As part of our attempt to rank the Top Olympic Rowing Finals we also asked our panel of experts to choose what they think is the best Olympic Regatta ever…
Drum roll please, their decision was… the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for a combination of reasons including some outstanding races, a collection of phenomenal athletes in their prime and some great stories woven in! The first great story is in the Men’s Doubles.
Lightweight rowing was only introduced to the Olympics in 1996 despite having been a racing category at the World Championships for decades, for lightweights this meant that competing at the Olympic Games was a real step up. Undeterred by the weight disadvantage the Australian lightweight double of Peter Antonie and Stephen Hawkins took the event by the scruff of the neck and battled to Gold, a fantastic achievement beating the reigning Olympic and World Champions in the process!
If lightweights entering openweight events isn’t impressive enough for you there were a handful of athletes at the games who not only doubled up, not only made the finals, but won medals!
Elizabeta Lipa, the most decorated Olympic Rower in history, raced in both the W1x and W2x picking up Gold and Silver respectively. Her performance in the single was particularly impressive, dominating the field from start to finish. Elizabeta’s career would see her win 5 gold, two silver and one bronze medal across four different events (including both sweep and sculling) and spanning 6 Olympic Games.
Taking this doubling up theme to the extreme, the Canadian Women’s Rowing team won EVERY sweep event… with only two athletes that didn’t double up (three if you include coxswain Lesley Thompson). Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle won in the coxless pair and eight and Kirsten Barnes, Jessica Monroe, Brenda Taylor and Kay Worthington won gold in the coxless four and eight. Incidentally McBean and Heddle also doubled up in Atlanta winning Gold and Bronze in the W2x and W4x respectively putting them 15th and 16th in the all time Olympic Rowers table having only competed at two Olympics and entered four different events!
And it wasn’t just the Canadian Women who shone in Barcelona. Having unhappily left the GB system Mike Spracklen’s first Olympic success with the Canadian Men’s team came in the 8+ in a fantastic race against Romania and the recently unified Germany. We found a great video about the eight, as well as the Olympic final which you can [watch here].
With West and East Germany having competed separately since the Second World War, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 this was a historic first outing for Germany as a unified nation, and they didn’t disappoint. In fact, there were only four events that Germany didn’t medal in and they topped the medal table at the regatta!
Their dominance in both the Men’s and Women’s Quad sculls in 1992 is a theme that continues to this day with 9 out of 14 titles in the Olympics, since the wall fell, going to the German team.
The Barcelona Games was also an opportunity to watch some crews and athletes who achieved legendary status and the Oarsome Foursome was one of the them. Nick Green, Mike McKay, Andrew Cooper and James Tomkins were part of a lineage in Australian Rowing that was highly successful both in the coxless four and coxless pair.
The second legendary crew brought together Olympic titans. A prime Steve Redgrave collected his third Olympic gold meal when teaming up with young pup Matthew Pinsent in the coxless pairs. Watch Matthew’s interview with Martin Cross. Matthew would go on to win a further three Olympic titles. He and Steve are the top two most successful male rowers in history with nine gold medals and one bronze medal between them. Their race isn’t exactly close, but instead is a masterclass in dominating the field… but don’t worry, we’ve saved the best for last, a couple of heavyweight bouts.
Coxed fours are quite divisive among rowers, you either love them or you hate them, but there’s nothing to hate about this final. There’s a rawness to the rowing, and by the end it’s kitchen sink stuff with the Romanians battling out with the 1991 World Champions and world record holders Germany. The Romanians couldn’t quite better the world’s fastest time (although they still went 5:59.3), but they did snatch victory!
Lastly, the coxed pairs final proved to be one of the most dramatic of the games, the Abbagnale brothers of Italy were two-time champions in the coxed pairs event winning in ‘84 and ‘88 and lead for almost the entirety of the race; but, the turn of speed from young Greg and Jonny Searle proved too much for them in the final throes of the race, it’s quite spectacular and was certainly one of the shocks of the regatta.
Thanks to Olympic Champion, Jonny Searle (mentioned above) for pointing this out, but there were also two Romanian rowers, Dimitrie Popescu and Neculai Țaga who doubled up in the coxed four and coxed pairs winning Gold and Bronze in the respective events – What an exceptional Olympics to have so many athletes doubling up and winning Gold in at least one event!
FUN FACT: Both the Searle Brothers and the Romanian coxed four are STILL reigning Olympic champions in their events, both events were removed from the Olympic programme ready for the introduction of lightweight events in Atlanta 1996. You can impress your friends with that one!
On the whole we believe that the combination of spectacular racing, the quality of the field [7 of the top 10 most successful Olympic rowers of all time were racing in Barcelona] and the stories behind some of the races make this regatta really special.
But what do you think?
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