THE ROWLUP: RIO 2016 OLYMPICS REVIEW August 19 2016
The 2016 Olympic Games are reaching their conclusion and the Rio regatta is in the record books. Athletes who for the last four years have had a single focus can now be found either excitedly supporting Team GB in the stands or walking quietly around the Olympic village, trying to avoid disturbing their hangovers.
Let's have a look back on a golden week under the shadow of Christ the Redeemer at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.
Britannia Rules the Waves
For a second successive Games, Great Britain topped the rowing medal table with five medals, three of them gold. There was a historic first ever Olympic medal for GB in the women's eight, two golds for the heavyweight men's squad - for the first time since Sydney 16 years ago - and an emotional silver for Katherine Grainger, making her the most decorated British female Olympian.
Meanwhile arch-rivals New Zealand and Germany struggled to live up to their expectations, finishing with three medals each.
GB’s pre-Games target was between six and eight medals and missing that may see a cut to the £32m funding the GB Rowing Team received from UK Sport for this Olympiad. We are likely to hear more on that in January, when budgets are announced for the run-up to 2020.
However, performance director David Tanner is bullish, pointing out that targets make no distinction for the type of medal.
Grainger and Thornley complete blockbuster
When she announced her comeback in 2014, Katherine Grainger dismissed suggestions the Rio would just be an epilogue to her already epic career, saying she would look to write a new chapter.
As it turned out, she probably has a whole new book, culminating in her becoming the most decorated female Olympian ever (topping tennis player Kitty Godfrey, as you ask).
The story culminated in the surprise of the regatta: silver for Grainger and Vicky Thornley in a race they led from Poland for all but the final 250m sprint. That result meant there were tears and smiles all round but a Telegraph article early in the regatta (now removed from their website) hinted at possible challenges faced by the crew and their coach over the season.
Grainger and Thornley were certainly happy to spend time together after the regatta: the latter is a former show jumper and took her crew-mate to visit the Olympic stables and GB dressage star Charlotte Dujardin.
Final chapter for Glover and Stanning?
There was more discussion of final chapters from coach Robin Williams after his charges Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won their 39th successive race and second successive Olympic gold.
Aside from a slight slip against Denmark in their heat at the start of this regatta, the pair have appeared imperious for the last three years but the pressure of defending their Olympic crown was obvious from the tears on and off the water afterwards.
Our little team! pic.twitter.com/COqHScqKs1— Helen Glover (@Helenglovergb) August 16, 2016
They dedicated the win to Williams, who had extensive surgery for bladder cancer two years ago but, said Glover, “was up coaching when he should have been in bed”.
Wildlife presenter Steve Backshall was also in tears on the bank as his fiancée Glover took to the podium. The pair get married in October and Glover has talked about travelling afterwards. Major Stanning is due at Army staff college in September so it remains to be seen whether we see more of this dynamic duo.
Eighteen reasons to be cheerful
Amid the medals were a host of personal stories which get lost, especially in the bigger boats.
It was enough to celebrate a dominant display in the men's eight but several crew members had extra reason to jump for joy. Tom Ransley and Phelan Hill gained revenge over Germany, who four year ago beat them to gold in an epic battle in London.
Matt Langridge took gold at his fourth Games, to add to his silver and bronze in the eight at the last two. Meanwhile Andy Hodge and Pete Reed both secured a third successive Olympic title after overcoming their respective battles with illness and demotions from GB's top boat.
As the women's eight took to an Olympic podium for the first time, Fran Houghton could be seen organising a Union flag for the group, continuing the maternal role she has taken in the run-up to her fifth Olympics. Silver here was clearly far more fulfilling than the second place she achieved with the Grainger quad of 2008.
Perhaps, four years on from her tumultuous Boat Race experience, Zoe de Toledo will be remembered instead for her part in making history as the GB eight stormed from last place at the half-way mark to hold off Romania in the final sprint.
Polly Swann, a world champion in the pair in 2013, could easily have missed her Olympic debut because of a long-term back problem but turned things around remarkably over the last 18 months.
We only bloody went and won a ton of medals! pic.twitter.com/C2DK7mC79t— Polly Swann (@PollySwann) August 13, 2016
With one doctor of medicine - Mel Wilson - already in the crew, Swann will now go back to studying for a medical degree and De Toledo will look to join them when she starts her fourth degree, in undergraduate medicine, this Autumn.
Areas for improvement
There are three lightweight rowing events and GB took medals in all of them at London 2012: in Rio none of the three crews made it into an A-final.
That was in part down to poor luck, especially for the men's four, just pushed into fourth in the harder of the two semi-finals. However, the two light doubles both struggled after seasons hit by injury and illness.
This area is bound to be one of the most heavily scrutinised in post-season reviews, even though newspaper suggestions that lightweight men's coach Darren Whiter will lose his job are apparently wide of the mark.
Britain's best ever four?
Australian tee shirts reading "In Oar of the Four" presumably referred to their own boat at the start of the regatta and the match-up with GB looked to be a close one.
However the second half of the coxless fours final, when the GB combo of Alex Gregory, Mo Sbihi, George Nash and Stan Louloudis moved inexorably away from their Aussie rivals, was truly awesome.
And to top it all, the performance won Nash a car. We’re not sure how but no one is arguing.
Then the party started. Louloudis wrote in his column in The Times: “The night went on until 5am, which happened to be our standard wake-up time during competition. When I woke in a fog of pain, I couldn’t find my medal.”
The country's fifth successive win in the boat class bettered a record previously shared with East Germany and left some to wonder whether this is the best British quartet ever.
What do you think? Leave a comment below or tweet your thoughts using the hashtag #TheRowlup.
Not enough space for 6 answers in a poll but which do you think was GB's best Olympic four - 1984, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016? #TheRowlup— Martin Gough (@martingough22) August 17, 2016
@martingough22 I've got to go with 2016, just love the way these guys row.— Daniel Spring (@fatsculler) August 17, 2016
@martingough22 strictly speaking, '84 was a 5...— Molesey Boat Club (@MoleseyBoatClub) August 17, 2016
Meanwhile, in Skibbereen …
Gary and Paul O'Donovan were already internet sensations even before their final performance in Rio, with one Facebook commenter saying, “They’re like Jedward, but with talent”.
Gary’s line that "you could have ‘shteak’ and spuds for breakfast lunch and dinner if you like" in the Olympic Village, plus Paul’s assertion that racing in a final is "A to B as fast as you can go and hope for the best; close the eyes and pull like a dog", have both made it onto a teeshirt manufactured by a Father Ted fan site.
After the duo won a storming silver in the lightweight double, though, their star status went up a few more notches.
Gary perhaps unwisely revealed he had had several approaches from young Irish women, to which his mother Trish replied: "I will have to vet them all first. But they will all have to be athletes. No one else would understand them.”
And there is even a song about the brothers, sung by another internet sensation, the Thai Tims (you can find out more about them here). Just a pity they think it’s a canoe!
Rowing isn’t finished with the Lagoa just yet. In three weeks’ time the Paralympic regatta will take place there too. Let’s hope the water is better at the start of that event.
Sir David Tanner left Rio straight after the regatta to join the 113-strong squad of seniors, Under-23s and Juniors taking part in a combined World Championships in Rotterdam in a week's time and his eyes were already on preparations for Tokyo in 2020 when he said: “This is a key year for our Under 23s as we look towards the Tokyo Olympic cycle.”
The next chance to see GB’s Olympic heroes on home water is likely to be the British Rowing Senior Championships in Nottingham in October, by which time another season and another Olympic cycle will be well and truly under way.
What were your favourite moments of the Olympic regatta? What are you most looking forward to next season? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet using the hashtag #TheRowlup.
Seen many things at the Olympics but this takes the cake. Think he's suggesting timing is critical on way forward. pic.twitter.com/gZJSrPVC6x— Drew Ginn (@drewginn) August 15, 2016