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21 Aug 2004
Athens 2004

Tufte toughs it out to win single sculls gold

As a teenager growing up in Norway, Olaf Tufte had channelled his sporting talents and his love of the outdoors into motocross. It was only when he was 18 that he swapped muddy tracks for the water and took up rowing.

He quickly proved to be an absolute natural. A matter of months later, he was competing as part of the Norwegian four in the junior world championships and two years later he won a place in the Olympic team for Atlanta 1996, where his crew finished eighth.

Thereafter he continued to make progress, trading the fours for the double sculls. At Sydney 2000, he teamed up with Fredrik Bekken and the pair won silver.

And then from 2001 onwards, Tufte decided to go it alone, switching to the single sculls. The same year, after a period of intense training, he won the world title, a feat that he repeated in 2003. So by the time he arrived in Athens he was among the favourites, despite his relative inexperience as a single sculls specialist.

He won his first round heat by a margin of eleven and a half seconds and then qualified comfortably from his semi-final, beating Bulgaria's Ivo Yanakiev into second place. However, the fastest qualifier for the final was the Estonian Jüri Jaanson, who covered the course in 6 minutes 47.36 seconds, a full three seconds faster than Tufte.

The stage was set for a highly competitive final. The early lead was held by Václav Chalupa of the Czech Republic, but by the halfway point he had been passed by first Tufte and then Jaanson. The latter two then fought it out for the gold. The Estonian pushed ahead with about 500m left but then Tufte's incredible strength and stamina came to the fore. He closed down the gap and then overtook Jaanson, gradually opening up a gap of his own to cross the line a healthy 2.42 seconds clear of his rival and claim the first gold medal of his career.

Tufte completed a successful defence of his title at Beijing 2008, cementing his reputation as one of Norway's ever greatest rowers. After stepping away from competitive rowing he went on to work as farmer and also as a firefighter.

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