Best since 1908

TeamGB’s 2008 rowing contingent became the most successful Olympic rowing squad since 1908 at Shunyi Lake in Beijing when they topped the rowing medal table, taking a gold and two silvers today to add to the gold and two bronzes of yesterday.

[newsimage=0]Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter won the lightweight men’s double scull final with a consummate performance. “All the hard work paid off today”, said Zac Purchase afterwards.  “No-one can take this away”, said Mark Hunter. “It’s fantastic and thank-you to family, friends and all the support team I’ve had over the years. This is for you”.

The women’s quadruple scull of Katherine Grainger,Debbie Flood, Frances Houghton and Annie Vernon came within a few feet of taking GB’s first women’s rowing gold of all time but had to settle for silver behind China – who won the host nation’s first Olympic gold.

“Obviously we’re very disappointed”, said Houghton. “But it’s been a fabulous journey along the way and I’m proud to have been part of this crew”.

GB’s second silver today came from the men’s eight who let winners Canada get away a mite too much in the early stages of the race before charging back at them. “We were at the limit towards the end”, said Rick Egington, whose disappointment mirrored that of the remainder of the crew who had been hungry for gold after a storming performance in the heats.

“We’ve had an excellent regatta”, said TeamGB’s rowing leader David Tanner.  “23 athletes won medals which is more than half the rowing team and we’ve had our best results in a long time.  The lightweight men’s double were superb and the men’s eight put in a fantastic performance. Obviously the women’s quadruple scull will be disappointed, as reigning world champions not to have won gold but all credit to China in that race for soaking up the pressure and putting in a gold medal performance”.

[newsimage=1]The lightweight men’s four were fifth in their final today.  Theirs has been a tricky season since taking the world title a year ago and they couldn’t quite find the form they needed oday.

“Right now we feel really down”, said Richard Chambers. “But we did everything we could today.  To be honest we had a good race – a good clean race and it just wasn’t good enough”.

The TeamGB women’s eight who were competing today with two racing substitutes in Alice Freeman and Louisa Reeve after Natasha Howard and Alison Knowles were withdrawn because of illlness, were also fifth.

“It hasn’t been the easiest of weeks”, said Beth Rodford of the illness and substitutions. “I think we’ve dealt well with what has been thrown at us and made the most of the situation. In today’s race we made a slow start and we were chasing the pack after that”.

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Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter began their lightweight men’s double scull battle in the first 500m by going neck and neck with the Italians through the first 500m.  As anticipated the Greeks were also in pursuit. By that first marker the British duo – one a saxophonist, one a Thames Waterman and former footballer –  had a canvas over the rest of the field.

Belting out the rhythm but staying smooth and long, the duo had created a one length gap by the 1000m mark.  Then the grandstands came into view and the roar went up from GB’s 500-strong supporters’ contingent, packed with parents, girlfriends, friends, rowing fans and sponsors, as the TeamGB boat powered inexorably past.

“Being an Olympic champion means you put everything on the line and that’s what we did there”, said Hunter of that moment as the line drew closer but the Greeks were pulling stronger and stronger.

It seemed an age before the British bowball crossed the line to claim gold and glory for this ever-popular combination. Greece second and Denmark third.  Purchase punched the air, Hunter saluted. But the effort had taken its toll.  Essex man, Hunter, could hardly stand up after the race and Purchase from Tewkesbury said he had been pushed “to my emotional limits”.

After such a well-deserved win, could the lightweight four find the form they had twelve months ago in Munich which gave them the world title?  The answer ultimately was no.

This was Denmark’s race from the outset.  They led from the starter’s buzzer to finish line.  TeamGB’s quartet were jostling in third or fourth for most of the race but couldn’t find the extra gear or power to move back up.  In the final 500m they were overhauled by the Canadians and French. Denmark won in 5:47.76 with < Poland second and Canada third.

Great Britain’s women’s quadruple scull decided to take the race to their Chinese hosts today. They belted out to a length lead in the early stages but China began slowly, slowly to wind them back in. The ground swell of noise from the local crowd was deafening.

China were back to half a length down at the 1250m stage with Germany behind them.  China slipped marginally as GB pulled forward and hope sprung up for the GB crew. The 1500m mark came and went and still GB were in front.  A canvas split the crews.  Vernon in the bow seat allowed herself a sneaky glance across.  She wouldn’t have liked what she saw. The Chinese were coming back strongly. They nosed past the British crew who tried to counter-attack. No avail.

Great Britain’s women’s eight were a touch slow off the start and, try as they might, they could not make up the ground that they lost. At the 500m mark they were at the back of the field and pulled themselves up to fifth by the midway point just ahead of Australia. That’s where they stayed in a race won by the USA in 6:05.34 with the Netherlands charging through at the end to take silver and the Romanians in bronze.

China took their first Olympic gold.  For Katherine Grainger it meant  a hat-trick of silvers since 2000 but that won’t have pleased her.  Nor the rest of the crew who were hoping for gold as world champions for the past three years.

GB men’s eight looked impenetrable in winning their heat here. They knew today that Canada would be the main opposition.  And the red and white boat powered out to a three-quarter length lead by the 500m mark.  Poland, the Netherlands and the USA were all combative in a line behind along with TeamGB.

The tussle behind the Canadians was immense. At 1500m the GB crew clawed back an overlap.  The grandstands came into sight and the Canadians must have known that they just needed to hold on – which they duly did to win in 5:23.89.

“We’ve just won an Olympic medal and I have just rowed in the most enjoyable crew ever. They are the best guys, coached by the best two coaches. It is fantastic and I couldn’t think of a better Olympic experience”, said Alex Partridge afterwards.

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1.  USA 6:05.34
2.  Netherlands 6:07.22
3.  Romania 6:07.25
4.  Canada 6:08.04
5.  Carla Ashford/Beth Rodford/Louisa Reeve/Alice
     Freeman/Natasha Page/Sarah Winckless/Jess
     Eddie/Katie Greves/Caroline O’Connor (GREAT BRITAIN)
6.  Australia 6:14.22

Quadruple scull

1.  China 6:16.06
2.  Annie Vernon/Debbie Flood/Frances Houghton/Katherine
     Grainger (GREAT BRITAIN) 6:17.37
3.  Germany 6:19.56
4.  Ukraine 6:20.02
5.  USA 6:25.86
6.  Australia 6:30.05



1.  Canada 5:23.89
2.  Alex Partridge/Tom Stallard/Tom Lucy/Rick Egington/
     Josh West/Alastair Heathcote/Matt Langridge/Colin
     Smith/Acer Nethercott (GREAT BRITAIN) 5:25.11
3.  USA 5:25.34
4.  Netherlands 5:29.26
5.  Poland 5:31.42
6.  Australia 5:35.10




1.  Denmark 5:47.76
2.  Poland 5:49.39
3.  Canada 5:50.09
4.  France 5:51.22
5.  Richard Chambers/James Lindsay-Fynn/Paul Mattick/
     James Clarke (GREAT BRITAIN) 5:52.12
6.  Netherlands 5:54.06

Double scull

1.  Zac Purchase/Mark Hunter (GREAT BRITAIN) 6:10.99
2.  Dimitrios Mougios/Vasileios Polymeros (Greece) 6:11.72
3.  Mads Rasmussen/Rasmus Hansen (Denmark) 6:12.45
4.  Marcello Miani/Elia Luini (Italy) 6:16.15
5.  Zhang Guolin/Sun Jie (China) 6:16.69
6.  Eyder Batista/Yunior Perez 6:19.96