Danish persistence pays off in the lightweight men’s double
There are no ‘sure things’ in the lightweight men’s double sculls. The margins are miniscule – every rower weighs in at an average of 70kg which means no crew will ever have significant physical advantage. Racing will always be tight and a win will never come easy.
This week’s 2012 Olympic review marks the half-way point in our series of articles, looking back on the most memorable moments of the 2012 Olympic Rowing Regatta. Here the lightweight men’s double is in focus.
Just after midday on 4 August 2012, six boats – 12 lightweight rowers – sat at the start of the 2,000m Eton-Dorney course: Great Britain, Denmark, New Zealand, France, Germany and Portugal. Six minutes and 37 seconds later the Danish duo of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist would raise their arms and punch the air, proud to be able to call themselves Olympic gold medallists.
The road to becoming Olympic Champions was long and winding for Rasmussen and Quist. The Danish duo first began competing internationally together 11 years before becoming Olympic Champions. Their first Olympiad together showed that the newly formed crew had something special.. In 2002, they won two World Cup bronze medals followed by World Championship bronze. But at the 2004 Games on Lake Schinias near Athens, the double finished in the most frustrating position for any athlete – fourth. Quist recalls his feeling after his first Olympic final, saying: “After Athens I was a little bitter that we didn’t get a medal, having held on to a podium place for most of the race. But, I also thought I would have another chance.” He was right.
Their second Olympiad together showed the benefit time can bring to a crew’s consistency of performance. Rasmussen and Quist were two of the most familiar faces on the podium during the World Rowing Cup series and World Rowing Championships. They took their first World Championship title in 2006 and then completed a perfect 2007 season, winning every World Rowing regatta they raced. They also set the World Best Time of 6:10.2. The names Rasmussen and Quist became synonymous with the lightweight men’s double and they were tipped to be the next Olympic Champions.
The Olympic season was not a continuation of the form they showed in 2007. They finished down the ranks at the first two World Cup regattas (the first they chose to race in the heavyweight double). By the final World Cup of the series they could breathe a sigh of relief, finishing in silver medal position. They were now back in the race for medals in Beijing.
In their second Olympic final together, this time in Beijing, Rasmussen and Quist pulled themselves into bronze medal position but were beaten to the line by the Greeks, who took silver, and the relatively newly formed British duo of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, who became Olympic Champions and the new Olympic Best Time holders. “Beijing was devastating, coming in as double world champions and then throwing it all away. It took some time to recover from that,” says Quist.
Rasmussen and Quist both recovered, but went about doing so in their own ways. Rasmussen spent 2009 and 2010 experimenting in the lightweight men’s single and teaming up with Thomas Larsen in the men’s double sculls. Quist also varied his boat class of choice and tried racing in different combinations. But by 2011 the duo had reunited. Rasmussen recounts his feeling leaving the men’s double, explaining that “it was hard to neglect the heavyweight project in 2010, as I am not a person to give up. Usually these situations just make me more stubborn, but at the time I knew it was going to be the right thing to do.” Two years later the proof that it was the right decision was hanging round his neck as he stood on the Olympic medals podium, listening to the Danish national anthem being played.
Olympic glory would not come without a fight. On home water, Great Britain’s Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter would be hoping to take their second Olympic gold. They came into the 2012 season as World Champions but a turbulent World Rowing Cup series created doubt over whether or not they would be able to produce the speed necessary to medal again. Could they return to form when it mattered most? New Zealand’s Storm Uru and Peter Taylor also proved themselves as real contenders for Olympic gold prior to the 2012 Games. During the London Olympiad Uru and Taylor had become World Champions in 2009 and collected an impressive number of World Cup medals along the way. They proved themselves as the fastest crew at the final World Cup of 2012 in Munich, but could they do it again at Eton-Dorney?
The 2012 Olympic final of the lightweight men’s double played out quite differently to any of the other finals. An equipment failure in the British double meant that the race had to be restarted. Some rowers may be unnerved by a restart in an Olympic final but not the Danes. Rasmussen says: “I was immediately focusing on the new start and wanted to use it to our benefit. I said to Rasmus: “This is perfect, we can do it much better the second time around,” with Quist adding: “During the wait for the restart, the wind picked up. We normally perform well in choppy water, so I think we turned it to our favour.”
For the first three quarters of the Olympic final Rasmussen and Quist were in second place to Great Britain’s Purchase and Hunter, but, in true Danish rowing style, their final 500m sprint saw the raw power these two rowers have result in boat speed that put them in gold medal position. As they passed the grandstands full of cheering spectators Rasmussen thought to himself: “This is the moment where we have the chance to win Olympic gold!” They crossed the line just over half a second ahead of Great Britain’s Purchase and Hunter. The New Zealand duo of Uru and Taylor took bronze.
Looking back on their career in the boat together neither of them ever doubts that the years of hard work was worth what they achieved. “It feels fantastic,” Rasmussen says, “[that] we finally reached the goal we had been working towards for so many years. Moreover, it is a great relief, and we’re still feeling incredibly excited and grateful that we managed to make it happen.”
Since the Games not much has changed for the duo, but Quist admits there has been a lot of “champagne, cake, speeches and handshakes”. People they meet are always excited to see their medals and Quist say that his has “been through many hands and has had its share of nicks and scratches”.