Australia’s men’s quadruple sculls secured Australia’s first Olympic rowing medal of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when they won a silver medal in their Olympic final.
The crew of Karsten Forsterling, Alexander ‘Sasha’ Belonogoff, Cameron Girdlestone and James McRae were hot favourites to take out the Olympic title having won both World Rowing Cup 2 and 3 earlier in the year.
However, reigning World and Olympic champions Germany were not to be discounted.
The crew were drawn in lane three, and were joined in the final by crews from Germany, Poland, Estonia, Ukraine and Great Britain.
In cool, slightly overcast conditions the German crew were the fastest out the blocks and the Australians paced themselves through the race, seeing the Germans pull out in front early. As they reached through the halfway mark the Germans were still out in front but the Australians began to up their rate in a bid to chase them.
As they approached the final 500 metres, the Australians continued to hunt down the Germans and as they approached the line the crew were within touching distance of the reigning champions.
However, it wasn’t to be for the Australians as they fell 1.15sec short to take home the silver medal, with Germany winning gold and Estonia bronze.
“We had one goal today and that was to have our best race. Given the conditions today, and everything we had to deal with today, it was about getting on with the job and we feel we did have our best race. Awesome to go home with a little souvenir, would have been nice if it was gold but look we did what we could today,” Belonogoff said.
“Full credit to the Germans, it was tough and slow conditions. They jumped us out the blocks and we obviously didn’t have enough room in the second kilometre to just peck them back,” added Belonogoff.
“We definitely started moving for them in the second kilometre, but in those conditions, with a strong head wind, you get knocked off your feet every couple of hundred metres, so that just took a bit of the momentum away,” said McRae.
Forsterling, the oldest member of the crew at 36, competing at his second Olympic Games, admitted he wasn’t sure if he would go through to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to complete his collection of Olympic medals, with a gold.
“I don’t know about that; you might need to talk to my wife! It’s a big commitment, we’ve had a lot of family prop us up for a lot of years of preparation and its probably time to give back to them,” admitted Forsterling, who now has an Olympic bronze and silver medal to his name in this boat class.
The red hot New Zealand pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, who have not been beaten in seven years, continued their winning streak to take the gold medal with Australia’s men’s pair of Spencer Turrin and Alexander Lloyd finishing sixth.
Turrin and Lloyd were drawn in lane five in their heat, alongside their Trans-Tasman rivals and the 2012 Olympic champions and reigning world champions. Joining them in the A-Final were South Africa, Great Britain, Italy and France.
The Australians were quick out alongside the Italians and South Africans, with the hot favourites New Zealand unusually slow out of the blocks. At the halfway mark the Kiwis found their speed and rhythm to take the ascendancy, ahead of the other semi-final winner Italy, with Australia back in fifth position but holding on to the leading pack.
Heading into the final 500m of the race the Kiwis extended their lead to two and a half boat lengths, with a hard fought battle for the minor medals taking place between Italy, Great Britain and South Africa. Australia maintained fifth position.
The Kiwis took out the gold medal, ahead of a gallant South Africa in second, Italy finished third, Great Britain fourth, France fifth and Australia sixth.
Australia’s men’s four were the first crew to take the water on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro. William Lockwood, Joshua Dunkley-Smith, Joshua Booth and Alexander Hill required a top three finish in their semi-final in a bid make the A-Final on Friday.
Lining up at the start alongside Russia, USA, Italy, Greece and South Africa, the crew, including London 2012 silver medallists Dunkley-Smith and Lockwood, fired out the start knowing that building a good lead was essential to secure the win and a good lane for tomorrow’s (Friday August 12) final.
At the halfway mark, Australia were well in the lead, by practically a boat length, with USA and Italy chasing them down. Australia further increased their lead, with the fastest boat speed throughout, and as they powered for the line, South Africa and Italy made their moves past the USA to take second and third place. Australia finished in a time of 6min 11 secs.
Australia will now contest the A-Final tomorrow in Rio against South Africa, Italy, Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.
Post-race, Joshua Booth admitted the conditions had been tough for the crew. “[The conditions were] highly variable. I think comparing races [between the two semi-finals] is probably a bit of a danger, because gusts come and go and length of the gust and the strength of the gusts are very different, even second to second let alone from race to race,” Booth said.
Dunkley-Smith added that the crew was relaxed ahead of tomorrow’s A-Final where they will take on the World Champions, Italy, as well as 2012 Olympic gold medallists, Great Britain.
“Now the planning goes through to the final and what we need to improve on to give us the best chance to try to get the gold medal,” said Dunkley-Smith.
The London 2012 Olympic silver medallist admitted it was a surprise to not see the USA in the final tomorrow (Friday August 12) after they were pipped at the line by the Italians and the South Africans.
“The Americans are a very good crew and they put a lot into it early and had a really good crack, but obviously they struggled a little bit with some of the gusts that were coming through and just couldn’t quite hold on there, so that was probably one of the surprises.
“The South Africans seem to be having a really good regatta as a team, so that’s great for them, and another crew to keep an eye on,” added Dunkley-Smith.
The women’s eight were the next crew to take to the water on day six of the Games. The crew of Fiona Albert, Jessica Morrison, Alexandra Hagan, Meaghan Volker, Molly Goodman, Olympia Aldersey, Lucy Stephan, Charlotte Sutherland and Sarah Banting were racing the repechage, and required a top four finish to make Saturday’s final.
The crew, who were late inclusion to the Games, had originally missed out on spot due to finishing third in the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne in May this year. After Russia were unable to boat its women’s eight, the Australians were promoted into the regatta and after finishing fourth in their heat were forced to contest the repechage.
Australia were up against Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand and Romania, all of whom have been training together for months, if not years. The Australians were fifth at the halfway mark and a length and half off their closer competitors.
As they approached the final 500 metres, the top four crews pulled ahead and the Australians were left to finish fifth in what was a valiant effort for a crew that had only been training together for 10 days.
Post-race, Meaghan Volker admitted it had been a surreal journey for the crew who only found out two weeks before the Games that they would be representing Australia.
“It’s been an incredible journey and we’re really pleased to have finished on that note,” said Tasmanian Volker.
“We all dropped everything to go Melbourne and nine days out we were told ‘Pack your bags, you’re going to Rio,’ and we just lost it. It has been pretty hectic, doing short intense work in a small time frame and to get a result like that with that little preparation is just great.
“I think this shows that in the next four years’ women’s sweep rowing in Australia can only improve and we can get back into our golden era again, if we can keep this momentum going from here it would be great. I hope, after some downtime, that many of the girls in this crew will continue on to Tokyo in 2020,” concluded Volker.