Double scullers charge home to make final

Kiwi double scullers Joseph Sullivan (left) and Nathan Cohen congratulate one another after qualifying for the final.
Kiwi double scullers Joseph Sullivan (left) and Nathan Cohen congratulate one another after qualifying for the final.

What a finish. Two-time world champion double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan were staring at Olympic elimination with 500m to go in a dramatic semifinal at Eton Dorney.

But, as we're fast becoming accustomed to, the final quarter of the race is when these Kiwis do their best work.

And so it was again on day four of the Games as they motored home with a sensational final split of 1:31.41 - easily the best across both semis - to snatch what had looked an unlikely spot in the final.

Of arguably even more import, their sizzling finish, a great race by the Argentineans to lead all the way and a late dash by the Italians to grab third meant that defending Olympic champions Australia and 2009 world champions Germany both missed out on a spot in the final.

That, reckoned the classy Kiwis, was almost a double bonus.

"We're very happy to be in that final," said a grinning Cohen afterwards.

"The Olympic champions missed out, the 2009 world champions missed out. Just to be in that final is such a great achievement."

Added Sullivan: "It's pretty shocking they're gone, it's people you don't expect are there and they're pushing harder than you ever thought or planned for."

We're used to seeing the Kiwis slow out of the blocks, but this pedestrian?

After 500m they were fifth, at the halfway stage they were fourth and with 500m to go they were still fourth, with the best part of a second to make up on the third-placed Aussies.

Then came that finish. It was as though they had strapped a motor on to their shell as they found a speed none of their rivals could match.

They sped past the faltering Aussies and Germans, and very nearly caught the surprised Argentineans who at the end had only 0.39s up their sleeves.

"I try not to look out of the boat so I didn't actually know what was really happening till that last 500m," said Sullivan.

"But Nathan was calling it and he was keeping us calm. We just went through the race plan the best we could.

"I kind of stuck to my guns but going into that last 500 when I couldn't see anyone I was getting a bit worried. But we've gone through all these scenarios that could happen, and this was one of those days when those things did happen. That was probably the biggest finish we've ever had to do."

Cohen said the self-belief was always there that they had the finishing speed to get up.

"It's all about sticking to our strengths and fully believing that when push comes to shove hopefully we'll pop out the right side," added Cohen. "We're obviously very happy we did."

The other semifinal was won by Slovenia's Luka Spik and Iztok Cop, with Lithuania and Great Britain taking the other two final spots.

But with the Kiwis well inside those times, they will understand full well that an Olympic gold, to go with their back-to-back world titles, is now squarely within their grasp.

And as Cohen confirmed, if they're anywhere near the pace heading into that final 500, they know they've got the finishing speed to come up with something special.

"We believe if we can keep up with the pace of the field and still have some legs left to unleash our top-end speed, hopefully we'll be in with a shot."

Meanwhile, the Kiwi lightweight women's double  of Louise Ayling and Julia Edward continue to plug away under the radar, finishing second in their repechage to progress to Thursday's semifinal.

The New Zealanders were content to cruise home behind the Dutch double, but are confident they can take things up a gear at semifinal time.

"We did the same in Munich, we didn't make the first qualification into the final," said Edward, referring to their final World Cup victory ahead of the Games. "We're not really too worried about it, but in the semi we're going to have to really work for it. We're going to put everything into it."

Edward said the repechage was about advancing with as little energy expended as possible. "We didn't really bust our gut, it was top three, so there was no need to give it everything."

It was a similar approach by the men's four who also came through their repechage in second spot to earn a place in Thursday's semis. "We've got a bit more in the tank, it's just how well we row together that's the big thing. There's a bit more to give yet," said bow man Tyson Williams.

He admitted they'd been caught short in their heat. "It's the first time for a lot of us at the Olympics and I guess we weren't ready for it. But today we came out a bit better than yesterday."

Fairfax Media