BEIJING (Reuters) - The Beijing Olympic regatta came too soon for many Chinese crews but their heavy investment and preparation could see them dominate the sport for years to come.
Having previously won only two silver and two bronze Olympic rowing medals, China entered their home regatta as contenders in almost half of the events after years of impressive development.
But despite looking strong and winning several semi-finals, the majority of crews were dumped off the start in the final, unable to cope with the pace.
They eventually finished with one silver in the women’s pair and their first gold in Olympic rowing, in the women’s quad.
“I think Chinese rowing has made rapid progress in recent years but we are lagging behind in terms of experience,” said Wu You, who won the silver in the women’s pair with Gao Yulan.
Britain, which has also invested heavily in Olympic sports, finished on top of the rowing medals table in Beijing, with two gold medals, two silvers and two bronzes in their best performance at an Olympic Games since 1908.
Britain had always been strong in certain sweep oar boats, as opposed to sculling, buoyed by the presence of five-times Olympic champion Steve Redgrave and four-times winner Matthew Pinsent.
But on Lake Shunyi they won medals across the board, in men’s and women’s events and also in the lightweight men’s double, where Britain took its first Olympic gold medal.
Australia also exceeded expectations, finishing with two gold medals and one silver although they were unable to give the perfect leaving present to three-times champion James Tomkins who was competing in his sixth and final Olympic Games.
His eight could only finish sixth in their final, behind the Canadians who took the gold and a heavy dose of redemption with it in the final race of the regatta.
Canada entered the Athens Games as double world champions and hot favorites in the eight but finished fifth after failing to cope with the pace. In Beijing they took a small lead and held on to it until the finish.
“Although it looked like we were ahead and in control, we were in constant fear,” said Adam Kreek. “With five strokes to go, our cox Brian said ‘five more strokes and we are Olympic champions’ and then the joy started flowing.”
Editing by Alison Williams