Rowing serves up a feast of finals on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon

The Rio 2016 rowing regatta provided three days of exciting finals. After starting out on 11 August with New Zealand’s indomitable duo of Bond and Murray making it seven years unbeaten in the men’s pairs, the events were rounded off with two memorable victories in the eights.

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The first day of rowing finals saw New Zealand’s Hamish Bond and Eric Murray extend their impressive winning streak in the men’s pairs. Since first teaming up in 2009, the duo have not lost a race. This time around, the six-time world champions had established a commanding lead by the race’s midway point and crossed the finish line 2.80 seconds clear to retain the crown they won in London 2012. “We always have to execute, but the hard work is done in the four years leading up to this,” Bond noted after the win. “It's the nature of being undefeated that we can't exceed expectations – we can only match them.”

South Africa’s Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling took silver, with Italy’s Giovanni Abagnale and Marco Di Costanzo a further two seconds behind.

The women’s double sculls provided perhaps the day’s most intriguing tussle. Poland’s Magdalena Fularczyk-Kozlowska and Natalia Madaj put in a gritty performance to edge past Great Britain’s Katherine Grainger and Victoria Thornley in the final metres after the British duo had led for most of the race. Lithuania’s Donata Vistartaite and Milda Valciukaite took the bronze three seconds behind the winners.

“In the last 100m we felt we could catch them,” said Fularczyk-Kozlowska after winning her nation’s first gold medal of the Rio Games. “Grainger is a legend, but in Poland we say you have to beat the champions. In the race we did not think about it, it was just the British crew.” Despite giving up the title she won alongside Anna Watkins at London 2012, the silver meant that Grainger became the first British woman to win medals at five Olympic Games.

In the men’s double sculls, Croatian brothers Martin and Valent Sinkovic sealed their country’s first ever Olympic rowing gold. Martin wept as he made his way from the pontoon but was keen to point out that they were “beautiful tears”. Lithuanian duo Mindaugas Griskonis and Saulius Ritter finished one second behind to take silver while Norway’s Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tufte won bronze three seconds behind the winners.

Meanwhile, Germany took the gold medals in both the men’s and women’s quadruple sculls. The men’s crew of Philipp Wende, Lauritz Schoof, Karl Schulze and Hans Gruhne led from start to finish and saw off Australia to successfully defend the title they won at London 2012. There was also a first medal of Rio 2016 for Estonia, whose foursome took the bronze to complete the podium. In the women’s event, Germany narrowly edged out Netherlands and Poland to win a close-fought final.

Finally, the podium for the lightweight men’s four was a tightly contested all-European affair as the Swiss quartet took gold just ahead of Denmark and France. 

Double joy for Great Britain while France and Netherlands also claim gold

On the second day of finals, there was never any doubt as to the result of the men’s fours, with the British crew retaining the crown they have won at every Games since Sydney 2000. In doing so, they became the first NOC to win a rowing event five times in a row. Leading from start to finish, the British quartet of Alex Gregory, Mohamed Sbihi, George Nash and Constantine Louloudis finished in 5:58.61, 1.83 seconds ahead of Australia and over five seconds ahead of Italy.

“You try to imagine how it’s going to feel but you can't fully realise it until it happens,” said a jubilant Sbihi. “We feel bad for them,” teammate Gregory said of the Australian team, who took their third silver in a row. “We're mates with them. That's one of the hardest things about the sport; we're all after the same thing.”

In the final of the women’s pair, Great Britain’s world and Olympic record holders Helen Glover and Heather Stanning defended their crown with a dominant win having led their nearest challengers by nearly four seconds at one point. Although New Zealand’s Genevieve Behrent and Rebecca Scown made a late push to edge out the Danish pairing in the last 500m, it was not enough to topple the near-invincible British duo.

In the men’s lightweight double sculls, France’s Jeremie Azou and Pierre Houin won their country’s first rowing gold since Athens 2004. Having burst into an early lead, France were pushed hard in the second half of the race. Finishing in 6:30.70, they ended up just 0.53 seconds ahead of the Irish pairing, who won their country’s first ever rowing medal, while the Norwegian duo were just 0.69 seconds behind.

In the women’s race, 2016 European champions Ilse Paulis and Maaike Head of the Netherlands produced a late burst to claim gold ahead of Canada and China. "I can't believe what happened today, all week and all year really,” said Head afterwards.

“It’s the purest form of happiness,” added Canadian silver medallist Lindsay Jennerich. “This was 12 years in the making.”

Dramatic finale to Rio regatta

With the single sculls and eights still to go, the remaining rowing finals were contested on 13 August. In the women’s sculls, Australia’s reigning world champion Kimberley Brennan took the title with a time of 7:21.54. She finished 1.38 seconds ahead of the USA’s Genevra Stone and 2.59 seconds clear of China’s Duan Jingli. New Zealand’s Emma Twigg, who was tipped to challenge for gold, just missed out on a podium place.

Brennan almost missed out on the final all together having finished 14th in the heat rankings, just scraping a place in the quarter-finals. Unsurprisingly, the Australian was delighted to finally win gold, not least to bring an end to her Olympian husband Scott’s bragging rights, after he took double sculls gold at Beijing 2008.

“I've imagined this so many times,” she said. “So much work has gone into this over the past 11 years and I've had so much support from my coach and team-mates. My husband has a gold medal so now we're even!”

In the men’s single sculls, five-time world champion and defending Olympic champion Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand beat Croatia’s Damir Martin in a photo-finish to secure gold. Both men were credited with an Olympic-record time of 6:41.34, only for Drysdale to be given the win by five thousandths of a second. The race had been billed as a showdown between the 37-year-old Kiwi and Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic, but his arch-rival had to settle for the bronze medal.

“I got the feeling he [Martin] just passed me and I chucked in a few short ones in desperation,” three-time Olympic medallist Drysdale explained afterwards. “It was not the way you want to finish, but to come away with that result was fantastic.”

Martin, meanwhile, was left feeling that there was nothing more he could have done to overhaul his rival. “It's one of those perfect races, where I did 100 percent, even more,” he said. “The last 100 metres was incredible, the shouts from the spectators were crazy.”

In the women’s eight, the US crew powered to a third straight Olympic title and extended their unbeaten run to 10 years. Finishing in 6:01.49, they were 2.49 seconds ahead of Britain.

The American eight of Emily Regan, Kerry Simmonds, Amanda Polk, Lauren Schmetterling, Tessa Gobbo, Meghan Musnicki, Ellie Logan, Amanda Elmore and Katelin Snyder took the lead in the third section after Canada and the Netherlands made the early running. The British boat, which had been back in last place at the 1000m mark, came good in the final stretch to claim silver, holding off a late surge from Romania, who took bronze.

The silver represented a first ever medal for Great Britain in the event, and was particularly poignant for 35-year old crew veteran Frances Houghton who had been part of the eight for over a decade. “We did this for all the girls who have been in this boat over the last 20 years,” she said. “They helped make this possible; they know who they are.”

Finally, Great Britain’s men went one better in the last event of the rowing regatta, storming to gold over reigning Olympic champions Germany in the men’s eight. The British boat, made up of Scott Durant, Tom Ransley, Andrew Triggs-Hodge, Matthew Gotrel, Pete Reed, Paul Bennett, Matt Langridge, William Satch and Phelan Hill finished the 2000m course in 5:29.63. The Germans claimed silver 1.33 seconds back while the Netherlands were 1.96 seconds behind in third.

The British eight led from start to finish and were ahead by as much as 2.54 seconds at one point. According to William Satch, this was precisely what they had planned. “That was our plan, to not look back and keep going and going,” he said. “I couldn't believe we had actually done it when we crossed the line.”