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End of an era for British Rowing as men’s coxless four lose control - and historic Olympic run - amid criticism

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For two decades Britannia has ruled the waves, or at least the flat water of the Olympic rowing regatta and the men’s coxless four.

But for the first time since Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Britain are no longer the Olympic champions of an event first imbued in the psyche of the British public by Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave.

This was again the boat on which so many hopes were rested, a pressure felt by past crews and also the present as they veered wildly off course, hopefully not a metaphor for British Rowing as a whole come the end of the medal events.

None of these rowers are household names in the ilk of Redgrave and Pinsent: Ollie Cook, Matt Rossiter, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie, nor was there any finger-pointing in the aftermath.

On course for silver and potentially pushing the Australians for the gold, the man in the boat steering lost control and they careered into an understandably disgruntled Italian boat and out of the medals in fourth place.

To the credit of Rossiter and Carnegie, they refused to name names for the person culpable, their thinking being they win and lose together.

But it is a loss that certainly makes waves in the rowing fraternity. Under former coach Jurgen Grobler, the boat had enjoyed unprecedented success but he walked away from the role as head coach last August. How much of a difference would it have made had Grobler been the one calling the shots will never be known.

A former incumbent of the British four, James Cracknell, had been critical of the latest quartet in the build-up to the Games and raised some of the same points after the crews had crossed the line.

“This is the first time there has been a British four in an Olympic final since 2000 that hasn’t had a member of the previous four that has won a gold medal,” he said.

“Four new Olympians, four debut Olympians, in an Olympic final. Would that race have been different if there had been one member of the previous crew that had won?”

Rossiter took umbrage in the immediacy of the final but also spoke eloquently about the devastation of a missed opportunity and a race gone horribly wrong.

“I don’t think it’s quite sunk in,” he said. “It all happened so fast. You like to put your head on the pillow and feel proud and think you’ve done your best. We tried our best but we really screwed up there at the finish so it’s a bit heartbreaking. There’s no sugar coating it – we’re absolutely devastated.”

An Olympic bow had been a long time coming for Rossiter in particular. Injury forced him out of a selection contention for London 2012, instead he found a job selling merchandise inside the Queen Elizabeth Park.

As for the criticism from the likes of Cracknell, he added: “It’s more just disappointing that those people will probably be really smug now that they are part of the legacy that won. I hope these people are happy we have not continued the gold run. But it did not affect our performance. We managed to shut out the pressure from everything else really well.”

Carnegie tried to shrug off the criticisms as “just a few comments”. He said: “I don’t think that’s the vast majority. We’ve had incredible support from a lot of the people from years gone by especially Pete Reed, Andy Triggs Hodge and Alex Gregory.”

It was not all doom and gloom at today’s rowing. Aside from a silver medal in the quadruple sculls, Helen Glover kept her dream of a third straight Olympic gold alive, her and Polly Swann rowing far better than in their heat to finish second in their semi-final.

Afterwards, Glover said looking ahead to tomorrow’s final: “To know we’re on the start line for the final, we’re not over-celebrating but it’s where we feel we should be as a crew. It’s a story of how far we’ve come but how far we’ve got to go. I know there’s more to come.”

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