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The Men’s Eight

Olympic men’s eight rowing final, August 1, 2012

[Nic Bothma/EPA]

Two nights ago, I announced that it was put up or shut up time. After years of complaining about the difficulty of following Olympic rowing on TV, I now had the option of watching any event I wanted live through NBC’s internet feed. If the men’s eight race was so important to me, all I would have to do is get up at 2:30 the next morning (yesterday) and watch it. But would I? I promised an update, and here it is.

Some background first. The traditional setup in a major rowing event is to have heats in which the winners advance to the finals, but the others have to row again in a “repechage” round to fill out the field. I hadn’t followed closely enough in recent years to know who was in good form, but I’d read that Germany was favored. True to form, they won their heat, in a very fast time of 5:25.52. The other heat, was won by the US in a time of 5:30.72, slower than the times of Great Britain and the Netherlands in the Germany heat. The repechage was won by Great Britain, followed by Canada, the Netherlands, Australia (all qualifying for the final), Poland, and Ukraine.

I set an alarm on my iPad to go off yesterday morning at 2:22. I figured that would give me enough time to open the Olympic live feed app, find the rowing, and get the feed started by the listed 2:30 AM start time. I awoke at 1:45 AM and wondered if I should just stay up. But I didn’t. I awoke next at 2:32 AM. The alarm never went off. Or I never heard it. Then again, maybe it did go off, which might be the only reason I even awoke at 2:32, by which time the alarm had stopped. I don’t know.

What I do know is, I got up, took the iPad out of the room so as not to awake Gail, opened the Olympic app, started the rowing — everything working perfectly — and there were two boats racing away. I didn’t know how far down the 2000 meter course they were. I didn’t even know who they were. And had they really opened such a huge lead over the rest of the field that the camera would focus on them alone?

Here’s the thing. What I didn’t know was that Poland and Ukraine were to compete in a runoff for 7th place. And that’s what I was watching. Maybe 20 seconds after I joined the coverage, the screen had a graphic identifying who was who, and I was totally confused. After all, they weren’t even in the final. Were they?

The race ended, I learned that Poland had just won 7th place, it all made sense at last, and I realized I had lucked out. Despite oversleeping, I was in time to see the real final after all.

Except that the camera switched to the starting line and the boats maneuvering into place weren’t eights, they were quadruple sculls. We were moving on to the next event. I had missed the final altogether!

That’s the story.

I don’t know what I did wrong, or what was wrong with the schedule. But the men’s eight final didn’t start at 2:30 am after all. I went back to bed disappointed.

On awakening a few hours later, I checked the results to find out what I missed. Germany had won the gold with a time of 5:48.75. Second was Canada, in 5:49.98. Just .69 seconds separated the other four shells, with Great Britain getting bronze in 5:51.18, the US fourth in 5:51.48, Netherlands fifth in 5:51.72, and Australia sixth in 5:51.87. I know nothing more. Whether Germany was in control all the way or Canada challenged, whether the US was closing on GB for a medal or rather was in a medal position but lost out at the end — no idea. I’ll catch the race online at some point.

Last night I had to decide what to do about the women’s eight. It took place this morning, 4:30 AM local time. Should I set the alarm again? I didn’t. I was too discouraged. And I missed what no doubt was a good race, won by the favored US crew with Canada second, Netherlands third, Romania fourth, GB fifth, and Australia sixth.

Maybe four years from now I’ll have this figured out. It helps that Rio is only four hours ahead.


Meanwhile, having finished writing this post, I decided to look up the coverage of the men’s race in The Guardian. Tim Adams fills us in, from a British perspective:

In an emotional final, Britain’s men’s eight held on to win a thrilling bronze medal behind the world champions Germany and the defending Olympic champions Canada. With the Eton Dorney crowd still ecstatic from witnessing the first British triumph of the 2012 Games in the women’s pair event half an hour earlier, the men’s boat was roared along the 2km course from the start.

With five hundred metres to go it still looked possible that the men’s crew would add to the triumph of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning; at that stage they were matching the German crew stroke for stroke and were half a length up on Canada. In the final quarter of the race, however, the Germans pulled away, and by the end the British men, having given everything in an explosive start, only edged out the fast-finishing American crew by 0.3sec to hold on to a medal.

Up against a German crew undefeated for four years, and a Canadian boat boasting the fastest time in history, the odds had been stacked against Britain’s men, and to come so close was a triumph of will in itself.

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