Rowing’s final Olympic Champions
Light tail wind conditions coupled with warm water meant that World Best Times were in a position to be broken at Beijing Olympics rowing regatta. The large crowd stood at the ready.
LIGHTWEIGHT WOMEN’S DOUBLE SCULLS
It doesn’t happen in all races that all three crews standing on the medals podium are absolutely happy. It happened today in the first race of day two at the Beijing Olympics rowing regatta.
Germany was the first to show on this second day of Olympic rowing Finals. Marie-Louise Draeger and Berit Carow. Draeger was hoping to make the 2004 Olympics, but missed out on a spot and came back to make the team this year. The Germans still had the lead with 600m rowed, but Canada was sticking tightly to them. In the semifinals Canada’s Melanie Kok and Tracy Cameron had showed that they were fast starters with the power to maintain.
Going through the half-way point Finland had joined the frontrunners. Sanna Sten and Minna Nieminen of Finland know the heartache of just missing out on qualifying for the Olympics. It was just a fraction of a second between qualifying and not qualifying in 2004. Sten and Nieminen have spent the last four years planning for this day. Rating a solid 32 stroke rate the Finns remained with the leaders through the middle of the race. Then late qualifiers the Netherlands joined in. The Dutch duo of Marit van Eupen and Kirsten van der Kolk rowed to bronze in 2004. Then van der Kolk took time off to have a baby. She got talked into coming back to top competition late last year. Meanwhile partner van Eupen has continued her rowing success by taking out three consecutive World Championship titles in the lightweight single.
With just 500m left to row, barely a bow ball separated Germany, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands. All of these crews would have to sprint for their life to stay in the medals. The Dutch kept their strokes long and controlled. Canada peaked at 39 strokes per minute. Finland followed the Dutch style using power and length. Germany went to 37 and hung on.
The Netherlands crossed the line first, hands in the air in delight a Dutch fan already getting past security to swim out. Finland crossed in second looking ecstatic. Canada and Germany waited. They had rowed to a photo finish. A minute later the Canadians felt the joy of winning an Olympic medal.
Results: NED, FIN, CAN, GER, CHN, GRE
Kirsten VAN DER KOLK (NED) - Gold
“It’s great! It’s the race we raced over and over in our heads and we did it to perfection here. We kept our heads cool. The gold shoes in the boat definitely helped. We’ve had them there since December and in every training session thought ‘Gold, gold, gold!’”
Marit VAN EUPEN (NED) - Gold
“Kirsten reminded me at the start ‘Gold shoes, golden race’.”
Tracy CAMERON (CAN) - Bronze
“I thought we had the bronze – I saw the big surge. 4/100ths of a second!! We stayed efficient and effective through the middle 1000m and had a fairly effective start. We knew in the last 500m we had to dig a lot deeper. We’ve enjoyed rowing with each other – it’s been fun.”
Melanie KOK (CAN) - Bronze
“I’m ecstatic – it’s an amazing result. We’ve put something on the board for Canada. Let’s keep the momentum going.”
Chrysi BISKITZI (GRE) - Sixth
“We were really happy to be in the Final; we’re a very stable crew and have been finalists for the past three years. Of course we hoped for something better, but it’s hard to win the fight for medals. We’ll definitely be at the European Championships in Athens.”
LIGHTWEIGHT MEN'S DOUBLE SCULLS (LM2x)
The British double of Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter finished third at last year’s World Rowing Championships and since then have gone unbeaten. They continued this unbeatable attitude coming into these Olympic Games. This is Purchase’s first Olympic Games and Hunter’s second. Today they took off at the front of the field rating in the high 40s with Italy pressing them hard. Italy crossed the first 500m mark just ahead. But with each stroke the lead changed. Italy rated a bit higher at 36 with the British settling on 34 – 35.
By the half-way point it looked as though Italy were running out of steam. Purchase and Hunter were just getting better and better. Meanwhile Greece’s Dimitrios Mougios and Vasileios Polymeros were moving up with current World Champions Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist of Denmark also taking chase.
Polymeros raced in this event at the Athens Olympics and made history by getting the first Olympic rowing medal for his country - bronze. Quist and Rasmussen also raced at Athens. They finished fourth. They had to return.
Purchase and Hunter had now moved out to a full boat length lead with only Greece in a solid challenging position. The British looked to have this race wrapped up. But there was still 500m left to row. Greece was moving. Denmark took up chase. These boats closed on the British, but the British hung on. Purchase and Hunter had done it. Polymeros confirms his positions as Greece’s most successful rower. Rasmussen and Quist get themselves onto the dais.
Going into the interview dock Hunter shows the strain, barely able to get out of his boat. Purchase shows his emotions as the British flag is raised. Their finishing time was less than a second outside of the World Best Time.
Results: GBR, GRE, DEN, ITA, CHN, CUB
Zac PURCHASE (GBR) - Gold
“We put in the hard work when it was needed, so that we could enjoy the last 250m; all according to the race plan. There was no panic. The whole British team is doing so well, with the rowing yesterday, and the swimming and the cycling, and I hope it continues in the second week. It bodes well for four years’ time.”
Dimitrios MOUGIOS (GRE) - Gold
“That was a very satisfactory race; this is my first Olympic Games and it’s great to have a medal. We had a good final sprint – if there had been 50m more left we might have won. But now we can’t say anything; GBR won and we were second.”
Rasmus QUIST (DEN) - Bronze
“Of course you’re never satisfied if you’re 2nd or 3rd, but it hasn’t been working well for us this season. I guess this is the best race we’ve had this year. We had a very good first 1000m but couldn’t go any faster after that. Of course, as World Champions we are disappointed to be third. We’ve been together for 8 years already. Mads (Rasmussen) is going to take a year off and I’m going to try something else – perhaps the LM4-.”
LIGHTWEIGHT MEN’S FOUR (LM4-)
This was the race for coach Bent Jensen. Out in the lead at the start was Denmark. The Danes won gold in this event at the Athens Olympics under the guidance of Coach Jensen. This Danish crew included two of those Olympians, Eskild Ebbesen and Thomas Ebert. This is Ebbesen’s fourth Olympics and he already has two golds and a bronze. They both retired after Athens but came back for more, joining with Morten Joergensen and Mads Andersen. In 2006 Jensen went to coach in Canada. Today his crew raced in the Final. They raced for Jensen as he fights cancer.
Jensen must have told the Canadians to stick with Denmark. They did. Going through the middle of the race, Denmark had a half boat length lead. Canada was next. Denmark rated 37. Canada did as well. Coming into the third 500 Poland began to move. The Polish long-shots had really shown themselves in the semifinal and the question was could they repeat it again today against a Finals line-up that included 2005 World Champions, France, and 2007 World Champions, Great Britain.
Poland, stroked by former lightweight single sculler Pawel Randa was really moving. Coming into the final sprint the gap on the Danes began to close. Canada had been overtaken by both Poland and Great Britain. What could they do? Sprint. At the line Ebbesen takes his third Olympic gold and will have to discuss retirement with his family. The long-shots from Poland had held their Olympic nerves and pulled off a silver. Canada had pushed back and earn bronze.
Results: DEN, POL, CAN, FRA, GBR, NED
Mads ANDERSEN (DEN) - Gold
“It feels great. We were leading from start to finish and that’s the way to win an Olympic medal. It’d be a lie to say I was never in any doubt, but I thought we would be able to do it in the end. It truly is a Danish fairy tale. My lucky charms? These biceps.”
Pawel RANDA (POL) - Silver
“This is a huge miracle. The first 1000m were pretty hard, but the rest of the race was exactly like the semifinal. Denmark are truly amazing. After this I’m going on a big holiday with my girlfriend.”
WOMEN’S QUADRUPLE SCULLS (W4x)
A lot was at stake in this event. Three-time World Champions Great Britain would only be satisfied with first. They are the women’s flagship crew for their country and winning gold here would mean the first Olympic gold for British women. Sitting in the German boat was rowing’s most medalled woman, Kathrin Boron. A gold medal here would mean her fifth Olympic gold. Rowing for China, this crew was hoping to earn the first Olympic gold in rowing for their country.
Coming into this race Great Britain had won one heat, China had won the other. That was back a week ago. They had to wait a week to meet each other and race again.
Great Britain jumped out at the start and settled into a dominating 38 stroke rate pace. Germany and China followed with the remainder of the field - Australia, the United States and Ukraine - not on the pace. By the half-way point Great Britain still held the lead and a 35 stroke rate. But China, under-rating Great Britain, was making gains.
Great Britain upped their stroke rate and pushed back, again widening the gap. Could they hold off the Chinese until the finish? Could Germany do a huge sprint and bring Boron Olympic gold number five? In the sprint to the line the brave British held on. But with 200m left to row China had found the lead. The heart appeared to go out of the British boat. China had won their first Olympic gold in rowing.
The amount at stake showed on the medals dais. The tears of eight rowers from two countries were not tears of joy. Boron looked closely at her bronze medal. She had not seen one of these before.
Results: CHN, GBR, GER, UKR, USA, AUS
Bin TANG (CHN) - Gold
“This was our best race; they put as lot of pressure on us. We just wanted to race our best – it’s like a dream.”
Annie VERNON (GBR) - Silver
“I feel empty. It just wasn’t enough at the end.”
Britta OPPELT (GER) - Bronze
“We’re not absolutely happy with the bronze medal; we would have liked to have done better. But a medal is good. We weren’t surprised by the Chinese because they have been very strong this season.”
MEN'S QUADRUPLE SCULLS (M4x)
They may have been long shots, but all eyes were looking to see what Australia could do. Earlier in the week they had set a new World Best Time and they looked to be on fire despite few results leading up to these Olympics. But the Australians were up against Poland. Poland come to these Olympic Games as three-time consecutive world champions. They come to these Games having finished a devastating fourth at Athens. They come to these Games only to have been beaten in this last season.
Adam Korol, Michal Jelinski, Marek Kolbowicz and Konrad Wasielewski of Poland got off the line first at a 41 stroke rate pace with Italy and Germany following closely. Italy won this event at the 2000 Olympics and, from that crew, Simone Raineri and Rossano Galtarossa are back to do it again.
By the half way point Poland looked to be truly establishing themselves. Only Italy was in striking range. The Poles looked to have planned the last four years, since the Athens Olympics, perfectly. Their lead continued to grow and they weren’t letting off.
Coming into the final sprint, Australia staged a comeback. They were not alone. So did France. Australia had managed to get their boat into the bronze medal spot with France right behind them. Australia hit 48 strokes per minute. France hit 45. Who would hit the line first? Poland and Italy crossed easily in first and second consecutively. France and Australia waited for the result. A photo finish gave France the bronze medal. No one could have looked happier.
Results: POL, ITA, FRA, AUS, USA, GER
Michal JELINSKI (POL) - GOld
“I’m very proud to have won an Olympic Gold. It’s the most fantastic and important thing that has happened to me. I’m the happiest man in the whole world.”
Luca AGAMENNONI (ITA) - Silver
“We thought the race would be more simple than that, we wanted to stay with Poland until the end, but we weren’t able to. It is a great result.”
Simone VENIER (ITA) - Silver
“That was so tough because France and Australia were very strong. By the time we came into the last 500m we were already very tired, and the boat was not moving that fast. But we kept it up. At the 1000m or 1200m mark we realised we were unable to get Poland, so we decided to defend our medal position.”
Jonathan COEFFIC (FRA) - Bronze
“It was a very hard race. Poland has been very strong for the past three years, but we knew we could win a medal. My crewmates will continue rowing for sure, but I don’t know what I’ll do next.”
Pierre-Jean PELTIER (FRA) - Bronze
“There are no words to describe what it is like to get a medal at the Olympic Games. At the finish we thought we were 4th, and I thought I’d have to do another four years to get a medal! The semifinal was not our best race and we came much more relaxed for the Final.”
WOMEN'S EIGHT (W8+)
It took three Olympic Games. It took 16 years. It was a long time in the coming, but the United States met their goal. Romania has owned this event for the last three Olympic Games. In 1996 they won it with Elena Georgescu, 44, in the coxswain seat. Doina Ignat, 39, was also in that boat. The two of them went on to win in 2000 and 2004 as well. They came back to do it again in Beijing.
But it was the reigning world champions, the United States, that jumped out to an early lead. And with that they never looked back. Their 35 stroke rate pace looked comfortable and well in control. Romania, stroked by Ignat and including gold medallists from yesterday’s pairs race, Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu sat in second after overtaking a fast start by Canada.
Going through the middle of the race the United States still looked in dominating form with nearly a boat length lead over Romania. Meanwhile the Netherlands and Canada were going head to head. Canada’s potential for bronze looked under threat. In the third 500 Canada, coxed by the legendary Lesley Thompson-Willie who is on her eighth Olympic Games team, did a big move. This pushed them closer to Romania and away from the Dutch.
It was all on in the final sprint. There was no doubting the confidence of the Americans. The smooth crew barely needed to sprint. Romania, though, was having to go as hard as they could. Coming up on either side was Canada on one side and the Netherlands on the other. The Dutch hit 48 strokes per minute. Canada hit 45. The United States had done it. But who had gotten second? A cheer went up from the Orange clad Dutch supporters. The Netherlands take silver. Romania earn bronze.
Watching the medals ceremony, American coach, Tom Terhaar looked on proudly as his crew acknowledged him. It had been a long time in the coming.
Results: USA, NED, ROU, CAN, GBR, AUS
Anna GOODALE (USA) - Gold
“From the first stroke on we had the utmost confidence in each other. At 1000m I looked round and saw that we were first and felt that we could keep going. At the end it was 30 seconds of pure joy until the pain set in.”
Elle LOGAN (USA) - Gold
“Five years ago I wasn’t even rowing! I’ve never experienced this feeling before; I don’t know what it is. I love the girls; I love that boat.”
Susan FRANCIA (USA) - Gold
“Our start was flawless - exactly like we wanted. We’ve been so inspired by the record the USA has in this event. After Japan 2005 where we finished outside of the medals by an inch, we knew we could achieve great things. I looked over and saw we had crossed the finish line, and I was done. I just put my blade on the water and my hands in the air.”
Anne CUMMINS (USA) - Gold
“I just heard Mary saying ‘Let the Hunter (the name of their boat) go’, just let it run. We knew Romania would be good; they’ve just won gold in the pair. We worked together as one. I feel similar to how I did after Athens, after we won silver. I had no regrets, but I wondered what would happen if I work every day for four years, and this is it. This time I feel complete.”
Nienke KINGMA (NED) - Silver
“I looked sideways at the finish and knew we had a medal, but not which one. It’s my first Olympics and it’s great. We’re going to have a little beer party with the Dutch fans now.”
MEN'S EIGHT (M8+)
In 2004 Canada went to the Olympics as two-time world champions. At Athens they finished out of the medals. This time these Canadian men had something to prove. It seems leading up to these Olympic Games they have paced themselves in a different manner. They started off the four year cycle reasonably conservatively. They picked it up to take a world champion title last year and they kept quietly optimistic coming to Beijing.
Today Canada led by a small margin over Great Britain. With the top four sweep rowers in the British men’s four, Great Britain’s eight sometimes feel like second best. But under the dual coach system of John West and Mark Banks, they have been thriving. Canada settled into a fast 40 stroke rate pace with Great Britain following. By the first 500m mark, Canada had a massive ¾ of a lead over the field.
By the half way point Canada had a full boat length lead over Great Britain and the rest of the fleet. Meanwhile reigning Olympic Champions, the United States were moving back from a slow start. The boat contains three Olympians and in stroke seat is 2004 stroke, Bryan Volpenhein. It took until the third 500 for the Americans to reel in the Dutch who had been sitting in the bronze. Canada remained looking comfortable in the lead.
Coming into the final sprint, Canada looked as though they had a bit more to give. Great Britain and the United States were neck-and-neck. At the line Great Britain and the United States had to wait to find out their result. Great Britain had stayed just ahead of the Americans. Canada redeem their Athens Olympics.
A special mention must be made for James Tomkins in the Australian boat. Tomkins turns 43 this week and is one of the most medalled Australians. The Crew had high hopes coming to these Olympics. This time it was not to be.
Results: CAN, GBR, USA, NED, POL, AUS
Adam KREEK (CAN) - Gold
“It was great, awesome. We had to attack every single stroke and turn every negative thought positive. It was a positive crew that won, and that was us! We felt like we were in control, but also in constant fear; but we managed to dispel the fear and be positive. The last 10 strokes were just pain and blackness. We are Olympic Champions! I felt pure joy flowing in my veins – I’ve worked eight years for this medal. We did this for Mike Spracklen, our coach. He was very emotional before the race.”
Alastair HEATHCOTE (GBR) - Silver
“I’m pretty tired! A bit disappointed to be honest. I thought we had Canada, but in the end we just didn’t have enough. In the last 200m it was just primeval rowing, just guts in the end. We normally just go off hard and settle into our race rhythm, but it was not enough. The Canadians were just too far ahead in the first 1000m. We usually rely on strong race rhythm but it wasn’t enough. After this I’m going to catch up with all the socialising I’ve not done in the last two years – I’ve ignored a lot of friends.”
Josh WEST (GBR) - Silver
“We’re a bit disappointed to be honest, because we were going for gold. We didn’t get it and it’s frustrating because we didn’t row the best we can; but all credit to the Canadians - they rowed a great race and took it to us. To be on the podium is still very exciting though, and it’s great to be here. This goes a long way to making up for Athens; it’s a very different experience to be near the front rather than at the back.”
Wyatt ALLEN (USA) - Bronze
This one felt like a very hard battle. Canada was an amazing crew – hats off! I can’t complain about getting bronze.”