- 17 Aug 08, 04:08 PM
Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Park, Beijing
On the day of the opening ceremony I asked British Rowing's performance director David Tanner if he had seen that morning's China Daily.
Above a preview of the Olympic rowing competition, China's English-language newspaper claimed, in 48pt bold type, "British rowing losing grip". This followed a less than spectacular prediction of three medals for Team GB's rowers from US magazine "Sports Illustrated".
Tanner's response was concise, curt and correct: "I think some people are going to be looking a bit stupid in a week's time."
I spoke to Tanner again today and, while he was too modest to really gloat, "how do you like them apples?" would be a fair estimation of what he told me.
And who can blame him? He had just seen his team finish on top of the medal table with two golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
We topped the table with two golds on our own patch again in 1948 but then won only one silver across the next six Olympics.
Things started to pick up again from 1976 and rowing has been a reliable source of precious metal in subsequent Games (thanks to Sirs Steve Redgrave and Matt Pinsent), but we've never bossed the competition. Until now that is.
As well as the medal count, Tanner can point to 10 boats out of 12 reaching finals - that's 39 of 43 rowers making at least the top six in their class - as evidence of a first-rate regatta. But the most interesting thing he said to me on Sunday relates to what happens next.
"It's been a great week but I've just been telling my coaches that the next Olympiad started 20 minutes ago," he said with a smile that did not in any way suggest he was kidding.
"We've had some great results but one or two crews would have aspired for more. I don't think that's a bad thing."
He added he was enormously proud of everybody, and joked he would not be taking a subscription to either China Daily or Sports Illustrated, but it was his "the next Olympiad has started" line that most impressed me.
Redgrave, who knows perhaps better than anybody what is needed to win and keep winning, agreed with Tanner's assessment.
"It's been a really good week but not perfect. A couple of those boats will be disappointed not to be going home with golds," he said.
The five-time Olympic champion was referring to the women's quad, who were narrowly beaten into second by China, and the men's double, who were squeezed into third place. He also said the men's eight would have gone into their final thinking gold not silver.
"But that just shows how fine a line success is," Redgrave continued.
"We should be delighted with our haul. I thought we'd win five or six medals, so we're on the right side of that."
Pinsent concurred with the "let's celebrate" consensus but pointed out a significant fact.
"There were only two crews who didn't celebrate their silver medals - the women's quad and the men's eight, both British," said the four-time Olympic gold medallist.
"But hey, we've never been the strongest nation before in my time so that's a great result."
It certainly felt that way. The highlight of the weekend for Britain's small but vocal band of supporters was probably the thrilling victory for the men's four on Saturday. But the men's lightweight double must have run them close.
Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase came into Sunday's final unbeaten in 2008 - the only British boat to win all three World Cup races this season - and they leave China with that record intact. This was win number 13 for the season.
The official results will show they hit the front early and stayed there, but the official results have a habit of leaving out the best bits. Having looked in control for 90% of the race, the British duo was given two boat-sized frights by the fast-finishing Greeks and world champion Danes.
They held on for the win - our first in a lightweight category since smaller rowers were given an Olympic chance in 1996 - but the effort required took its toll on Hunter, whose rubbery legs failed to keep him up when he hit dry land, quite literally.
But he was up and about minutes later, looking like the happiest man in the Orient, which is apt for a man from east London.
"I've been dying for this day since I started rowing. The national anthem, the flag, it's a dream come true," he said.
Of course, it wasn't all grinning Brits at Shunyi. As Redgrave said we were good, not perfect.
If Hunter was the happiest person this side of the Hellespont, Debbie Flood, Katherine Grainger, Frances Houghton and Annie Vernon were the unhappiest.
World champions for the last three years, the crew seemed nailed on to win our first women's rowing gold. We're still waiting.
They also hit the front early but couldn't stay there. They were perhaps unlucky to come up against the only crew from the fancied Chinese team to deliver on home water but "unlucky" wasn't a word any of them wanted to hear afterwards.
Flood and Houghton already had silver medals from Athens, the 32-year-old Grainger had one from Sydney too. She had promised her team gold and after the race admitted "it's going to be hard to come to terms with silver".
Talking to them while they waited for their bus home felt like intruding on somebody's grief, and while sport isn't really that important in the general scheme of things, right then it was important. In fact, it was the only thing that mattered to these people and they were hurting.
I found Frances Houghton, who has been blogging for us, and told her not to worry about writing anything until she was ready. It was the least I could say but it immediately felt like a pathetically trivial thing to bring up.
Houghton, a trooper, seemed to understand what I was trying to do and assured me she would put fingers to keyboard soon.
As for the race, well, it would be fair to say she was gutted.
"We really believed we could do it, that's why it is so disappointing," she said.
"People say these chances come around again but nobody knows that for sure. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and never be able to row again. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am so proud to have rowed with these girls.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased to have a won a silver medal. I've been watching all week seeing how happy people have been to have won a medal, any medal, but..."
She didn't need to finish. Redgrave is right about that fine line.
I hope Houghton and the rest of the team enjoy their breaks. They've earned them.
And I wonder if she'll back to give that once-in-a-lifetime shot another crack in London. To be honest, having heard Tanner's ambition, I wonder if she'll be able to stay away.
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