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Olympic rowing: British men’s eight win bronze after hard fought race

1st August 2012

• Men’s eight finish third behind Germany and Canada
• Men’s crew beaten in a thrilling sprint finish

In an emotional final, Britain’s men’s eight held on to win a thrilling bronze medal behind the world champions Germany and the defending Olympic champions Canada. With the Eton Dorney crowd still ecstatic from witnessing the first British triumph of these games in the women’s pair event half an hour earlier, the men’s boat was roared along the 2km course from the start.

With five hundred metres to go it still looked possible that the men’s crew would add to the triumph of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning; at that stage they were matching the German crew stroke for stroke and were half a length up on Canada. In the final quarter of the race however the Germans pulled away, and by the end the British men, having given everything in an explosive start, only edged out the fast-finishing American crew by 0.3sec to hold on to a medal.

Up against a German crew undefeated for four years, and a Canadian boat boasting the fastest time in history, the odds had been stacked against Britain’s men, and to come so close was a triumph of will in itself. None more so that for Greg Searle, 40 years old, who won a gold medal at the Barcelona games in 1992, alongside his brother Jonny. Searle had returned to competitive rowing only two years ago after a decade away from the sport. His fresh face and Thompson Twins hair has gone, but the adamantine determination remains. He’s 40 now and proved he still had what it took for a medal .

The British eight was led at stroke by the impeccable Constantine Louloudis a man exactly half of Searle’s age. An Old Etonian, with a Greek father and a mother who is a sometime lady in waiting to Princess Anne, Laloudis knows every square inch of this water, which was completed as the ultimate school facility in 2006. His place in the boat was confirmed only a couple of weeks ago after a back injury kept him out of much of the Olympic preparation.

The faith of the coach Jürgen Gröbler was justified in Louloudis’s imperious rhythm, which for a long while threatened to unsettle the German crew.

Three seats behind Louloudis, Mohamed Sbihi was the crew’s major powerhouse. All rowers make extraordinary sacrifices for their sport but none more so than the six foot eight inch Sbihi, a Muslim. As these Games coincide with Ramadan he had been faced with a version of Eric Liddell’s Chariots of Fire crisis of conscience. He wanted to observe the month-long fast, but knew that to do so he would have to give up his place in the boat. The dilemma was resolved when he discovered the Koranic verse that allowed believers under special circumstances to instead feed 60 hungry mouths for each day of the month. Before the Games Sbihi donated £2,000 to a charity in his native Morocco to feed 1,800 children. If the bronze medal didn’t answer every one of his pre-race prayers, it would certainly have satisfied most of them.


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