Rowing-U.S. women storm to flagship gold
Story Dated: Thursday, August 2, 2012 21:55 hrs IST
England: The United States powered to gold in the flagship women's Olympic eight on Thursday after fighting off fierce rivals Canada to maintain their stunning six-year winning streak and cap a thrilling day of racing on Dorney Lake.
The dominance of the U.S. women contrasted with the other two Olympic finals of the day, when New Zealand sprinted through the field to grab gold on the line in the men's double sculls while South Africa snatched victory in a thrilling men's lightweight four final.
The surprise win for the South African boat gave the nation its first Olympic rowing gold medal and prompted the head of the country's Olympic team to urge the stroke of the crew, Sizwe Ndlovu, to go home and inspire a generation of black people to take up the sport.
"He will be received as a prince or a king," Patience Shikwambana said of the only black rower in the crew, after Ndlovu clambered down the boat to celebrate with his team mates following the three-boat sprint for the line.
The American women's crew are also likely to receive a heroes welcome following their emphatic win on the course to the west of London which confirmed their dominance of the event.
Having taken a half a length lead over Canada and the Netherlands in the early stages they had to hold on as their neighbours came back at them before 25,000 roaring fans packed into the course to the west of London.
"This was awesome, at the end I don't think I could have pulled one more stroke," Caroline Lind told reporters on the side of the lake after they had earlier punched the air and splashed the water as they crossed the line. "We got the gold and that is what mattered."
The Americans had entered the Olympic regatta as hot favourites after winning the 2008 Games in Beijing and the last five world championships.
However, they were given an early warning of how difficult it would be to retain their title when they raced Canada in a world cup in Lucerne this year, winning by only 0.03 seconds.
Canada also posted the faster time in the heats earlier this week in their bid to win a first women's eight Olympic gold since they last won the title in Barcelona. They had to settle for silver and the Netherlands took bronze.
But the most exciting race of the day went to the South Africans who claimed victory by a couple of feet - a quarter of a second - with a breathtaking late burst to win a four-way sprint for the line in the men's lightweight four final.
The victory, over Britain in silver and Denmark in third, prevented the host nation from scooping its third Olympic gold of the Games and denied brothers Peter and Richard Chambers from Northern Ireland the title.
The four of James Thompson, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and Ndlovu, collapsed over their oars as they went across the line and looked to the big screens to see whether they had won.
The British boat later rowed past the packed stands to wave at fans and thank them for their support.
"There were 25,000 people out there, supporting four midgets in a boat," Richard Chambers told a press conference. "It just proves that small guys can get in a boat and win an Olympic medal if you've got enough drive and determination." The British crew had earlier suggested they should have been put in a different lane because a strong cross wind favoured those crews in lanes five and six which enjoyed flatter water.
They then appeared to retract that in their later press conference. South Africa were in lane five.
The head of the body overseeing international rowing, Matt Smith, said they had discussed re-allocating lanes but decided not to when the wind died down.
"I wouldn't say it was perfectly fair," he said. "(But) there is no sound basis to say it was blatantly unfair." New Zealand's Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan, the double sculls world champions, also showed that you do not need to be the tallest rowers in the race to win gold when they sprinted through on the line to win gold.
The popular Kiwi double had been sitting in fifth place for most of their race before they upped their rate and surged through a tiring field in an electrifying final 300 metres.
Italy's Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti took silver and the experienced Slovenian crew of Luka Spik and Iztok Cop grabbed bronze after fading in the second half of the race. The Slovenians have now completed the set after winning silver in Athens and gold in Sydney.
"It was painful but so, so good," Sullivan said, after earlier climbing out of his boat to lie flat out on the pontoon.
"He just said to go so I went." The win for New Zealand is likely to be the first of several for the country, with the single sculler Mahe Drysdale and the men's pair racing in finals on Friday.