RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - In an incredible finish to the men’s single sculls final at the Olympic rowing regatta on Saturday, Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand and Croatia’s Damir Martin crossed the line at the same time as Martin appeared pull past the defending champion.
After moments of confusion, with even the two rowers asking each other who had won, the gold was awarded to Mahe in a photo-finish. Martin generously applauded him.
“It could have gone either way,” Drysdale told reporters.
The race had been billed as a duel between the 37-year-old Kiwi and his friend and arch-rival, the Czech Ondrej Synek.
But as it got underway on a sun-dappled Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, Martin was determined to seize the day, taking an early lead chased by Drysdale and Synek.
The New Zealander moved ahead coming into the last section. He looked to be pulling away but Martin fought back and with a last lunge appeared to have edged it.
“With about 400 to go, I was feeling quite comfortable, sitting out in front, then Damir started lifting the rate and I realized he was becoming quite a big threat so I tried to chuck in some strokes, Drysdale said. “He kept closing the gap.
“About 50 meters from the line I realized it was anyone’s. I think in the end it literally came down to the surge. I was fortunate enough to have the boat just surging through the line at the right time.”
The television feed initially posted Martin as the winner then removed the result. The final time was given as 6 minutes 41.34 seconds. It went down to thousandths of a second, with Drysdale coming out on top.
“We’re sitting there and Damir sort of looked at me at said what’s the result and I said I had no idea. I’m very happy that I was on the right side of it,” the world record holder said.
Martin took the outcome with dignity and did not appear to be overly disappointed.
“I gave 1000 percent of myself,” he said. “I am more satisfied with a good race than a silver medal. The next one is going to be another color.”
Synek, who has claimed all of the world championship titles since the 2012 Olympics in London, had to settle for the bronze.
It was Drysdale’s third medal after his gold in London in 2016 and a bronze in Beijing in 2008, making him the first New Zealand rower to win three in the same event.
Before his triumph in London in 2016, Drysdale had vomited with anxiety. He said he felt good this week but on Saturday before the race, the nerves were there and he nearly threw up again in his pre-race row.
“You feel like your sick but I knew I wasn’t. The nerves give you that little bit of adrenaline.”
Asked about his future, Drysdale, who is nicknamed Grandpa, noted he would be 41 at the next games in Tokyo.
He will make a decision in the next three or four months and said it was about 50/50 as to whether he would mount another Olympic campaign.
Reporting by Angus MacSwan and Amy Tennery, Editing Ed Osmond