The independent voice of rowing in Britain

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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