If any of 2013’s boat classes could be compared to a soap opera or a Shakespearean drama it would be the men’s eight. While essentially every boat class brought us twists and turns throughout the season, it could be argued that there was no drama like the on-water battles in rowing’s blue riband event. There was revenge, disappointment, pain, heartache and glory for the deserving winners.
This week World Rowing’s 2013 review looks back on a truly epic year in the eight.
When the entries for the first Samsung World Rowing Cup of 2013 were announced all eyes were on the stacked British boat. The London 2012 Olympic Games had been a tremendous success for the host nation’s rowers with medals being won in almost every boat class. The men’s four carried the hopes of the nation going into the final and came out the other end as Olympic Champions. For the men’s eight the Games had been bittersweet. The crew stood on the podium as bronze medallists but their high hopes meant they had craved rowing to gold in front of their home crowd.
Fast forward eight months to the start of a new Olympiad and head coach Jurgen Grobler had a rather unexpected line up ready. Whether it was to be a once-off or not, Grobler had decided to load the eight with his fastest athletes, placing Olympic Champions Andrew Triggs-Hodge, Pete Reed and Alex Gregory up front in the stern. Two seconds clear of their nearest challengers, the United States, Grobler’s boys had the first win of the season under their belts.
The unbeaten Deutschlandachter, Germany’s Olympic gold medal winning men’s eight made their first appearance of 2013 at the European Rowing Championships. While they looked a little less confident in their speed, winning by less dominant margins over unestablished crews, they did what they were in Seville to do and took gold, adding another race to their unbroken record.
The men’s eight really began to heat up when rowing returned to Olympic waters at Eton Dorney for the second World Cup of 2013. Back on home waters frustration set in for Grobler’s top crew when the race for lanes saw France and Poland finish ahead of Great Britain1, who had just a minimal margin over the development crew of Great Britain2. It was a scramble at first but fuelled by every ounce of emotion they had Great Britain1 claimed their second World Cup gold of the season. However the biggest showdown of the season was just around the corner and after the frustration of this World Cup performance, the question was whether Grobler would call time on this seemingly risky project.
All the big contenders were named for Lucerne, making it the only time they would face each other before this drama’s closing scene at the World Rowing Championships. It was clear from their heat that the problems from Eton Dorney still festered in the British crew and as the regatta went on the wheels seemed to be falling off their wagon, making it a bumpy journey to the final.
The final itself was dramatic and turbulent in ways that hadn’t been seen since before the beginning of Germany’s dominance in the eight. Lane orders shuffled like numbers being picked out of a hat. The final 250m were beyond anything the spectator-lined bank of the Rotsee could have imagined a year previous as Germany and the United States went stroke-for-stroke right to the line. Could it have been? After 13 consecutive wins the Deutschlandachter saw their first silver medal finish. The Netherlands took bronze leaving Great Britain in fourth place. In the eyes of the British crew, this was rock bottom; something had to change.
When the time came for crews to boat with their eyes on World Championship medals, there was something different about the British men’s eight squad and it wasn’t just a seating change that moved Olympic bronze medallists from the pair, George Nash and Will Satch, to stern pair. There was a spark that was hard to pin down – until their first race. With their dominant opening performance in Heat 2, this crew sent out a message that said ‘we are here to win’. Such a message carried a lot of weight. Great Britain had never before succeeded in taking gold in the men’s eight at the World Rowing Championships.
It was the last race of the regatta and the sun shone strongly in the Korean sky. Meanwhile on the water things were just as intense. Tensions were high as crews sat on the start. On the buzzer it was now or never. Go hard or go home.
It is safe to say that there was not one easy stroke for any crew in this highly anticipated final. Setting the pace from an early stage it was the British, with Satch churning out a rhythm that kept the crew at the front of the field ahead of the gold-hungry Germans. The final meters saw the margin close as the Germans charged at the British. Would the British crack or would the spark ignited on training camp high in the Swiss mountain resort of Silvretta take them to the line for an historic victory? It was Phelan Hill versus Martin Sauer. It was half a second. It was gold for Great Britain – for the first time ever.
During the 2013 season many questioned Jurgen Grobler’s reasoning behind continually boating what had been an inconsistent crew but when Great Britain’s men’s eight stood on the podium in Chungju, all questions were answered. Except for one: what combination will Grobler boat in 2014?