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The women's double sculls provided perhaps the day's most intriguing tussle. Poland's Magdalena Fularczyk-Kozlowska and Natalia Madaj put in a gritty performance to edge past Great Britain's Katherine Grainger and Victoria Thornley in the final metres, denying Grainger a second gold medal to match the one she took in London four years ago.
The Polish and British boats were neck-and-neck for much of the race, with the latter leading by 0.64 seconds at the halfway mark and looking set to win; but the Poles then summoned an extra burst of power with the finishing line in sight.
“In the last 100m we felt we could catch them and we pushed really hard. We knew we could become champions,” said Fularczyk-Kozlowska, who with her partner Madaj were responsible for Poland’s first ever Olympic rowing medal.
“Grainger is a legend but in Poland we say you have to beat the champions. In the race we did not think of it. It was just the British crew,” she added.
Grainger’s silver did mean she became the first British woman to win medals at five Olympic Games and her all-time haul of five made her the jointly most decorated British woman Olympian along with 1920s tennis player Kitty McKane.
Croatian brothers Martin and Valent Sinkovic, who won silver at London 2012 as one half of their country’s men’s quadruple skulls crew, went a step better in the double sculls, taking their country’s first ever Olympic rowing gold. Martin wept as he made his way from the pontoon but was keen to point out that they were "beautiful tears".
The siblings fought a tough duel with Lithuania in which the two crews were level for much of the race. After holding off Mindaugas Griskonis and Saulius Ritter through the 1,000-metre mark, the Croatian duo slipped back into second in the third quarter. But the brothers, formerly part of Croatia's quad line-up, dug deep to win the gold.
“We couldn't be happier,” commented older brother Martin. “We managed to pull something special in the last 500 metres out of nowhere.”
“For me winning an Olympic gold medal is a dream since I was born,” he added. Because my country is to win a gold medal it's more special. It's definitely nice to have something first, and open a way for lots of gold medals.”
Meanwhile, Ritter was delighted to have upgraded the medal he won 16 years earlier. “It's been a long time since Sydney (2000) where we won the bronze medal. So it's really good to win a higher medal. It's a dream come true to represent our country. It's just an honour for us.”
Kjetil Borch and the experienced Olaf Tufte of Norway took the bronze. For Tufte it completed the full set of Olympic medals, following his two single sculls golds from Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 and a silver in the double sculls from Sydney 2000.
Meanwhile, Germany took the gold medal in both the men's and women’s quadruple sculls. The men successfully defended the title they won at London 2012, ahead of Australia, while there was a first medal of Rio 2016 for Estonia, whose foursome took the bronze to complete the podium.
The German crew of Philip Wende, Lauritz Schoof, Karl Schulze and Hans Gruhne led from the start on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. They finished in 6 minutes 6.81 seconds, 1.15 seconds ahead of the Australians.
The Australian boat crewed by Karsten Forsterling, Alexander Belonogoff, Cameron Girdlestone, James McCrae lagged until the halfway point when they moved up to challenge the Germans.
In the women’s event, Germany emerged victorious ahead of their two neighbours Netherlands and surprise package Poland, who flanked them on either side of the podium, just as they do on the map.
Germany’s Lisa Schmidla said they had never wavered in their belief that they could win an extremely tough contest. “We talked about that before competition, because there's a lot of pressure in this field. We started very fast, then we were down half a length. We never doubted until the end that we could make it.”
The podium for the men’s lightweight four was a tightly contested all-European affair as the Swiss quartet took gold, from Denmark and France. The Swiss crew, who took silver at the latest world championships, clinched victory by just under 1.5 seconds from the Danes, the France less than a second back for the bronze.