SPORTS

Men's 4 showdown between Australia, Britain to provide spectacular close to Olympic regatta

08/04/2012 05:20 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT
WINDSOR, England - After weeks of trash talk and mind games, the grudge race between the men's four crews of Britain and Australia should bring the Olympic rowing regatta to a spectacular close on Saturday.

On a day of four finals that will determine who out of New Zealand, Germany and Britain tops the rowing medals table, it's the men's four showdown that stands out.

Both countries have made the four their priority boats for the London Games and there has been little to choose between them over the past two months.

A win would be more than welcome for Australia, which has just one gold medal in all Olympic competition in London and has sent rower Josh Booth home for an alcohol-fuelled incident in which he damaged two storefront windows.

Britain, the defending world and Olympic champion, came out on top in the World Cup regatta in Lucerne in May but lost to the Aussies in Munich the following month.

Australia then broke the Olympic-best time to qualify quickest in the heats at Dorney Lake but the momentum shifted again in the semifinals, when Britain won a head-to-head.

It all sets up what should be a thrilling race, which kicks off the quartet of finals that also includes the lightweight women's double sculls, the lightweight men's double sculls and finally the women's single sculls.

"Of course it is a great rivalry," Britain's Andrew Triggs Hodge said. "It adds a lot of flavour to the rowing as well. It adds a lot of flavour to the event."

Australia's triple Olympic champion Drew Ginn made the most incendiary of all the comments going back and forth between the crews, saying last week that the British were "scared" of the gung-ho tactics employed by their archrivals in recent races.

Ginn said Australia still intends to turn it into a "drag race," going all out from the start, despite the semifinal loss.

"Absolutely. It's fun, isn't it?" he said. "There is no reason for us not to stick to that now and rework the rhythm we have been focusing on for the last three or four months together.

"We have had a bit of a chat about it and we are resolved to sticking to our guns and staying together technically again."

There are, of course, four other crews in the race. One of them is the United States, which looks the best bet to challenge the big two boats after winning the other semifinal.

"They've been battling it out, they've been fighting in the media," American crew-member Scott Gault said of Australia and Britain. "They've been going after one another and if we can sneak by them without them noticing, that will be fine with me."

New Zealand is currently top of the medals table courtesy of the three golds they have won, in the small boat classes of the men's single sculls (Mahe Drysdale), men's pair (Hamish Bond and Eric Murray) and men's double sculls (Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan).

Britain, which has six medals overall, and Germany both have two golds and have boats in three of the four finals. New Zealand only has one.

Britain is favoured to win gold in the lightweight women's double through Kat Copeland and Sophie Hosking, the fastest qualifiers from the semifinals, so it could all come down to the lightweight men.

Britain has the reigning world and Olympic champions in Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, who have regularly got the better of New Zealand's 2009 world champions Storm Uru and Peter Taylor in recent years. The Denmark double of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist qualified quickest for the final.

The final race of the regatta is the women's single sculls, which could be the last time Belarus great Ekaterina Karsten races on the international stage.

Karsten, a double Olympic gold medallist , is looking to win a medal at a sixth straight games — at the age of 40.

It is a tough ask for her to beat reigning world champion Miroslava Knapkova of the Czech Republic or Kim Crow of Australia, who won a silver in the double sculls on Friday.

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