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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Rower suffers Aussie backlash
Newspaper reaction to Sally Robbins

Paula Radcliffe's shock and sudden exit from Sunday's Olympic marathon was met with widespread sympathy in Britain, but an Australian rower who suffered a similar mid-race collapse has by contrast endured a media battering.

While Radcliffe's bid for marathon gold ended in tears, Sally Robbins received only jeers.

With 400m remaining in Sunday's women's eight final, the 23-year-old - in very un-Australian fashion - suddenly quit, to the astonishment of her team-mates and sport-mad country.

Robbins slumped in her boat and let her oar dip into the water - Australia, consequently, finished last.

The Perth athlete blamed her collapse on exhaustion after the gruelling first 1600m of the race on the hottest day of the year in Athens.

However, her team-mates were less sympathetic towards her plight, with Robbins revealing they had threatened to throw her into the water.

"I didn't say anything back because I was stunned myself," Robbins told the Channel Seven television network.

"Fatigue set in and I just couldn't move," she added. "It's a feeling of paralysis where you just hit the wall."

Her 'Athens horribilis' has continued since, with certain sections of the media and her own team-mates lambasting her actions.

Though the collapse drew parallels with Radcliffe's demise, the Australian newspaper prefered to contrast Robbins' actions with Grant Hackett, the country's legendary 1500m swimming hero.

Sally Robbins
It'll be a long process - and I think that I will be back
Rower Sally Robbins

"His was the definitive demonstration of heroism - he did everything it took to reach his goal," it said in an editorial.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper criticised Robbins with the headline "Just Oarful" and ran a poll asking readers to vote on whether she had cost the team a medal.

And Melbourne's Herald Sun roared: "It's eight, mate, pull your weight."

On Australia's Lateline television show, Kyeema Doyle, the stroke in the boat, indicated that she had expected her team-mate to collapse.

Robbins had apparently suffered from similar problems at the 2002 world championships and in the repechage of the Olympic regatta.

Doyle said she went to captain Julia Wilson ahead of the final to devise a strategy if Robbins showed those signs again.

"I said to Jules 'don't you worry, if something goes wrong, I will put in twice as much if that's what it takes to get our eight across the line'," said Doyle.

Later, when asked whether she would row with Robbins again, Doyle said: "I will row the single scull for a while."

However, Doyle's comments and those from the other rowers have been met with a stern reponse from Australia's Olympic chief John Coates.

"There have been breaches of our team guidelines which say team members shouldn't talk disparagingly about other team members," he said.

Even the country's prime minister John Howard put his oar in, but was unclear in his comments as to which argument he was backing.

"I wasn't there and I can understand the passion and the emotion and the effort that goes into these things and the sense of disappointment people feel - but I'm not taking sides," he said.

While Radcliffe's future remains unclear, Robbins said she was optimistic of competing in the eights again.

"It'll be a long process, and I think that I will be back, and will be back rowing with these girls again, eventually," she said.

"Obviously I have to earn their trust."

Whether that feeling will be shared by her team-mates remains to be seen.





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