In Germany there is a saying: if the men’s eight is going well then everything is fine in German rowing. For the United States the men’s eight has huge status and invariably has been the flagship boat. When the eight did not qualify for the London Olympic Games at last year’s World Rowing Championships, USRowing instantly rallied to make sure the boat would qualify this year. It did. Poland has been working on a long-term project to get their eight into the Olympic medals and New Zealand has been striving to have a fast men’s eight for the past 40 years. The list goes on…

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The American men’s eight celebrate gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

With one month remaining until the 2012 Olympic Games begin this Blue Riband rowing event appropriately concludes World Rowing’s series of historical overviews of the 14 Olympic boat classes in the lead up to London.

The men’s eight has a long and rich history as one of the original Olympic events and right from the beginning the United States showed its connection with the eight and with this connection came supremacy. From the first time it was raced at the Olympics in 1900 through to the 1956 Games, the United States won all but two times. This phenomenal result (12 Olympic gold, two Olympic silver and two Olympic bronze medals) came about despite having to deal with the logistics of assembling a large team and transporting to different Olympic cities a boat that in one piece measures about 20m long and weighs at least 96kg.

After 1956 the men’s eight playing field changed. Although the United States won in 1964, it would not win Olympic gold again for another 40 years, until the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Through the 1960s and 1970s Germany (either East or West) largely took over the field.
Since then, more countries have managed to get to the top of the Olympic medals podium. Canada took Olympic gold at both the 1984 and 1992 Olympics. The 1992 boat included Derek Porter who went on to become an Olympic medallist in the men’s single sculls. In 1996 a crew of self-coached and self-selected athletes from the Netherlands, led by Nico Rienks, won the first and so far only Olympic gold in the men’s eight for their nation.

Canada’s Kevin Light, Ben Rutledge, Jake Wetzel, Malcolm Howard, Dominic Seiterle, Adam Kreek, Kyle Hamilton and Brian Price celebrate during the medals ceremony for the Men’s Eight at the Shunyi Rowing and Canoeing Park in Beijing on August 17, 2008. Canada won gold, Britain silver and the US bronze. (Photo by FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Leading into the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the United States was back. Coached by Mike Teti, the United States took all three of the World Championship titles leading up to those Games. Sydney, however, did not go well for them and the crew finished out of the medals. This loss drove Teti and a number of his Sydney athletes to put it right in 2004, and they did – they set a World Best Time and became Olympic Champions.

In a very similar pattern to the Americans’ lead up to Sydney, Canada came into Athens as favourites having won the previous two World Rowing Championships. However, in the final at Athens they finished fifth. As with Teti, Canada’s coach Mike Spracklen wanted to right things at the following Olympic Games. A carefully planned four-year build-up earned the Canadians gold at the Beijing Olympics. This was their third Olympic gold medal in this event, and their ninth Olympic medal overall.

Great Britain have won 10 Olympic medals in the men’s eight. They first won gold in 1908, when London hosted the modern Olympic Games for the first time, and last won Olympic gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. In Beijing they won silver and have since been in the medal mix at world level.

Filip Adamski (b), Andreas Kuffner, Eric Johannesen, Maximilian Reinelt, Richard Schmidt, Lukas Mueller, Florian Mennigen, Kristof Wilke (s) and cox Martin Sauer of Germany at the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup II in Lucerne, Switzerland.

However, the eights tide has now clearly swung back to Germany. The Germans go to London unbeaten since 2009 and as firm favourites to win the Olympic gold. Everything must be fine in German rowing.

Did you know?
•    The men’s eight is the fastest rowing boat over 2000m.
•    A new World Best Time was just set at 5:19.35 by Canada in May.
•    Famous American author Benjamin Spock won gold at the 1924 Olympic Games in the USA men’s eight.

Men's Eight Medal Table

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total First Medal Last Medal
1 United States 12 2 2 16 1900 2008
2 Great Britain 3 7 0 10 1908 2008
3 Canada 3 4 2 9 1904 2008
4 East Germany 2 0 1 3 1972 1980
5 West Germany 2 0 0 2 1968 1988
6 Germany 1 2 3 6 1912 1996
7 Netherlands 1 1 1 3 1900 2004
8 New Zealand 1 0 1 2 1972 1976
9 Australia 0 2 4 6 1952 2004
10 Soviet Union 0 2 2 4 1952 1988
11 Italy 0 2 1 3 1924 1936
12 Belgium 0 1 0 1 1900 1900
12 Romania 0 1 0 1 1992 1992
14 Czechoslovakia 0 0 2 2 1960 1964
14 Norway 0 0 2 2 1920 1948
16 Croatia 0 0 1 1 2000 2000
16 Russia 0 0 1 1 1996 1996
  Total 25 24 23 72