As crews dash towards the finish line, it is anyone’s guess who will cross it first.

Historically, Germany have been the most successful nation in the women’s quad, winning four Olympic gold medals and one Olympic bronze since the event was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1988. This means Germany have won gold at each Olympic Games, until China took home-water advantage to outsprint both Germany and Great Britain to the line in Beijing in 2008.

Names such as Kathrin Boron, Manuela Lutze, Meike Evers and Kerstin El Qalqili-Kowalski are synonymous with the success of the German women’s quad. Indeed Boron is one of the most successful female Olympians of all time winning four Olympic gold medals, two in the quad and two in the double, as well as Olympic bronze.

At the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Germany’s Manja Kowalski, Evers, Lutze and El Qalqili-Kowalski stormed to victory by a relatively large margin over an exceptionally fierce battle for silver and bronze between Great Britain and Russia. The British crew of Guin Batten, Gillian Lindsay. Katherine Grainger and Miriam Batten pipped Russia for silver by 0.01s.

In the intermittent years between the 2000 Olympic Games and those of 2004 in Athens, Germany dominated the top of the medal podium. One bronze medal at the 2003 World Rowing Championships in Milan, Italy, was the only lesser result on an otherwise clean sheet.
By 2004, a fast British crew had emerged. Alison Mowbray, Debbie Flood, Frances Houghton and Rebecca Romero demonstrated they could once again be competitive in the World Rowing Cup series leading up to the Games. At the third stage of the 2004 World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, the crew beat the German boat of Peggy Waleska, Britta Oppelt, Lutze and Evers to second by just 0.08s.

At the 2004 Olympic Games, Germany stamped their authority on the race. Leading from the start, the slightly modified  German line-up of Boron, Evers, Lutze and El Qalqili-Kowalski crossed the line almost two seconds clear of the rest of the field. Great Britain celebrated a solid silver medal, and Australia claimed bronze.

As a new Olympic cycle dawned, so a new crew became favourite to cross the finish line first. Great Britain proved their form time and time again. The crew of Flood, Sarah Winckless, Houghton and Grainger won on home waters at the 2006 World Rowing Championship in Eton, Great Britain, successfully defending the World Championship title won in Gifu, Japan in 2005. At the 2007 World Rowing Championships in Munich, the British crew, with the addition of Annabel Vernon at bow, were two seconds clear of Germany, who could only collect silver medals behind their British rivals. China, who were becoming increasingly competitive in the women’s quad field, finished just over a second behind Germany, with bronze.

Katherine Grainger, stroke of the British quad had now won two silver medals at the Olympic Games, one in the women’s quad in Sydney with fellow crew members Houghton and Flood, and one in the pair in Athens. Surely this was their golden year?

Yet it was not to be. The crowds at the Shunyi Regatta Course in Beijing witnessed tears of disappointment on the medals podium as Great Britain claimed another Olympic silver. Despite leading for the majority of the race, the crew were caught by a blistering sprint from the Chinese crew in the final 500m, who snatched gold in a time of 6:16.06. Bin Tang, Ziwei Jin, Aihua Xi and Yangyang Zhang were ecstatic. The Brits crossed the line 1.5s behind. Germany, no doubt aiming for another Olympic gold, were a further two seconds behind. For Boron, a bronze medal to finish off her rowing career was probably not what she had dreamt of.
As another Olympic Games looms, no outright favourite for the gold medal has emerged. The 2009 World Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland, were won by Ukraine, with the United States of America and Great Britain finishing in silver and bronze position respectively. In 2010, on Lake Karapiro in New Zealand, Great Britain prevailed ahead of Ukraine and Germany. The rowing world believed these three nations were becoming the crews to watch.

Yet, more twists and turns occurred in 2011. At the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia, the new British crew of Melanie Wilson, Beth Rodford, Vernon and Flood found themselves racing in the B-Final, just managing to take the final Olympic qualification spot for London.

In the A-Final, it was the German crew who yet again showed their class. The new crew of Julia Richter, Tina Manker, Stephanie Schiller and Oppelt won gold ahead of an exciting crew from the United States of America – Stesha Carle, Natalie Dell, Adrienne Martelli and Megan Kalmoe. The New Zealanders won the bronze medal, their first World Rowing Championship medal in this boat class since 2001, with eighteen-year-old Eve MacFarlane in stroke.

At the first international competition of this year, the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Belgrade, it was Ukraine who emerged as the strongest crew. Anastasila Kozhenkova, Yana Dementieva, Olena Buryak and Kateryna Tarasenko led the field for the entire race, crossing the finish line a boat length ahead to win gold.

Yet, Germany still have a strong game. Their new crew of Lisa Schmidla, Carina Baer, Tina Manker and Stephanie Schiller have speed, and won silver on Lake Ada Cingalija in Belgrade ahead of Great Britain.
Great Britain has also shuffled crews around. Rodford and Wilson return from the disappointed crew of 2011, and are joined by Frances Houghton, who was suffering from injury last year, and Victoria Thornley, previously stroke of the women’s eight. This new combination demonstrated they had raw speed, when they managed to finish third.

However, the Southern Hemisphere are yet to emerge and will more than likely race at the second stage of the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. New Zealand will no doubt want to build on the success of 2011, and the Australian crew have been strengthened by the addition of Kerry Hore, who comes over from the women’s double sculls. Dana Faletic, who has not raced internationally since 2006 and first raced in the Australian’s women’s quad in 2002, is making a return to the squad this year.

So who’s your pick for gold? So far, it looks like the Olympic final will be wide open.

Olympic Medal Table

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total First medal Last  Medal
1 Germany 4 0 1 5 1992 2008
2 China 1 0 0 1 2008 2008
2 East Germany 1 0 0 1 1988 1988
4 Great Britain 0 3 0 3 2000 2008
5 Romania 0 1 1 2 1988 1992
6 Soviet Union 0 1 0 1 1988 1988
6 Ukraine 0 1 0 1 1996 1996
8 Australia 0 0 1 1 2004 2004
8 Canada 0 0 1 1 1996 1996
8 Russia 0 0 1 1 2000 2000
8 Unified Team 0 0 1 1 1992 1992
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