 2012, in Belgrade, Ukraine stormed ahead leaving Germany to contemplate second place. Ukraine has prioritised the women’s quad ever since they started competing separately from the Soviet Union five Olympic Games ago. Would Ukraine get it right this year?
By the second stage of the Samsung World Rowing Cup series, Ukraine had established their line-up of Kateryna Tarasenko, Nataliya Dovgodko, Anastasiia Kozenkova and Yana Dementieva. No members of this crew were part of the 2008 Olympic women’s quad that finished fourth. Instead they were a mix of youth and experience. Dovgodko, the youngest member, was racing in the junior single back in 2008, while Kozhenkova was on the under-23 team that same year. Tarasenko and Dementieva were their country’s women’s double in Beijing where they finished seventh. At the second World Rowing Cup, in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Ukrainian crew again won. This time their win was by a bigger margin over Germany who had changed one member of their crew since Belgrade. Germany set a new World Best Time two days earlier in the heats but still second place seemed to be their lot.
The final test before the London Olympic Games, the third World Rowing Cup in Munich, also went Ukraine’s way again by a handy four-second margin over Germany, despite the German crew competing on home waters. Germany had made two changes to the crew. It was now up to Germany to close the four-second gap to gain Olympic gold. At the Olympic Games, the German crew remained the same as it was in Lucerne, with just a change in seating order. Ukraine held the same line-up that had been winning throughout the season.
Racing started at the Eton Dorney Olympic rowing regatta course with two heats. Germany won one and Ukraine won the other. This meant that these two crews would go directly to the finals five days later. Following the repechage Germany and Ukraine were joined in the final by Australia, the United States, China and Great Britain. These four crews were all bona fide medal contenders having scored good results in this event in the past. The Chinese were the defending Olympic Champions from Beijing where they attained the first ever Olympic gold in rowing for China. Great Britain had finished second in Beijing and dominated the event in the years leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games. The Australians were regular A-finalists along with the United States. Despite crew changes throughout the season, the United States had taken a World Rowing Cup medal as had Great Britain.
The final at the Eton Dorney Olympic regatta course was the second final of the 2012 Olympic Rowing Regatta. Ukraine got out in front at the start and built up just enough of an edge to be able to witness a battle between Germany (Carina Baer, Julia Richter, Britta Oppelt and Germany’s top single sculler, Annekatrin Thiele) and the United States (Natalie Dell, Lara Kohler, Megan Kalmoe and Adrienne Martelli) for the silver medal spot.
There was no denying the raw joy expressed by Ukraine as they crossed the line in the gold medal spot. The crew had done what Ukraine Rowing had been aiming for since 1996 – winning an Olympic gold medal. This was the first ever Olympic gold for Ukraine rowing.