Kiwi double scullers claim Olympic gold medal
With their trademark withering finishing burst the magnificent double scull of Invercargill's Nathan Cohen and Picton's Joseph Sullivan have claimed New Zealand's first gold medal of the Olympic Games.
The two-time world champion Kiwi double produced the perfect race in their final at Dorney Lake, mowing the field down over the last 500 metres with a powerful finish that left their rivals in their wake.
It was a dream race for the duo who stayed much closer to the pacesetters over the first kilometre - though they were still fifth at halfway -- worked into position to challenge at the 1500m mark and then pressed down on the accelerator when it counted. Their speed over the final quarter was exhilarating and at the end Sullivan pumped his arms in the air in exhilaration.
He was still pumping them shortly afterwards when he had that gold medal draped around his neck and the strains of God Defend New Zealand were ringing out around Eton Dorney. Cohen, too, was not hiding his contentment, a huge grin beaming across his satisfied face as he bathed in the moment.
Their gold medal triumph caps a remarkable year where they opened their buildup at the World Cup regatta with a shaky performance that saw them finish down the field in the B final. But from there they worked away to refind their best form at just the right time.
It is New Zealand's seventh gold medal in rowing, and Cohen becomes the first Southlander to medal at the Games. New Zealand has now won gold at four straight Olympics, following on from the triumphs of the Evers-Swindell twins ('08 and '04) and Rob Waddell in 2000.
Along with the bronze won on Wednesday by Juliette Haigh this puts the Kiwi squad on course for a record-breaking Games, with the big-hitters Mahe Drysdale and Eric Murray and Hamish Bond still to come.
But for now it's this deadly double everyone is saluting. They knew they had the speed to burn; they just had to put together the setup. They did that in magnificent fashion when it counted to power over the top of the Italians for victory by the best part of a length. The Kiwis came home in 6:31.67, Italy (Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti) were second in 6:32.80 with the Slovenians (Luka Spik and Iztok Cop) third in 6:34.35.
Meanwhile, Southland's Storm Uru and his lightweight double sculls partner Peter Taylor of Lower Hutt will row for the medals on Saturday after the former world champions finished second in their semifinal dominated by the impressive Danish double of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist.
The Kiwis were always in control in their quest for a top-three finish but could make no headway on the turbo-charged Danes who took control of the race by the halfway stage and powered to an ominous victory.
The New Zealanders held off the Germans for second, but the gap of more than three seconds to the Danes indicates they have their work cut out on Saturday.
"It was a bloody tough race," said Taylor. "It was semifinal time and for some crews out there their dreams are over for another four years. We've got through so you've got to be happy with that."
"It was tough conditions out there and it was tough for us to stay in the race right from the start," added Uru. "We went out there to go quick in the first 1000 but other crews just went quicker. We put everything out there and now it's about recovering and getting refreshed and ready for the final."
Emma Twigg eased into the final of the women's single sculls with a third placing in her semifinal. The 25 year-old from Hastings was no match for Denmark's Fie Udby Erichsen but appeared to have something in hand at the finish.
The news was not so bright for the lightweight women's double scull of Invercargill's Louise Ayling and Rotorua's Julia Edward who were left in tears as their final hopes went down the gurgler.
The New Zealanders had shown such sparking form in the two leadup World Cup events, when they set a world's best time in Lucerne, but could not reproduce that when it counted at Eton Dorney.
"It's cut throat and nasty but that is sport," said a clearly distressed Ayling afterwards. "Today, with 400m gone they took off and we tried to stick to our own race plan and it just wasn't enough."
"We were feeling really confident coming in but you just can't count anyone out," added Edward. "You can't look at past results, it is all here and now, and unfortunately we weren't strong enough today."
They struggled to cope with the pace of the semi, led out by the Germans, and powered home at the end by the impressive British duo of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking. The New Zealanders finished nearly five seconds behind the third-placed Germans.
It was a similar story for the men's four of Tyson Williams, Jade Uru, Sean O'Neill and Chris Harris who also missed the A final when they finished fourth in their semi. They pushed hard over the second half of the race to catch the tiring Germans but could not find the late kick they needed to thrust into the top three.