The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Dare and flair rescue a patchy day in Switzerland

Posted by rowingvoice on May 28, 2012

The GB coxless four begin their record-breaking row on Friday 25 May, two days before winning their second gold of the season, in Lucerne.  Photograph:  Peter Spurrier/Intersport Images

Lucerne, Sunday 27 May 2012

The squadron of British supporters on the banks of the Rotsee didn’t know whether to cheer or cry, as one of those typically up-and-down Lucerne campaigns ended with four gold medals (one non-Olympic), one silver and a bronze, a big step down from Britain’s twelve medals in Belgrade.  The race of the day for the Union Flag brigade was the men’s coxless fours surge through Australia, but the men’s eight’s bravura silver and a confidence-denting sixth for the lightweight double added equal drama.

Australia’s four has completely changed personnel since the Beijing final four years ago, but that didn’t stop shivers of familiarity trickling down the spines of GB supporters as they watched their flagship crew once again lying second to the green and gold for more than a kilometer of a crucial race.  The margin was never large – barely feet at times – but Australia were intent upon staking their claim to the class, and theirs was no brief flourish of speed but a relentless testing of the British stamina.

Something special was needed, and though all of them say the crew still needs plenty of work, Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James and Andy Triggs Hodge can deliver strength and soul.  Showing the dogged determination three of them had exhibited in that Beijing final, the power poured on, and they drove like a machine back through Australia to grab the win by just over a second.   For Gregory, still white-lipped and shattered ten minutes later, it was a baptism of fire in the realities of Olympic fours racing.

“All credit to the guys, I was in real trouble with 500m to go, but they powered on in the last 250,” said Gregory.  “It was a really powerful sprint to the line.  I’m really pleased, that was a vital race for us, we had to win that.”

“That’s what we needed, that’s what we were looking for,” said Hodge.   Did they ever think the win might be in doubt?  “No,” said Reed emphatically.  “I’ve seen some impressive stroking from Hodgey recently, and I know we’re on good form with more to come.  I knew it would be side-by-side but I always thought we’d get our noses in front.”  “You never think about whether you’ll lose,” said James.  “Just about how hard it’s going to be to win.”

The men’s eight feels as if it is marking time until selected stroke Constantine Louloudis can rejoin the boat after a back scare.  The heat and repechage were a return to the bad old days of playing catch-up, but in the final they pulled out their Belgrade belter start, and for the second time this year sat alongside Germany for much of the course.   Silver again, by just over a second (again), but for once we glimpsed a view of the light at the end of the tunnel.

“We kind of had the same plan the whole way through the regatta,” said James Foad, “and we just got it right today.”  “In a broad sense we ticked the right boxes,” said Tom Ransley.  “There’s stuff we still want to improve upon, but we still know the direction we want to go in.”  This eight has the speed when it performs properly, but it has to start performing every time and growing in confidence.

The peerlessly perfect crew of the day was the women’s pair, who rowed their way to the second gold of the season with unassuming fluency ahead of former rivals New Zealand.  The Kiwis, in fact, ended up third, passed early on by the USA, who are looking like strong new challengers.  Helen Glover and Heather Stanning arrived at the medal raft to a hug from coach Robin Williams and organisers offering them the yellow jerseys of world cup leaders for the second time this summer.

“I can’t really remember it, it went so smoothly and quickly,” said Glover.  “But there’s still three weeks of hard work to come,” said Stanning.  “New Zealand have only just come over, so they’re still suffering from their long flight, we aren’t taking anything for granted.  The Americans are a fantastic crew, I don’t think they’re going to let us get away easily.”

With or without rib-fretted bowman Pete Chambers, the lightweight men’s four is virtually tested to destruction in every regatta.  Despite leading for 1400m they could not resist China’s attack, and an assault by South Africa just as they were successfully holding off Denmark was too much to cope with.  Yet, they were the right side of the line between bronze and fourth, and continue to be amongst the major players in an event which changes hands as often as the Olympic torch.

“We wanted to lead from the start, and we held onto it as long as we could,” said Rob Williams.  “I’d much rather that than being miles out the back and having to sprint into that position.”  “We had good intent, we did what we said but we couldn’t quite hang on to it,” said Chris Bartley.  “But the Danes are a class act, so we can’t be too far away if we’re beating them.”

The remaining sweep events left the men’s pair and women’s eight with fifth, both unable to cope with top-quality races.  Will Satch and George Nash were well in the mix for bronze until halfway, but by then an all-out fist-fight between New Zealand and Canada had moved into another league, and the wash and inexperience took their toll and left them floundering four places behind the once-again undefeated Kiwis.

“It was pretty impressive what the Canadians did,” said Nash.  “It was a massive experience, that was a quality field, but next time we are there we’ll probably deal with it a bit better, we’ll be in a slightly more clinical frame of mind.  We were in with a shout [of getting the Greeks], at that point in Belgrade we’d shut them down, but I hit a buoy, it was a slight lack of focus.”

The women’s eight has had a disturbed season, and fifth place on the Rotsee reflects a squad juggling returning injuries, oarswomen swapping disciplines, and three changes from the Belgrade line-up, not to mention a race which rapidly ran away from them.  There is much to decide before this crew can finally get on track with its Olympic campaign.

Rachel Quarrell.

More from Lucerne — read about the sculling events in our second blog from Sunday on the Rotsee.
GB team results summary 


Rowing Voice magazine vol 6 issue 3 coming in the next few days

  • Highlights and lowlights from Lucerne and Belgrade
  • Champions overturned and new names on the board:  event by event, the world cup series so far
  • What’s going to happen in the British women’s squad?
  • Why we’ll have to wait to discover Germany’s Olympic team
  • Wash, Olympic transport, and qualification queries:  FISA under pressure


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