Charging Kiwi scullers do it the hard way
Their finish is beyond reproach. It's just the first three-quarters of the race that Kiwi double scullers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan have to take care of ahead of Thursday's Olympic final at Eton Dorney.
The two-time world champions did it the hard way yesterday as they relied on a blistering finish to avoid an elimination that looked a hot prospect with 500m to go.
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 as they motored home with a sensational final split of 1:31.41 – easily the best across both semis – to snatch second and a 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 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 and 2009 world champions are gone, so just to be in that final is a great achievement.."
Added Sullivan: "It's pretty shocking they're gone - it's people you don't expect that are there and pushing harder than you ever planned for."
We're used to seeing the Kiwis slow out of the blocks, but after 500m they were fifth, at halfway they were fourth and with 500m to go they were still fourth, the best part of a second behind the 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. The faltering Aussies and Germans were hauled in, and very nearly the surprised Argentineans.
"I try not to look out of the boat so I didn't actually know what was 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."
He admitted into the last 500 he was getting "a bit worried" but relied on scenarios thought through long ago. "That was probably the biggest finish we've ever had to do."
Cohen said the self-belief was always there. "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," he added.
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 is within their grasp.
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 yesterday 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 too worried about it, but in the semi we're going to have to really work for it."
It was a similar approach by the men's four who also came through their repechage in second spot to earn a place in the 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.