The rowing finals seemed certain to result in some podium finishes for ParalympicsGB after the heats and repechages saw all British rowers qualify for the medal events. With Britain's overall victory in rowing at the Beijing 2008 Games, and the added incentive of maintaining the high standard that GB's Olympic rowers set just a few weeks ago, the pressure was really on for a top performance by our Paralympians at Eton Dorney Lake.
Tom Aggar was a firm favourite in the men's single sculls, due to his gold medal finish in Beijing and the world champion status he had maintained since. He dominated his heat, finishing a comfortable five seconds ahead of the Republic of Korea's Jun-Ha Park with a personal best time of 4:56.65. With a place in the final secured, Aggar's confidence was then shaken when the top three rowers in the second heat all beat his time, though this could be partly attributed to a change in the conditions. It all came down to the final race. To the dismay of the thousands of spectators cheering for him, Tom narrowly missed out on a medal with his fourth place finish. Despite crossing the line in an impressive 4:58.08, Tom's five-year reign at the top of his game came to an end as the gold medal was given to China's Cheng Huang, who finished ahead of Australian Erik Horrie and Aleksey Chuvashev from Russia.
Moreover, Paralympic newcomers Samantha Scowen and Nick Beighton narrowly saw the Bronze slip through their fingers by 0.22 seconds in the Mixed Double Sculls. Despite their best efforts, China again claimed gold with a six second lead over France, who took second, and the USA, in third.
The fourth place curse was eventually lifted in the last final of the day, the Mixed Coxed Four. Hopes were high, as this was a crew that had never, and still have not, been beaten. Despite winning their heat with a five second lead, the team knew they would have to give it their all in the final, as the top three in the second heat all beat their finishing time. Coach Mary McLachlan said, "the times in the heat were so confusing because the conditions changed, and in rowing that can have a huge impact. Going into the final, we knew we were going to have to produce something pretty special to get across the line first."
As well as the joy of her crew emerging victorious, McLachlan also feels for the other rowers who weren't so lucky. "We know what an exceptional athlete Tom is." she said. "Today they had more than he had, and that's a real shame. I'm sure he'll be back to take on those guys another day."
The members of the mixed coxed four, James Roe, Pam Relph, Naomi Riches, David Smith and cox Lily van den Broecke, pulled out all the stops in the final stretch, finishing with a time of 3:19.38. Despite trailing for the first half of the race, the loud home crowd helped the crew secure a two-second lead over their German opponents, with Ukraine claiming bronze.
Naomi Riches, the only crew member with previous Paralympic experience and a bronze medal from Beijing, said: “Each person in this group has pushed themselves to as far as they could to reach their potential. We believed that we could put in our best performance. We know the Germans are really quick so it was a case of who can perform best, but we had the confidence from the results that we've had for the past two years."
Evidently exhausted from a busy day, the team's celebration plans were simply to "eat, sleep and catch up with friends and family that were THEY HAVE]neglected," according to James Roe.
Cox Lily van den Broecke described the rigorous training regime the crew underwent in order to make themselves medal contenders. "I just sit there and it's been hard for me," she said, before praising her teammates, "I know you guys have worked really hard."
David Smith said: "Rowing's a relentlessly hard sport and we've trained all winter seven days a week. It was all those long days, three to four hours a session, three to four sessions a day that made that difference."
"They raced brilliantly, and they all completely destroyed themselves trying to get over the line first," added coach McLachlan.