To Have Fought Well

The silver medal in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls went to Great Britain’s Harry Leask, Angus Groom, Tom Barras and Jack Beaumont. Photo: British Rowing website/David Pearce

31 July 2021

Göran R Buckhorn

No, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was not a success for the U.S. rowers, who didn’t take any medals at the Sea Forest Waterway. It was the first time in Olympic history that no American crew brought home a medal – of those Olympic Games where the USA has competed. The USA did not row at the first Olympic Games in 1896, nor in 1908, 1912 and 1980.

The U.S. rowers raced in five A- finals: Women’s Double Sculls (5th place), Men’s Fours (5th place), Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls (5th place), Women’s Eights (4th place) and Men’s Eights (4th place). Of course, this is a great disappointment for the American rowers, coaches and USRowing.

One U.S. female rower voiced her frustration that the Russian rowers were allowed to compete at these games. I can only agree. If IOC put a ban on Russia for previous doping offences how come, according to an article in The Economist, 335 Russian athletes are competing at the Tokyo Games as Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)? The magazine’s own answer is “Sporting authorities do not want to punish clean athletes, or cut off the money…”

I remember when ROC meant the Republic of China, Taiwan. However, Taiwan can’t call itself that at the Tokyo Games. Instead, its competing under the name Chinese Taipei. When the country’s weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun received her gold medal at the games some days ago, she did so without a national flag and national anthem.

But back to rowing.

Yesterday, USRowing’s CEO Amanda Kraus published a letter on the federation’s website. She writes

A lot of people have been reaching out to ask “what now” after what have been disappointing results in Tokyo. I know everyone wants to know what happened with the performance and how we will improve for Paris in 2024.

Read her letter here.

Another great rowing nation, Great Britain, is struggling to understand the poor performance of its crews at the Tokyo Games. For the first time since 1980, the country didn’t win any gold medals in rowing. At the Tokyo Sea Forest Waterway, Britain took a silver in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls, the first in the history of British rowing, and a bronze in the Men’s Eights. Six other British crews – Men’s Double Sculls, Men’s Four, Women’s Four, Women’s Pairs, Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls and Women’s Single Sculls – ended up in 4th place, the most unwanted place in a rowing A-Final. The Danes call it getting the Kartoffel Medalje, the Potato Medal, and in Britain it’s called the Pewter Medal. Rowing historian Peter Mallory calls the 4th place “the loneliest spot in the Olympics…”

The Tokyo results of the British crews have already started the Blame Game within and outside British rowing. On British Rowing’s website, Mark Davies, Chair of British Rowing, reflects on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic campaign. He writes

The worst performance by a British team since 1972, which is almost as long as I’ve been alive. Not a single gold medal. Shocking. Or it would be if it wasn’t so predictable with the change to a soft approach and the absurd decisions on coaches. Various people have got to go!

Well, actually, no. Plenty around us may be losing their heads, but we’re keeping ours.

Read his article here.

Growing up in Sweden, a small country where the sport of rowing has always been seen as something almost obscure and where the country’s total Olympic medals in rowing can be counted on one hand (two silver medals in Inrigger Four in 1912 and Coxed Four in 1956; and three Kartoffel Medaljer), I have the mentality of de Coubertin, that it’s the competition that is important, not the winning. Of course, Swedes like to win medals, but if we don’t, we comfort ourselves that participating in the Olympic Games is fun and exciting whichever place you end up, in the medal table or outside it.

At the Olympic rowing in Tokyo, Sweden only had one rower present, Lovisa Claesson in the single sculls. She took a 2nd place in the C-Final, which gave her a 14th place total among the women scullers. Although, she wanted to do better, both Lovisa and her coach Per Olof Claesson, who is also her father, an old rowing Olympian, were pleased with her performance. Her race in the C-Final was one of her best races in her career. I’m sure she will back at the Paris Olympics in three years and do her very best.

The other day, I called 90-year-old Gösta Eriksson, who rowed in the silver-winning Swedish coxed four, for a chat about the 1956 Games. He was very pleased with his silver medal from Ballarat. He was even pleased with his potato medal in the eights, which he took only an hour after the four race. There were actually only four crews in the eights A-Final, but the Swedes were the lone European crew.

I OS är det inte viktigast att vinna utan att delta,
det viktigaste i livet är inte att segra utan att kämpa väl.

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