Australia’s resurgence at the London Games was given momentum in the most unlikely of fashions yesterday.
The country’s canoe sprint squad has hardly been a guaranteed source of gold medals down the years — Australia had only won two in the sport’s 76-year Olympic history.
That turned into three on the second day of the finals at a sun-kissed Dorney Lake, though, when a group of four surf lifesavers — Tate Smith, Dave Smith, Murray Stewart and Jacob Clear — stunned the established kayaking powers with a wire-to-wire win in the men’s 1,000m K4.
It was Australia’s first team gold in canoe sprint — and it took their overall tally at the London Games to six.
“We’ve struggled a little this Olympics,” Tate Smith said. “We’ve been close, but it’s the Olympic Games and it’s so hard to win a medal, so to get this gold means everything to us.”
The day’s other victories came from German and Hungarian boats, leaving both nations with three golds at the top of the regatta’s medals table.
After coming second in Germany’s previously all-conquering K4 500m boat, Franziska Weber and Tina Dietze bounced back to win the K2 final over the same distance ahead of Hungary. The Germans’ other victory came from Peter Kretschmer and Kurt Kuschela in the 1,000m C2.
Danuta Kozak won her second gold of the regatta for Hungary, following up the K4 win with success in the 500m K1. That denied Italy’s Josefa Idem, competing in her record eighth Games, a glorious farewell at her final Olympics. Idem finished fifth.
There was no mistaking the biggest upset on a sweltering day in Windsor, though.
In Beijing in 2008, Dave Smith wept uncontrollably after Australia’s much-hyped K4 team failed to qualify from the repechage race. Four years on, Smith was a picture of joy atop the podium at Dorney Lake, throwing his arms up with his crew mates, before waving ecstatically to the crowd.
The Australians, world silver medalists last year, had gone out hard and led the whole race, staving off the late challenge of a Hungarian boat in the lane alongside them containing triple Olympic gold medalist Zoltan Kammerer.
Denmark, the European champions, and Germany, medalists in event in every Olympics since 1988, did not make the top three.
“It was a red-hot field, the best athletes were out there,” Clear said. “It’s just fantastic to top out on top. We stuck to the race plan and it went perfectly.”
After eight barren days of rowing and now six days of canoeing, Advance Australia Fair finally reverberated out at Dorney Lake.
On a day when national flags hung limply from the grandstands and the sun shone through a light cloud cover, Germany won the first and last races to climb above Hungary in the medals table.
The Germans have six medals from eight finals — and the most satisfying will likely be the gold won by Weber and Dietze.
They were downcast after the 16-year Olympic dominance of Germany’s K4 500m crew was ended by the Hungarians on Wednesday.
They vowed to take immediate revenge and they stuck to their word, denying Hungary a third straight title in the K2.
The Germans led from start to finish to win by half a length over Katalin Kovacs and Natasa Douchev-Janics, who were both looking to win their fourth golds.
Weber and Dietze claimed a title last won for Germany by two of their greatest Olympians — Birgit Fischer and Katrin Wagner-Augustin.