Pinsent wins fourth gold in a row

At Sydney 2000, Great Britain had won the men's fours on a wave of emotion, as Steve Redgrave brought down the curtain on his incredible career with another gold medal. It meant that the crew that arrived in Athens had only a semi-familiar look. James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent remained, but Steve Williams and Ed Coode were making their Olympic debuts. Their self-belief remained undimmed and they were determined to retain the Olympic title.

Picture by Getty (2)

The new members were hardly rookies. Williams had a world title to his name while Coode had two, though he had only been added to the British boat after the unfortunate Alex Partridge suffered a cracked rib just a month before the start of the Games.

Most people expected the gold medal to be a two-way contest between the defending champions and the world champions from Canada, and that is precisely how it panned out.

Both boats cruised through the first round and then stepped up a gear in the semi-finals, in which Great Britain set the fastest time, with Canada just 0.24 seconds slower.

The final was set to be a titanic battle. The British went off at a fast tempo and opened up a small margin over the first 1,000m which they then set about trying to protect. The Canadians, though, stayed in touch, never allowing the lead to grow too big, and then making their own push. As the two boats closed to within 500m of the finishing line, Canada's bow nudged just into the lead; the momentum had briefly changed in their favour. However, the British responded, launching an attack of their own. This time, it was more decisive, as Pinsent's crew eased ahead by half a boat length.

The Canadians were not done yet. With just 100m to go, they launched a huge response, carving into the lead and pulling alongside the British boat as the line came into view. As the two boats crossed the line, it was impossible to tell who had won. There was a long pause and then, to the cheers of the British fans who had packed the grandstands, the result came up – victory for Great Britain. It meant that Pinsent, competing in his final Games, ended his career with a fourth Olympic gold.