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Helen Glover's bid for third Olympic gold suffers blow with below-par display in heat

·5-min read
Helen Glover's bid for third Olympic gold suffers blow with below-par display in heat - GETTY IMAGES
Helen Glover's bid for third Olympic gold suffers blow with below-par display in heat - GETTY IMAGES

Helen Glover’s hopes of capping her remarkable return with a historic third successive Olympic gold medal were dealt a hefty blow on a disappointing day for Britain’s rowers when her pairing with Polly Swann only just managed to scrape through to the semi-finals.

After almost five years out to start a family, Glover raised expectations that she might again stand atop the Olympic podium when she and Swann won the European title earlier this year.

However, they were left in no doubt of the big step up to global level when only finishing third in their women’s pair heat behind Australia and the Russian team to advance as the slowest qualifiers for the semi-final.

The men’s eight did not even gain that luxury of moving on to the next round, with Team GB flagbearer Mo Sbihi admitting the reigning champions’ performance was “not good enough” as they trailed in third of three boats in their heat. Sbihi also denied his flag waving duties had any impact on the performance after revealing he was in bed before Friday night’s ceremony had even ended.

Glover, who was competing on her son Logan’s third birthday, and Swann were somewhat fortunate to even progress, as their time would not have been good enough to advance in either of the other women’s pair heats.

Speaking on the BBC, five-time Olympic medal-winning rower Katherine Grainger said the performance had left the British pair in no doubt that they are in a tough battle to win a medal, but Glover said they know they can improve.

“It’s good to progress to the next round, we both know there is more to come as it wasn’t a perfect row, but I guess there’s definitely value in learning in the early rounds,” said Glover, who won pairs gold in 2012 and 2016 with Heather Stanning.

“We are open to what is coming next. We know we have done better in training, it would be more frustrating if we had a perfect row and didn’t have anything to improve on.”

Glover also revealed the role her three children had played in her journey to return to the Olympic startline.

“It’s Logan's birthday today, he’s three, so there’s so much more important things going on than just racing a heat out here in Tokyo,” she said. “There’s my little boy at home. We’ll celebrate when I get back.

“But when I think about what they all mean to me, and especially on a day like his birthday, everything I do out there on the water is definitely for them.

“Logan sent me a video message last night and said he was proud of me. A big part of wanting to do this was to bring them along for the journey and now they’re seeing the fruits of the labour, of the ergos (rowing machines) in the living room, the watt bike in the utility room and lifting weights in between making their dinner. They can now make sense of it a little bit.”

Little more than 12 hours after he carried the Team GB flag at Friday night’s opening ceremony, Sbihi was part of a men’s eight whose Olympic title defence hangs in the balance after a “disappointing” opening race in Tokyo.

Team GB men's eight trailed in third of three boats in their heat - AFP
Team GB men's eight trailed in third of three boats in their heat - AFP

The British boat finished behind Holland and New Zealand in their heat and will now face the repechage to make the final.

Sbihi denied the quick turnaround had any impact on the performance, despite suddenly being thrust into action quicker than initially planned following his ceremonial exertions when the men’s eight heats were shifted forward a day due to a typhoon forecast to hit Tokyo on Monday.

“Whatever I did last night didn’t impact that,” he said. “It wasn’t just me who was rowing badly in that crew. We, as a collective, did something very bad and very wrong regardless of whether I walked or didn’t walk last night.

“It’s a quick turnaround, but I was in bed very early. The Olympic Ceremony goes on for a very long time and people were still walking in the ceremony by the time I was in bed. Regardless of what I did last night, that is not good enough as a rowing performance.

“It’s a disappointing result. Not a great start to our Olympic campaign.”

Asked how his flagbearer experience was he said: “Tainted after today. No, it was a huge honour. I’ve been feeling like I’m on Cloud Nine for the last few days. It still feels surreal.

“I still don’t feel like I actually walked into the stadium last night. It was a very cool moment, but ultimately we’re here to win medals, I’m not here to carry a flag.”

There was far better news for Britain’s reigning men’s four champions who won their heat with ease as they bid for a sixth successive Olympic gold. The women’s four will need the repechage if they are to follow suit, as will the women’s eight.

Imogen Grant and Emily Craig finished second in their lightweight women’s double sculls heat to secure their semi-final place.

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