Sarah and Christine took some loot today, if not quite the color they wanted, but after their race, the first race of the day, the United States had a very bad day.
Lightweight Women's Double
The Germans and Swiss blasted out to an early lead in the first strokes of the race, but the US momentum was apparent soon after the settle. The top of the field was tight, but the US kept them at bay if just barely, and held the lead fully to the 1000.
But as in Lucerne, the Romanians pushed in the third 500, and this time they weren't alone; the Germans went even harder, and had the lead by the 1500. They looked for a while like they could hold off the Romanians, but it turned out that their aggressive tactics were courageous, but unsustainable. The Romanians went through with about 10 strokes to go, and took the gold by 0.31 seconds over the Germans. As the two leaders pushed for the line, the US fell off the pace, taking bronze 3 seconds behind.
After the race, Christine Collins told me that the Germans felt they hadn't lost the gold medal, but had won the silver.
It's not like it was easy - Romanian Constanta Burcica had this to say: "I didn't realise that we had won because we worked from the first stroke to the last stroke. I didn't know right until the end wheteher we had won or not. i Iooked at Angela (Alupei) and I realized."
Lightweight Men's Double
Were it not for last year's freak scratch after the World Championship heats, apparently due to inability to make weight, the Poles might have been undefeated for the quadrennial. They won in 1997 and 1998, but scratched last year, and the gold went to Italy.
But the Poles qualified for Sydney with a strong row in Lucerne qualifier. Three days later, the Italians won Lucerne World Cup by eight seconds; this would be a showdown.
It was close enough, with the Italians falling behind by no more tha 1.5 seconds at any time, but the Poles put together the fastest first, second, and thrid 500s, and were only bested by bronze medalists France in the last 500. They essentially crushed in this race, with the caveat that it's rare that any lightweight crew truly dusts their competition at this level.
This was Japan's first ever Olympic final; they finished only 8 seconds off a furious pace, and less than two seconds off the defending Olympic champ Gier brothers from Switzerland. Watch the Japanses lightweights this next quadrennial.
Lightweight Men's Four
As they showed in the reps, and as is their normal tactic, the Danes just went hard. They reached the 500 first, but they've been vulnerable late; their intensity never suspect, but their rhythm just not up to its old standards. In the semi, they had the first fastest 500, then fell off to fourth or so for each successive split. Same story here, but they held on for a prize.
The Aussies, who have done nothing this year but were fast this week, ran with the French even through the 1000, with the Danes starting to fade. After a slow start, it looked like the Australians had the gold wrapped up; this crew has been very fast this week. They led all the way down the course, appearing to get stronger as they went, but yet another blistering sprint from the French (see yesterday's men's pair report) took the gold away, and Australia had to settle for silver. Denmark withstood a late and frightening charge from the Italians, but held on for bronze. The Italians had spotty speed today - slowest first 500, second fastest second 5000, fifth fastest third 500, second fastest final 500. (I remember that second 500 well from when I raced the Italian lightweight eight three years running in the 80s; 2000 Italian stroke Carlo Gaddi was in all of those 80's crews.)
The United States went out with the pack, but lost momentum alone in Lane 6 through the middle of the race, and was simply out of touch with the heat of the race. In this event, crews are not going to slow down, the fitness level is so high. But the intensity required to run with a race like that is tremendous, and tremendously hard to muster alone in the far lanes. I spoke to Mark Schneider after the race, and these were precisely his thoughts on the race. The crew placed sixth.
Before yesterday, it was 48 years since France won Olympic gold in rowing; this year, they take two home.
The Germans gave no one even the briefest hope in the early going; they were out three strokes into the race. The russians followed about a deck behind for a time, with the US in third in the early going., then the Russians applied considerable, and I would say unexpected pressure on the Germans. The Russians dictated the pace of the race through the 700 meter mark, albeit from a few feet behind.
The Germans looked rattled briefly - very briefly. In the last 15 strokes of the second 500, they took back a half length, and left everyone else to fight over silver. The Brits, who were a little slow just off the line, established themselves as the primary bronze challengers, and proceeded to shake off the rest of the field. Then, as the finish line approached, the cost of their early run began to take a toll on the Russians, and the Brits pounced, pushing through for the silver by one one-hundredth of a second, the second such margin of the Games.
Russian took third, followed by the Ukraine, the USA, and Denmark.
The Germans swung hard going out of the gates, but this was Italy's Games.
This year's German boat, while strong and certainly showing plenty of guts, didn't have the precision and utter uniformity characteristic of German quads past. This crew took it out hard, hoping to shake off the field, but precision and uniformity won out as the Italians pushed through.
The Germans early lead evaporated by the 1500, and the Dutch struck as well, putting together the fastest last 500 and stealing the silver as the Germans faded dramatically in the final strokes
This is only the second non-Germanic (East and West) gold in the men's quad since the event started in 1976, and both were won by Italy- 1988 and 2000. The constant - Agostino Abbagnale was in both crews.
He is the only Abbagnale with three Olympic golds - his famous brothers have two.
Over the past few years, the Romanians have always looked very strong, powerful, and fearless, if not quite a precision crew. This year, they look strong, powerful, fearless, and near-perfect. A few crews gave them a shot, but it was no contest.
The Belarus fired the first shot, blasting to the 600 in the lead. It was short-lived, as the Romanians took their patented move at the 600. By the 1000, Romania had over two seconds on everyone, and it was a race for silver. The Netherlands, who have looked great all week, held the spot for most of the race, followed by Canada, who grabbed the bronze.
In the first heartbreaking eight result of the day, the US women were never really a factor - they raced in fifth throughout most of the race, and faded to sixth in the final strokes.
The Brits took this one away from everyone early. For much of the second 1000, the field was moving on them, but the damage was done. The Australians, who went off the line in fifth, came up steadily, and uncorked an inhumanly fast last 500 as the crowd pushed them along; it was almost three seconds faster than that of the Brits.
But the Brits hung on, although the Aussies picked off Croatia, who had raced in second for most of the race. The Croats held on for bronze, followed by Italy, the USA, and Romania.
The US men's eight simply didn't have the speed this year. A multitude of factors help to explain it - a few fairly serious injuries to core members, maybe the absence of Mike Wherley, who provided much of the soul glue of the boat. More importantly, they seemed to have lost their most essential weapon, a racing rhythm that rarely deserted them.
After the reps, they made a lineup change, moving Jeff Klepacki into stroke, and Chris Ahrens back to six, in hopes of finding a new, hopefully better rhythm. Perhaps there simply wasn't enough time, but the crew never found their feet in this race, placing fifth with a somewhat lackluster, if hard-fought, even split race.