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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 August, 2004, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Gold against the odds
By Tom Fordyce

The British coxless fours

Don't ever get blasť about British triumphs in the coxless fours.

An Olympic quest that ended with gold began with a loss of form, was then beset by injury and argument and nearly collapsed completely into chaos.

This was a crew so lacking in racing experience that their semi-final win doubled the number of occasions on which they had competed together.

Two months ago, Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell, Ed Coode and Steve Williams had still not sat in the same boat together.

It was not supposed to be like this.

Pinsent and Cracknell, Olympic heroes from Sydney, were supposed to carry all before them in the pairs.

The four was meant to comprise Williams, Alex Partridge and two from Josh West, Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn, who had won silver with the four at successive world championships.

The logic made sense - two boats, two shots at Olympic golds.

But to head coach Jurgen Grobler, the odds didn't add up.

The biggest gamble

After Pinsent and Cracknell failed to win a medal at the 2003 world championships, Grobler decided that they were unlikely to win Olympic gold as a pair.

He knew the two of them were his best athletes. But he feared that together they were less than the sum of their parts, particularly in rough conditions of the type that might be experienced at Schinias.

So he broke up the four, moved in the big guns and got to work.

Grobler tends to know what he is doing. He has presided over at least one rowing gold at every single Olympics since 1972.

But this was gambling like never before.

Sir Steve Redgrave criticised him publicly. "Putting Matthew and James into the four is no guarantee," he said.

"Choppy weather in Athens favours crews who have trained together for longer."

And that was just the start.

Musical chairs

The new four was meant to be Pinsent, Cracknell, Williams and West, but when the latter two were badly beaten in a pairs trial, West found himself out of contention.

Partridge came in in his place, having impressed in a pair with Andy Hodge.

All set? Far from it. Partridge then suffered a collapsed lung.

Cracknell, meanwhile, had been in trouble with a cracked rib. Coode had stood in for him in the ever-expanding game of musical chairs.

So when Partridge was forced out, Coode got his second chance.

These tribulations did nothing to lessen the pressure on the four to come home with Olympic gold.

If anything, Grobler's gamble added to it.

Former Britain coach Mike Spracklen, now in charge of the arch-rival Canadian crew, had been delighting in the pain of his former team-mates.

"All the pressure is on Britain, even though we are world champions," he said.

But the British crew were tougher than he thought.

Never settle for less than best

Pinsent, the most experienced man in the boat, epitomised why the four managed to take gold against all odds.

"To begin with, I thought, 'How can we possibly win now?'," he said.

"Then I began thinking of trying to rescue the situation, 'a bronze or a silver would be a great result now' kind of approach.

"But I have never settled for anything less than the best since I was a schoolboy.

"I have rowed so badly as not to have deserved a medal, I have rowed myself and the crew into a tired and dejected position where winning was impossible, but gone out to try to win a silver?

"No. Never."

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