Now that the dust has well and truly settled after an enthralling Olympic Games, I thought it was time to have a look back and review the Olympic regatta (and see how my predictions panned out).
The Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas certainly made life interesting, when the wind blew it resembled something out of “The Perfect Storm” and claimed more than one victim.
But, when the weather gods played nice it was a truly stunning venue to hold a regatta. Overall I think the racing was very fair and by the time the finals came around the conditions weren’t a factor.
Overall I don’t think any of the major rowing nations can come away from the Olympics fully satisfied. Great Britain may have finished top of the medal table with 3 golds and 2 silvers but this was one short of the minimum 6 medals that was their target. Sir David Tanner may have avoided some awkward conversations thanks to the quality, rather than quantity of his charges haul. UK Sport have already said there will be no “knee-jerk reaction” to getting 5 instead of 6 medals. It could well be that the unexpected silver medal won by Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley may have just secured the future funding of the British Rowing Team. But, this success can’t hide the more disappointing aspects of the British performances. The Lightweight team in particular had a very disappointing regatta. For the first time since the Athens Olympics none of the GB lightweights made the A-final. The M4X were unlucky to miss out on the medals having had to make a late crew change and the M2- may also be a little disappointed to miss the medals.
But, it wasn’t just the British who didn’t quite deliver as expected. The other rowing “super-power”, New Zealand also a somewhat mixed regatta. The M2- maintained their unbeaten run and Mahe Drysdale was involved in one of the best M1X races in the history of the Olympics. The Women’s pair also delivered a strong silver. But, as with the British there were some crews who didn’t quite hit the mark when it mattered. The W2x World Champions have looked out of sorts all season and Emma Twigg’s showdown with Kim Brennan never really materialised. Neither the World Champion LW2X nor the LM4- were in the hunt for the medals and the W8, strongly tipped to challenge for silver, also missed out. Questions are already being asked in the New Zealand media about the relative under-performance from their best funded Olympic sport.
The Germans successes in the men’s & women’s Quads will be some consolation to the men’s 8 losing to GB (again), but beyond that no other German crew reached the A-Final. The Americans took an expected gold in the W8 and Gevvie Stone took a brilliant silver in the W1X, but the much-vaunted W2- missed the medals and only one men’s heavyweight boat reached the final. The US’s no.1 men’s boat, the M4- were well off the pace in the semi-final finishing 8 seconds behind the winner.
So, how did my predictions get on….
Predicted: Gold New Zealand, silver Croatia, bronze Czech Republic
Actual: New Zealand, Croatia, Czech Republic
OK, feeling quite smug about this one, but what a race. The greyhound Damir Martin against the diesel-engine Mahe Drysdale. Martin did what he does best, get out quick and hang on. Mahe went off steadier, but when the torque of his engine got going it reeled the Croatian in. I really thought that with 150m to go Martin was done, but incredibly he had a sprint in him and wouldn’t let the Kiwi get away. In the end both were awarded the same time but the gold went to Drysdale by the narrowest of narrow margins, no more than 2cm after 2000m…that’s 0.001%…incredible. There was quite a lot of protesting on Twitter that both should’ve been awarded the gold and that somehow the photo-finish wasn’t accurate….basically nonsense. In the end, a wonderful race to watch, and, as seems likely, a fitting end to Mahe’s international career.
Predicted: Gold New Zealand, Silver Great Britain, Bronze The Netherlands
Actual: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy
No surprises about who would take gold. Murray and Bond end their pairs partnership after 8 years having never lost a race…incredible. They’ve just published their memoirs which should make fascinating reading, especially the relationship with former coach Dick Tonks. I’ve got a copy winging its way to me and I’ll post a review as soon as I’ve had a chance to read it. Anyway, back to the race. In the build up to the Olympics it looked likely that the British and Dutch would be the main challengers for a medal, but in the end the British just ran out of steam having been in the silver medal position with 500 to go. The Dutch looked out of sorts all regatta and failed to make the A-Final. Instead it was the South Africans, Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling who won the sprint for the line ahead of a delighted Italian crew. What’s most surprising about the Italian boat is that they are pretty much a scratch pair. The original combination were disbanded after Niccolo Mornati was banned for a doping offence. The Italians’ Marco Di Constanzo and Giovanni Abagnale had never competed internationally as a pair before Rio. A great result for the Azzuri.
Predicted: Gold Croatia, silver New Zealand, bronze Norway
Actual: Croatia, Lithuania, Norway
No great surprises about the winners here either, although the Sinkovic’s didn’t look as smooth or as convincing as they had in previous regattas. But, as the old adage goes, “make your worst better than your opponents best” and they held on to win. The surprise of the event were the silver medal Lithuanians. After an injury to Rolandas Mascinskas, I didn’t expect the new double of Griskonis and Ritter to be a significant threat, but threat they were, leading the Croatians with 500m to go and in the end losing out by just 1 second. A fabulous performance considering the late change to the line-up. It was also fantastic to see the “old man” Olaf Tufte win yet another Olympic medal at his 6th Games.
Predicted: Gold Great Britain, Silver Australia, bronze Italy
Actual: Great Britain, Australia, Italy
This was a classic GB v Aussie dual, just like in London and Beijing. The Australians gave it a real go in the 2nd 500m, drawing level with the British, but they couldn’t cope with the pace the British laid down in the 3rd 500. Britain’s flagship crew delivered when it mattered and won the 5th straight M4- title. No more to be said really, the top US and Canadian crews were disappointing and the 2015 World Champions from Italy ably played their bit-part role in the GB v Aussie showdown.
Predicted: Gold Australia, silver Germany, bronze Great Britain
Actual: Germany, Australia, Estonia
A bit of a disappointed for the Green & Gold. They had looked in stunning, almost unbeatable, form coming into the Olympics, whereas the World Champion Germans had had a very mixed season. But when it came to the crunch the Germans found their mojo and produced a stunning display of power sculling and led from the first to the last stroke. I was really disappointed for the Brits, so often they have looked on the verge of winning a major championship only to be thwarted by injury. And so it proved again in Rio. Graeme Thomas was ruled out with a virus before racing started and was replaced by Jack Beaumont. They raced brilliantly in the circumstances to make the final, but ran out of steam in the 2nd half. But, they’re a young crew and good things will come.
Predicted: Gold Great Britain, silver Germany, bronze The Netherlands
Actual: Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands
Another prediction I can feel pretty smug about! So, so pleased for the GB guys. They produced a superb row, very reminiscent of the Sydney 2000 win. They took the race by the scruff of the neck and were on it from the very first stroke. The Germans, by contrast, looked a little flat and I was surprised at the distance the British were able to open up on them. As it was the gold never looked in doubt but the Germans had a real battle on their hands to hold off the Dutch for the silver medal. So, in the end the British achieved what they set out to do, the emulated the German’s feat of winning all three world Championships and the Olympic gold in a single Olympiad. GB’s coach, Jurgen Grobler was overcome with emotion at the finish….it was another medal to add to his tally, his crews have won medals at every Olympics since 1972 (the only exception being LA in 1984 when East Germany didn’t attend), an astonishing record (and he shows no sign of stopping!)
Predicted: Gold Kim Brennan, silver Emma Twigg, bronze Gevvie Stone
Actual: Kim Brennan, Gevvie Stone, Jingli Duan
One of the most eagerly anticipated match-ups never really materialised. All the pre-Olympic talk had been the impending showdown between Kim Brennan of Australia and Emma Twigg of New Zealand. But in the end Twigg was outclassed by the Aussie. Instead, it was the USA’s Gevvie Stone who stepped up to challenge Brennan emulating the silver medal won by Michelle Guerette in Beijing. It was a big disappointed to the Kiwis that Twigg missed the podium altogether.
Predicted: Gold Great Britain, silver New Zealand, bronze USA
Actual: Great Britain, New Zealand, Denmark
In the build up to the Olympics much had been spoken of the US pair. They would be the ones to end the British domination of this event. Felice Mueller & Grace Luczak chose to race the pair over the W8 and really felt they could dethrone the British. But, if I’m being a little controversial here, I don’t think the US women row the pairs very well. The current US women are immensely powerful rowers, but they have a tendency to “bully” boats along, whereas for the smaller boats it takes a little more sensitivity and touch to make it fly. That’s what the British have, they are nowhere near as big or as powerful as their opposition but they row incredibly efficiently (most of the time!) They gave their fans a bit of a scare in the heat when they only just beat a superb Danish pair, but by the semi “normal service” had been resumed. The Danes, Hedvig Rasmussen and Anne Andersen, were, perhaps the stars of the event. Coming into the regatta they had shown no great form (only making the podium once before, in Lucerne 2015) but they raced superbly and gave the Brits a real run for their money in the heat. In the final they just ran out of steam and couldn’t hold off the fancied New Zealand pair for the silver medal.
Predicted: Gold New Zealand, silver Lithuania, bronze Poland
Actual: Poland, Great Britain, Lithuania
This was so nearly the fairy-tale ending for the British. After all the trials and tribulations, the break-ups and the tantrums, for this crew to get so close to gold was an incredible achievement that even the most jingoistic of GB supporters couldn’t have expected. For 1900 metres the gold looked like it was heading back to Britain, but the superb Polish crew timed their race to perfection and they reeled in the British and surged ahead in the closing stages for a deserved win. But all the attention was on the British. In the post-race interview Grainger said that this silver medal meant as much, if not more than her gold from London, because of everything she and Thornley went through. It is a fitting end to a superb athlete, five Olympic Games, four silver and one gold. Surely her CBE will be upgraded to a full Dame-hood in this year’s honours list. Hopefully Vicky Thornely will carry on with her international career and hasn’t been too battered and bruised by the experience this year. She is one of Britain’s most talented scullers and I reckon, if she’s given all the necessary support she could win some major medals in the W1X.
The Kiwis had a disappointing regatta in this event, their world championship winning double looked out of form all season and to miss the A-final was a big blow.
Predicted: Gold Germany, silver Poland, bronze The Netherlands
Actual: Germany, The Netherlands, Poland
The winner of this was never in doubt. The Germans have pretty much owned this boat class this year but they had a real fight on their hands in the final. With 1500m gone they were trailing the Poles by 1.5 seconds. For their part the Polish had clearly decided to go for broke and try and break the Germans. But in the sprint to the line the Germans pushed through and the Polish paid the price for their boldness losing the sprint for the silver to the Dutch.
Predicted: Gold USA, silver Great Britain, bronze New Zealand
Actual: USA, GB, Romania
I’ve said before that I’m not a great fan of the way the Americans row eights, they give it an almighty heave at the finish…I’ve heard it described as “brute force and ignorance”. But, it’s impossible to argue with its effectiveness. The USA have not lost a World Championships or Olympic Games since 2005….that’s an 11 year winning streak, and a streak that shows no sign of ending (the US U23 W8 have just won their world title by 7 seconds in Rotterdam….ominous for the rest of the world). But, whilst the winners were never in doubt it was great to see the British finally deliver on the promise they’ve been showing in the past few seasons. This crew has been years in the making and their silver medal was the first ever W8 Olympic medal for a British crew. The bronze was a surprise. A lot of the talk heading into the regatta was on the Kiwi 8, it was going to be a battle between the British and the New Zealanders for the silver medal. But in the end it was the Romanians, the previous dominatrices of the W8 who stepped up and took the bronze. A great performance from a crew who had to qualify for Rio via the “Regatta of Death”.
Predicted: Gold France, silver Ireland, bronze Great Britain
Actual: France, Ireland, Norway
Another event where the real story was in the lesser medals rather than the gold. France looked imperious throughout the regatta and led the final from start to finish. But, behind them it was a great race for the minor medals. I’ve really liked the look of the Irish all season and one of my boldest predictions was that the O’Donovan brothers would take the silver and they didn’t let me down! They also won the hearts of everyone who saw them in their post-race interview….it’s a true classic!
Predicted: Gold New Zealand, silver Switzerland, bronze Great Britain
Actual: Switzerland, Denmark, France
A major disappointment for both the New Zealanders and the British. Both would’ve been expecting to be on the podium, but the New Zealanders finished 6 seconds off of bronze and the British didn’t even make the final. In the end it was a superb performance of lightweight fours racing by the Swiss and Danes in the fight for gold and silver. The Swiss followed up their world championship victory with an Olympic gold medal, the first medal of any colour in this event for the Swiss. Indeed, the first 3 places in Rio mirrored those of the 2015 World Championships. The big question now is; is this the last ever appearance of the LM4- at the Olympics? We shall see, but the omens do not look promising.
No predictions made (ran out of time!)
Actuals: The Netherlands, Canada, China
A Dutch win at an international regatta is always a popular occasion as it triggers the mass swim by supporters to congratulate their crew. All the talk of the potentially lethal waters of the Lagoa didn’t dissuade the Dutch from continuing this tradition in Rio. Paulis and Head were a delight to watch, they moved the boat beautifully and looked in total control. Behind them, the Canadians restored some small sense of pride for the Cannucks who had, up till then, been having a dismal regatta. One of the major talking points of this event was who wasn’t among the medals. The British had a dismal regatta ending up 2nd in the C-Final (14th overall). The Kiwi World Champions faired a little better making the A-final but they were never in the hunt for the medals finishing over 4 seconds off bronze.
So that’s it….all in all I think it was a fabulous regatta. Lots of surprises and a good spread of medals. If, as I (and others) predicted the majority of golds were won by GB and NZ then the attention of the IOC could’ve been even sharper on rowing to increase its diversity. But, with 10 countries winning gold and 21 countries winning some colour of medal, it’s given the sport as a whole a big boost and may, just may, have saved it as an Olympic sport for the foreseeable future.