Rowing action from the 2023 World Cup in Lucerne.
Australia (front) on their way to men's eight gold at the 2023 World Cup regatta in Switzerland. Image by EPA PHOTO
  • rowing

Eight aim for rowing greatness at Paris Olympics

Melissa Woods January 6, 2024

Australia’s men’s eight are in the hunt to making rowing history in Paris as they chase an elusive Olympic gold medal later this year.

No Australian eight has ever topped an Olympic podium, with bronze (in 1952, 1956, 1984, 2004) and silver (1968, 2000) the best returns.

But snapping a 36-year drought to win gold at the third World Cup regatta of the season in Switzerland last July has the crew feeling upbeat about their chances.

The Australians downed the highly fancied Great Britain eight and also the Netherlands, who will start among the podium favourites in Paris.

They finished third in last September’s world championships in Serbia behind the same pair.

Australia's men's eight, bronze medallists at the Athens 2004 Games.
 Australia’s men’s eight picked up the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Image by Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS 

Angus Widdicombe, who strokes the Australian crew, said it would be extra special to transform that sizzling form to the Olympic venue at Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium and win gold.

“It would be unbelievable – we’ve only won the world championships as a nation once but it’s the biggest and fastest race,” Widdicombe told AAP from the team’s Canberra training base.

“You’ve got eight people and a coxswain that you have to get right on that one day, in that one moment.

“If you’re off by half a per cent, then you’re not going to do it.

“It would be so special to get all that right and win for the nation.”

Widdicombe is well aware of how things can go wrong on the Olympic stage, with the men’s eight well off the pace in the final at the Tokyo Games in 2021 and finishing more than 11 seconds behind gold medallists New Zealand.

“It was pretty disappointing as we didn’t put our best performance together in Tokyo,” the 29-year-old said.

“We’d been competitive in the lead-up … but we had a few retirements from that crew throughout COVID so the extra year really took its toll.

“We just didn’t quite nail it.”

Widdicombe said fierce competition for seats ahead of the Paris Games, and “clarity” under coach Mark Prater would enable the boat to perform.

Australia’s rowers face two selection regattas in February and March before the Olympic line-up is confirmed.

Two subsequent World Cup regattas will allow for final touches to be made to the crew’s preparation.

Prater said no rower was guaranteed a start in Paris, although he didn’t expect any “radical changes” to the eight.

Australia's men's four in the 2021 Olympic final.
 Australia’s men’s four surge to gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Image by AP PHOTO 

The men’s four won gold in Tokyo in 2021, with the same line-up – Alexander Purnell, Alexander Hill, Spencer Turrin and Jack Hargreaves – placing fifth at 2023’s world championships.

“We have a very strong (men’s) squad with Olympic experience from Tokyo and four guys who are Olympic champions in four, and a lot of people who have won world championship medals,” Prater said.

“We’re still in the process of working out which crews people go into to get our best opportunities.

“It’s about figuring out which people work best together.”