17 August 2008

Redgrace and Pinsent, the rowing knights, were just spectators yesterday as Britain’s men’s four continued along the golden road from Sydney and Athens with a dramatic late surge to claim victory at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing Park, with the beautiful Yanshan mountains providing a fittingly monumental backdrop.

Sir Steve and Sir Matthew have had to dig deep in their time but even they could not have bettered the strength, courage and resolve summoned by the British quartet of Tom James, Steve Williams, Peter Reed and Andy Hodge to make up almost three seconds on the pace-setting Australians in the final quarter of this 2,000metre race.

In the way of these Olympics, the venue, some hours’ drive to the east of Beijing, has been built at unimaginable cost to host not just the rowing and the sprint canoes on a long rectangular lake, but also the white-water canoe course complete with 10,000-seat grandstand.

Yesterday’s event had another 10,000 spectators by on the far side of the lake and nearly the same number on the main stand side, cheering loudly at the brutality on the water.

The men’s four, the climax of the afternoon, was run at 5.50pm local time when the 86F bite of the sun had lessened, although that had not lessened the roars of the Team GB supporters. As the British four closed on the Australians, it was clear that many of them had made the long trek to Beijing along with the nation’s most famous “two men in a boat”.

As the British boat crossed the line a decisive length ahead of their rivals, the toll it had taken was apparent – the four slumped in postures of abandon.

“It would have been great to have been clear of the field after 500 metres and just coasted home,” said Andy Hodge, the huge 29-year-old stroke (front oar) of the Camelot-sponsored boat. “But this is one of the toughest of Olympic tests. We had to keep our heads and bring out the final gear – and it shocked the hell out of me that we had it. Now the next project is London 2012.”

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