Sunday, 23 September 2018

Leander athletes adding to Olympic medal tally

IT will be tough trying to match the nine-medal tally of 2012 but there’s every reason

IT will be tough trying to match the nine-medal tally of 2012 but there’s every reason to suspect that the GB rowing team, including 26 Leander athletes and coaches, will return from Rio with yet more medals around their necks.

The course on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas is one of the most stunning urban rowing venues in the world, and nearer the city centre than any Olympic regatta since Stockholm in 1912.

The statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of the Corcovado mountain provides a magnificent backdrop to the lake, which is sure to bear witness to just as much drama and spectacle as Dorney Lake in 2012.

Leading the charge for medals in the GB heavyweight men’s team is the coxless four, coached by Jurgen Grobler, with Leander captain Alex Gregory the sole survivor from the gold medal crew in London.

Having won this boat class at every Olympics since 2000, the British are odds-on favourites to retain the title. There may well be an additional poignancy for whoever wins as the current debate around gender equality at the Olympics may herald the end of this event in the Olympic programme.

The three-times world champion GB men’s eight is back up to full strength after a rocky season which saw them finish out of the medals in Lucerne, where the Netherlands won gold. But GB never performs well on the Rotsee in an Olympic year and, with the absence of the banned Russian eight, this event looks set to develop into another head-to-head with Germany, who dominated this event in the previous Olympic cycle and claimed gold at Dorney.

Another crew to look out for are first-time Olympians Jonny Walton and John Collins in the men’s double scull. Coached by Mark Banks, the duo have made a definite step up this season, contesting the A finals throughout, culminating in the silver medal behind New Zealand at their final world cup regatta in Poznan. There will now be three Leander athletes in the quadruple sculls boat after Jack Beaumont was called up to the squad on Sunday to replace Graeme Thomas who has been suffering from a flu-like virus since arriving in Rio.

Beaumont received the news at the weekend and was on the plane to Rio 24 hours later where he will team up in the boat with club mates Pete Lambert and Angus Groom and Reading University’s Sam Townsend.

Speaking of his late call-up Beaumont said: “I got a call from Sir David Tanner on Sunday telling me to stand by for further news. Within an hour I had another call to tell me I was booked on the flight to Rio the following day.”

Reigning Olympic champions in women’s pairs, Helen Glover (Minerva Bath) and Heather Stanning (Army RC) are odds-on favourites to retain their title. Meanwhile the GB women’s eight, with four Leander athletes on board, has been developing strongly right through the season and is now knocking on the door of the USA, who have been unbeaten in this event for the last 10 years.

The lightweight men’s four, silver medallists at the European Championships in May, are another crew with definite prospects, and the presence of Olympic silver medallists Pete Chambers and Chris Bartley on board is sure to give them confidence in their quest for gold.

The run-up period to an Olympic Games is always fraught with controversy, played out in the media, and Rio is no exception.

The state of the Brazilian economy, the sewage problems in the off-shore waters and, of course, the Zika virus have all hit the headlines. But once the Games get under way following today’s (Friday) opening ceremony I suspect all that will be forgotten, as the teams and their supporters savour this pinnacle of sporting prowess.

Rowing heats in Rio get underway tomorrow with the finals taking place from Wednesday to Saturday.

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