Recap: Great Britain strikes rowing gold on Day 7

Great Britain topped the rowing medals on Friday, capturing gold medals in the men’s four and women’s pair, and in both cases defending medals they had won at London 2012.  U.S. crews suffered disappointment, with the women’s pair, expected to contend for a medal, finishing fourth and the men’s lightweight double finishing fifth.

The Great Britain men’s four of Constantine Louloudis, George Nash, Mo Sbihi, and Alex Gregory pushed out to an early lead, weathered a charge from the Australian crew of William Lockwood, Joshua Dunkley-Smith, Joshua Booth and Alexander Hill, and then pushed away at the finish to claim the win, the fifth consecutive Olympic gold for Great Britain in this event. 

“It was so nervy, this whole week, the venue, the pressure,” Nash told WorldRowing.  “With the cancellations for a few days and not knowing how fast we were going to be on the day. It feels incredible.”

The five straight Olympic gold medals in the event are the longest current such streak in Olympic rowing.  Great Britain and Australia have finished 1-2 in this event for the past three Olympic Games.

Great Britain also repeated as Olympic champions in the women’s pair.  Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who became Great Britain’s first ever female Olympic rowing gold medalists in London 2012, today became Great Britain’s first ever female double Olympic champions in rowing. 

Great Britain took the lead early ahead of Hedvig Rasmussen and Anne Anderson of Denmark and Grace Luczak and Felice Mueller of the U.S., and extended their lead throughout the race.  In the last quarter of the race, the New Zealand duo of Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent, who had started slowly, sprinted through the U.S. and Denmark to claim silver, while Denmark claimed their first-ever medal in this event in the bronze medal position.

France took the gold in a fantastically exciting final of the men’s lightweight double sculls, with crew members Jeremie Azou and Pierre Houin just edging brothers Gary and Paul O’Donovan, who captured the first-ever Olympic rowing medal for Ireland, with Norway’s Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli for the bronze medal.

“I am so happy, but a little bit tired now,” said France’s Houin to WorldRowing. “Jeremie is always very generous during the race in his effort.”

The U.S. crew of Andrew Campbell and Josh Konieczny, who became the first American crew to reach the gold medal race in this event at the Olympics, rowed an extraordinarily brave race, running with the leaders until late in the race before fading to fifth place.  Their finish marked the highest placing ever for the U.S. in this event.

Ilse Paulis and Maaike Head of the Netherlands took the gold in the women’s lightweight double sculls, but the battle for silver and bronze was a fantastic finish as Canadians Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich snatched the silver away from China’s Huang Wenyi and Pan Feihong with a huge sprint.

Speaking to WorldRowing, Obee said, “I don’t really believe it. That was the best race I’ve ever had.  It was just us out there.” 

Semifinals and placement finals

U.S.’s Gevvie Stone in the women’s single rowed a strong, smart race in her semifinal to earn herself a spot in Saturday’s gold medal race.  Despite the pressure of her own expectations, and the pressure of having not one but two former Olympic gold medalists in the women’s single in her semifinal, in Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic, and seven-time Olympian Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus, the U.S.’s Stone stayed calm and composed throughout the race, finishing second behind China’s Duan Jingli to clinch her spot, just ahead of Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig.

And those two former gold medalists?  In fourth and fifth place, behind Stone.  With her finish, Stone is guaranteed to finish higher than she did in London 2012, where she won the B-Final to finish 7th overall.

Stone was the second-fastest overall qualifier from the semifinals.

Gold-medal favorite, Australia’s Kim Brennan, New Zealand’s Emma Twigg, and Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin will join Stone, Jingli and Lobnig in Saturday’s medal race.

The top seeds in the men’s single sculls all raced to expectations, with reigning world champion Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic and gold-medal favorite Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand each winning their respective semifinals.  Also qualifying for Saturday’s medal race were Croatia’s Damir Martin, Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez, Hannes Obreno, and surprise qualifier Stanisla Shchabachenia of Belarus, who used a huge move late in the race to surprise the field and snag a qualifying spot.

In the placement finals, the U.S. men’s four of Seth Weil, Charlie Cole, Matt Miller and Henrik Rummel finished out their week in Rio with a win in the B-final for 7th place overall.  The U.S. lightweight women’s double sculls of Kate Bertko and Devery Karz finished fourth in the B-final, for 10th place overall.