‘Amazing hour’ of Olympic rowing produces Australian medal bonanza
More than two decades since the “Oarsome Foursome” reigned supreme, Australia claimed not just one but two gold medals in the Tokyo 2020 rowing regatta. In a frenetic morning of action, Australia’s male and female coxless fours won dual gold in back-to-back finals.
The men’s and women’s quad sculls added bronze medals soon after to complete a stunning haul on the first day of finals at Sea Forest Waterway.
“We obviously wanted to win it back for Australia, it’s been a long time, it’s been, what, 25 years since the ‘Oarsome Foursome’, and a lot of crews have come close,” said Jack Hargreaves after claiming gold.
Great Britain has dominated the men’s four for the past 21 years – winning gold at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016. But after two decades of heartache, the Australians finally returned to the top step of the podium.
Alex Hill, who finished second to the British five years ago, was delighted to have finally triumphed. “We’re just super grateful to be sitting in that boat,” he said. “Those legends before us have achieved what they have, so it was just amazing to put it back where it belongs.”
The women’s four opened the medal tally for Australia’s rowers, with the crew of Lucy Stephan, Rosemary Popa, Jessica Morrison, Annabelle McIntyre going head-to-head with the Netherlands. A race between the world champions and the European champions, the pair were neck-and-neck for the entire race.
But the quartet in green-and-gold built and then maintained a slender lead to cross the line first. The winning time of 6.15.37 set a new Olympic benchmark, with the Dutch less than half a second behind in a tightly-fought tussle in sweltering Tokyo heat. Ireland’s crew finished third.
It was the first time the women’s four had featured on the Olympic rowing program since 1992.
“I think it’s just a testament to show that we’ve all been pushing each other,” said Popa. “Especially last year when we haven’t had any international racing and I think as a squad we’ve really elevated and we’ve practised this race 100 times. I think it was just executing the job on the day and I think every other crew has done that as well. So it’s quite amazing to come here and share it with other people.”
Hargreaves, Hill, Alexander Purnell and Spencer Turrin then followed suit to clinch victory in the men’s final at the Olympic regatta. The four went out strong and gained a boat-length after the first 1,000m. They faced a determined fightback from Great Britain, but the defending champions faded late – not helped by a steering error.
Romania and Italy pushed the Australians to the finish-line, but would have to settle for the minor placings. The Australians’ time of 5.42.76 smashed the Olympic record in their discipline and gold was the boat’s first at the Olympics since 1996.
The two golds were followed soon after by a pair of bronze medals in the quad scull finals.
The Australian crew of Caleb Antill, Jack Cleary, Cameron Girdlestone, Luke Letcher had qualified well, but could not keep pace with the race leaders in the first 1,000m. Despite catching a crab in the early phase of the race, the Netherlands recovered to take gold, while the Australians surged late to win bronze, behind Team GB in second.
Following the race, Letcher said he was feeling for Australians locked down back home. “We hope that some of these results and some of the exciting racing that’s been happening out on the course and in all the other events, has given people a little bit of excitement in a bit of a bleak time back home,” he said.
The women’s quartet of Ria Thompson, Rowena Meredith, Caitlin Cronin and Harriet Hudson also claimed bronze to round out a hugely successful morning on the water. The Olympic regatta had previously been delayed due to high winds as a typhoon approached Japan.
“It was an amazing hour, there were four races in a row: gold, gold, bronze, bronze,” said Purnell from the victorious men’s four.
The four medal haul from the Sea Forest Waterway adds to Australia’s already-impressive tally in the swimming. At the Rio Games, the Australians ended the Olympics with eight gold medals. After just five days at Tokyo 2020, they have already secured six golds and a total haul of 15 medals.