14 August 2008
It is how you finish that matters – especially in the semi-finals. It was not so much the smooth way that the British men’s coxless four held off Australia’s late finish at the close of their 2,000-metre test as the fact that afterwards they calmly rowed away round the corner while the defeated crews lay slumped with exhaustion in their boats.
Rowing is the most truthful of sports but even here semi-finals can be notoriously hard to read. However, if Australia and France are confident of turning round yesterday’s defeat, or if the Slovakian, Czech or German crews felt good about themselves, they should hotfoot it to Hollywood for roles in disaster movies. For whatever tribulations the British four have faced as they ready themselves to go where Redgrave, Pinsent and Cracknell had gone, this performance had an assurance about it fit to grace the most astonishing rowing lake yet created.
For me, it was relief well accepted after seemingly putting jinxes on medal hopes Craig Fallon, Andy Murray and Richard Faulds and having been jolted by the sight on the way in of a horrific bus and van crash. France were the early leaders but as the eyes searched for British flaws and worried about changing camera angles, it soon became clear that only the Irish, one over from France, had any trouble.
As they crossed the 500m line, the screen flashed up France leading Britain and US with Australia fourth, but there was only half a second in it. True, they had raised it to 0.7sec at the 1,000m mark, but you didn’t need to be a rowing expert to see athletes moving comfortably.
By the 1500m mark, Steve Williams and his men had taken well over a second out of the French to be nearly a full length up. In the close-ups there was no panic, and no breaking of rhythm as the Australians finally got going with what in another discipline would be called ‘coming home with a wet sail’. There were 1.5sec – a full length – in it at the line. And dominance to boot.
When big Andy Triggs Hodge led the boys over afterwards he said all the right things about semi-finals and needing Jurgen Grobler to do one of his legendary mind-straightening routines to get the four ready. But looking at him, long, blond hair cascading down over a white waistcoat made pregnant with ice, was to see an athlete at ease with himself.
Body language is often a better guide than the best of quotes, and if yesterday’s report from the four was anything to go by, things are definitely looking up.