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Archive for August, 2012

Australia win points by losing cat-and-mouse sprint

Posted by rowingvoice on August 3, 2012

Two of the world’s best coxless fours in the first of two head-to-head races this week

Britain’s coxless four retained its winning record at this regatta but may have conceded a point in the psychological battle, as Australia took the wind out of their sails by visibly letting them win their semi-final ahead of Saturday’s final.

The early showdown between Britain and Australia was always going to be massive.  The coxless fours stats between Britain and Australia stood at 2-1 in favour of Australia as the six semi-finalists sat on the start, at stake three places in the final.  The Brits didn’t want to lose in front of a home crowd.  But the Aussies don’t like defeat either.  How were both going to save face?

The conundrum was solved in the most obvious way by a quartet of canny Australians, who proved themselves masters of game-play and rowed precisely the race they will have wanted.  As in Munich they took a fast start, easing into a half-length lead over GB during the first third of the race while both flew lengths away from the chasing pack.  Britain’s first push closed the gap a little just before half-way, but Australia inched it back in the second third.  Then came the British charge.

If you thought the shouts for the women’s pair yesterday were massive, the roar which built as the crews and peleton of cycling coaches approached the grandstand was twice as big, a swelling clamour demanding a win from the British four.  Andy Triggs Hodge, Tom James, Pete Reed and Alex Gregory responded, sprinting to over forty strokes a minute and quickly closing the gap.  As they came level Australia’s rate came up to match.  With  little over 100m to go both crews sat locked, rowing stroke for stroke and sitting nose to nose — or more accurately bow-ball to bow-ball.

But it quickly became apparent that Australia, while racing hard, were not after all going for the win.  It was as if they had said, “ok if you really want this one, take it.  We will wait for the final.”   After a few strokes level they deliberately dropped their speed, and it was this which let Britain through to win by nearly a full second.  Australia crossed the line under-rating Britain by four strokes a minute, a clear statement that they didn’t think this one mattered enough to push one more time.

This is very different from the badminton scandal:  since the top three crews out of six all qualified for the medal final on Saturday, it was not a case of gaining easier opposition in a future round.  It is common in rowing, if you think you won’t win a semi-final, to save some energy — and tactics — for future races.  There is no point in showing all the shots in your locker at one go if by hiding a few you can lull your opposition into a false sense of security.  Two questions remain:  will the Brits fall for it?  And how much of their own speed did they show?  That sprint came much later than you would expect.

No doubt both crews will claim they had plenty left in the tank.  They have to survive another two days of waiting and wondering which of them is faster, before they can prove it on Saturday.  And with the USA remaining unbeaten with a decent time in the other semi-final, and untested on the international circuit this year, it’s anyone’s guess what they can do under pressure so it could be a three-boat rush.  The war of words will continue, and now it’s two-all in the rowing Ashes with one match to go.

Rachel Quarrell

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Semi relationships and awesome foursomes

Posted by rowingvoice on August 3, 2012

The score between the British and Australian fours is 2-1 to Oz (two victories in Munich, one loss in Lucerne). Now there is the tantalising prospect of drawing level  if the Poms beat the Convicts in the semi-final in which they are both drawn.  If this should turn out to be the case,  and assuming both qualified, the final would be the decider.

The question is, though, why would either crew bust a gut to beat the other in a semi-final , unless the challenger’s final place is threatened?  Jimmy Tomkins who rowed with Drew Ginn in the Australian foursome that won the Olympic in 1996 in Atlanta, says that the semi was just an irritant on the way to the final. They didn’t bother more than to finish third, ‘and we almost came to blows after it.’

So irritant the semi was, but the final added more Aussie gold to that earned in Barcelona in 1992. since ’96, of course, the coxless four has been the province of the Poms, with wins in 2000, 2004 and 2008. hence the friendly rivalry has helped to fuel the whingers from Down Under who have been complaining about the GB team having their own hotel and private water transport to Dorney Lake and moaning that the roar of the crowd is biased toward the Brits and putting Aussie rowers off their stride. Dear oh dear, surely not.

Barney Williams, who was in the Canadian boat that lost to the Brits in Athens by the width of a maple leaf, is uncertain if racing the main opponents in the semi would have made a difference. ‘Why would you go out to beat them if you were certain of qualifying?’ he asks. There could only be one reason, which he is sure both coaches are aware of. ‘If the likely weather conditions are thought to affect the final, they could race for the best lane.’ But that apart, the final is the thing.

Christopher Dodd

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