Juliette Haigh's arms had seized up.
She and partner Rebecca Scown had sprinted out of the blocks and were now running on empty.
This was not their normal pattern of racing but they were out of form and had to try something new.
They were trying to hang on for silver but with every stroke the Australians and the United States narrowed the margin.
Three boats flashed across the line, Australia were second, there was a pause and then the Kiwi flag flashed to confirm the Waikato pair as Olympic bronze medallists.
Haigh, partner of super sculler Mahe Drysdale, and Scown climbed out of the boat together to be swamped by New Zealand's media.
What was it like in the dying stages? Did you think you had held for third? What was going through your mind in those last few exhausting strokes.
With a beaming smile, Haigh said: "There is not a lot that goes through the head, apart from dealing with the pain.
"My arms were seizing up and I didn't want to let go of the oar or do anything disastrous so it is just literally stroke after stroke and you are hanging on for dear life for the end, praying that we could get our nose in front of the Australians, who obviously just got us there."
You could tell this was special for Haigh. She might be a three-time world champion in the pairs but was only fifth in the Beijing Olympics so something was missing in her life.
Now she has it, in one of the great rowing transformation in the space of four days. She and Scown were snails in the heats but today they attacked from the start and have a bronze medal to show for it.
"We've said this is the race we wanted to put it together in and I'm just so happy we did," Haigh said.
"We had a really good race, we took the risk at the beginning. We did something we struggled to do all season and we put all the work into the first 1000m and at the end we did everything we could to the finish line."
- © Fairfax NZ News