DORNEY (Reuters) - Germany’s eight man rowing crew bore the weight of history lightly on their shoulders after staving off challenges from Britain and Canada to win their first Olympic gold medal in 24 years on Wednesday.
The last time a “German” eight man crew struck gold at the Olympics, Helmut Kohl was Chancellor of West Germany, the Berlin Wall was still standing tall and the crew which streaked to the line at the 1988 Seoul Olympics beat the Soviet Union and its Cold War rival the United States.
Germany’s man in the two seat told reporters after the race that though the German press has been making a hullabaloo about the history, the squad itself is happier to ignore all that and live in the here and now.
“For us it’s not important that we are the first in 20 years,” Andreas Kuffner told reporters at a briefing after the race. “The important thing to us is that we are Olympic champions.”
Crew members attributed their success since 2009 to the return of their wily coach Ralf Holtmeyer, who have led them to their last three world championships and given them the strategy to stay unbeaten in their World Cup races since 2009.
Holtmeyer led Germany’s eight to Olympic gold in 1988, bronze four years later and then silver in 1996 before switching to coach the women’s teams. He was recalled to the men’s squad following a disappointing finish at the 2008 Beijing Games to guide Germany’s showcase rowing team.
“He’s very experienced,” Filip Adamski told Reuters after the race. “They made the right decision.”
Although Holtmeyer skipped the press briefing after the race he has been critical of the decision to move the final of the blue riband men’s eight to Wednesday from its traditional Sunday slot as the last race of the regatta and the seeding which saw Germany face defending Olympic champions Canada and World Cup medalists Netherlands and Britain in the first heat.
“There are a few jokes,” he told British broadcaster the BBC ahead of the Olympics. “The first one is that we have the final on Wednesday, the second one is the draw.”
Holtmeyer told Reuters earlier this year that the crew set high standards for itself.
“Pressure is something you create yourself. We are saying: what is more important is what we expect from ourselves rather than from the outside. I think we did pretty well so far,” Holtmeyer told Reuters Television.
The team has climbed an enormous mountain beating a British squad which has done consistently well in the World Cup this year and a Canadian team which set a world best time of five minutes, 19.35 seconds at a World Cup event in Lucerne, Switzerland in May.
They slipped out front to an early lead, which was whittled down by Britain, who died in the last 500 meters only, to find a fresh challenge from Canada.
“This was really hard because GB pushed us hard all the way to the line and then suddenly I thought: ‘Oh how did Canada get there?'” Adamski said.
He said he sympathized with a dejected British crew, some of whom he counts among his friends and fought hard, but may have thrown away the chance for a silver in the all-out chase for gold.
“My dream was I hoped we’d get gold and GB get silver,” he said
Reporting by Paul Casciato, Editing by Nigel Hunt