Pete Reed hails his crew as Great Britain storm to victory in men's eights... and the women's eight add silver to top the rowing medal table
- Great Britain dominated the men's eight final to add another gold medal to an ever-increasing tally
- The rowers had to settle for bronze in London behind Germany but exacted their revenge four years on
- Holland won bronze in Rio having briefly threatened to rally before fading in the final stages
- Great Britain's women eight took a silver medal behind the dominant USA crew
Pete Reed was struggling to find words. It was half-an-hour since the British men’s eight had won gold in rowing’s flagship event and the man who was now a triple Olympic champion was still wracked with emotion. This was the first time Britain had won the event for 16 years and he was overcome, above all, with gratitude.
Gratitude to his crewmates, with whom he had formed such a close bond; gratitude to everyone he said he had let down as he sacrificed everything for this; gratitude to the Royal Navy, where he is a lieutenant; gratitude to everyone who helped him; gratitude to the men’s coach, Jurgen Grobler, who he called ‘greatest man I have ever met’ and gratitude to his sport.
‘At times like this,’ Reed said, staring around at the rest of the eight as they spilled out their own joy by the side of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, looking at the sun dancing on the water and the statue of Christ the Redeemer gazing down from its vantage point on Corcovado, ‘I think I could do this forever. It is the greatest sport. I don’t want these days to end.’
Great Britain's rowing team celebrate with their gold medals after their victory in Rio
Great Britain held off the challenge of Germany and Holland to win the men's eights in Rio
What a day it was, too. A few minutes before the men had taken to the water on the last day of the Olympic regatta, the British women’s eight won a medal for the first time, taking silver behind the dominant USA crew and sparking wild celebrations in the crowd. Both achievements meant Great Britain finished top of the rowing medals table with three golds and two silvers.
For Reed, 35, and his crewmate, Andrew Triggs Hodge, who chose the occasion to criticise British Rowing, it was the third time they had won Olympic gold. For Matt Langridge, it was the first time as Olympic champion at his fourth and final attempt. For others, such as Paul Bennett and Matt Gotrel, it was a taste of glory at the first time of trying.
Grobler, a veteran of so many triumphs; a man who has coached a crew to gold at every Olympics he has been involved with since 1976, and who has coached all the greats of British rowing, including Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, surprised us when he said this was the best moment of his career.
The British eight never looked like relinquishing their lead as they stormed to glory at the Lagoa Stadium
The three medal winners were some way clear of the rest of the field in the final of the men's eight
MEN'S EIGHT RESULT
‘It’s a highlight of all my coaching,’ Grobler said. ‘It was a tough four years and especially this year, looking after two crews all the way through. But if you have that reward, what can I say?
‘The guys did a brilliant job, they followed the coxless four from yesterday in the same style and everything is just fantastic.
“There is no question that it is the highlight. With all the tradition, the eight in our sport is the blue riband event. Managing nine people is challenging, is good, but the power in that race is fantastic. They executed the race as we discussed. So, especially when you put the two wins together, no question it is a highlight of my career, having 13 Olympic champions. I haven’t done that before. That is fantastic.’
Part of the reason for his satisfaction, perhaps, was that the men’s eight rowed something close to a perfect race. They went out fast ahead of the German crew that was always seen as the main threat and had a clear advantage after 500m. They had extended their lead by the halfway stage and never looked like being caught.
The women’s eight was never expected to challenge the USA for gold but they, too, rowed a brilliant race. They started slowly and were down the field in the first half of the contest as Canada set a fierce early pace. But the Canadians faded and the British got stronger and stronger until it became a battle between them and the Romanians for silver. The British women edged it by a couple of metres.
It was a particularly emotional triumph for the British women’s cox, Zoe de Toledo, who was the Oxford cox in the traumatic 2012 university Boat Race, which was interrupted by environmental protester Trenton Oldfield. When the race was restarted, De Toledo made a steering error, Oxford lost and one of the crew, Alexander Woods, collapsed unconscious at the finish line.
‘After my Boat Race,’ De Toledo said, ‘I don’t get nervous any more because I know nothing will ever be as bad as that again. I can go into a race here and think “nobody is going to break any oars, nobody is going to jump in and somebody might pass out but hopefully we’ll get to them quicker”.
‘The Boat Race was bad. It changed who I was — very negatively at first but now it has built up into something hugely positive. I don’t think I would be here but for that failure.’
Andrew T Hodge phoned his family after being presented with his gold medal after the race
The Brits have enjoyed a fierce rivalry with the Germany team but came out on top on this occasion
The team hug in celebration after leaving the boat following their victory in Rio
The British men had their rivals trailing in their wake from the start in what was a dominant performance
WOMEN'S EIGHT RESULT
There was extra emotion attached to the result for Frances Houghton, who won her third Olympic silver medal a few months after the death of her father, Robin. ‘It was really hard but it was also something that gave me great strength,’ she said.
‘He really helped me get through the hard times in rowing. I could have walked away from it while he was ill and said, “No, this is more important” but he really wanted me to be rowing.
‘He passed away maybe six days before I was selected for the fifth Games. I think he knew that I had done enough. I was so lucky to have the rowing to get me through that, and my dad to get me through the rowing. For him, he’s up there and I’m just glad he got a great view and will have watched a great race. My mum, Andrea, is here with my dad’s flag, which has come to every event.’
Not everyone was brimming with joy. Hodge, 37, who will not row at Tokyo 2020, said he felt bitter about the treatment meted out to him and some of his team-mates by British Rowing. ‘All the effort the guys put in, it seems the sport doesn’t really appreciate what we give,’ he said. ‘Watching from the outside last year, it was crushing to see. Our media profile is a cautionary side of how the sport is governed. The sport needs to take a good look at itself and explore what it can do to promote us and construct events.’
Great Britain were a picture of delight as they celebrated for a team photo after claiming silver on the Lagoa
Great Britain's rowers embrace after making history in the women's coxed eight at the Rio Olympics
Great Britain (middle) pipped Romania (top) by 0.12 seconds in a photo finish in Rio de Janeiro
Reed’s reaction, though, was more representative of the feeling of exultation the day brought and the gratitude that came with it. It is sometimes like that with the greatest Olympic athletes. They understand how much commitment it takes from others to help them succeed because they are forced to be so ruthlessly single-minded in their pursuit of gold. ‘I will never be able to repay those debts,’ Reed said.
‘There were times in this Olympic cycle when I did not think I could carry on. I have been sacrificing things for a long time: relationships, friends, family, having to give up my dogs. You ask yourself whether it’s worth it. What do I need to prove? Who do I need to prove it to? I have talked about all the sacrifices you have to make but even those sacrifices are worth it.
‘I don’t know whether I will row in Tokyo in four years’ time. I want to be a naval officer proper. I want to be there and do what I signed up to do all those years ago.
‘I could retire today and be happy for the rest of my life and I could carry on rowing and I know I’d have the strength to carry on for another four years. But now I’m just thinking about today and crossing the line. I was in bits.
‘It was all I had. All I had.’
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