Rowers win gold
8:12pm Sunday 2nd September 2012 in London Olympics 2012 - Latest News
Great Britain's glorious summer of rowing at Eton Dorney ended on a fittingly victorious note with a gold medal for the LTA mixed coxed fours.
David Smith, James Roe, Naomi Riches, Pam Relph and cox Lily van den Broecke held off a fierce challenge from chief rivals Germany to win Britain's only Paralympic rowing medal.
The final day of the regatta had threatened to fall flat after Tom Aggar lost his Paralympic title and his five-year unbeaten streak, finishing a surprise fourth in the AS men's single sculls final.
Nick Beighton and Samantha Scowen then produced a performance to proud of in the TA mixed double sculls final but came so close to the medals that fourth place was ultimately hard for them to swallow.
Britain's Paralympians had been set a target of following on from the most successful Olympic regatta ever by winning one to two medals.
It was the GB mixed coxed four who delivered, adding the Paralympic title to their world with a victory over chief rivals Germany founded on sheer guts and determination.
"In 19 years of sport, this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I am so proud," said Smith, who underwent two neck operations in 2010 to remove a tennis ball-sized tumour from his spine and then a blood clot which had left him paralysed.
"This has been the hardest two years of my life. Nothing could be as hard as learning to walk.
"That race hurt from the first stroke. When I heard the noise of the crowd I thought of all the things I had been through.
"I was in so much pain but I visualised that gold medal and thought 'push, push, push'."
Smith was born with both feet facing backwards. After childhood surgery to correct the problem, he went on to compete for Great Britain at non-disabled karate and bobsleigh.
All the time, Smith was battling debilitating back pain and it ultimately cost him a place at the 2006 Winter Olympics when he fell just short of qualifying.
In 2009, Smith retired from bobsleigh and moved into Paralympic sport and it was only when he joined GB Rowing that the tumour was identified and operated on.
"Not going to those Olympics saved my life because if I had gone I would have probably retired," Smith said.
"I thought I was going to those Winter Olympics, I was good enough.
"I don't even think about it now. I have a gold medal at London. Nothing else matters."
Relph has acute arthritis, which led to her being discharged from the army, while Riches and Roe are both visually impaired.
"We are such a close bunch of people. We have a real bond together. When I was down they pulled me through. We all did that for each other," Smith said.
Relph was inspired by her sister, Monica, who came close to qualifying for the British Olympic rowing team.
"As soon as I saw her when I went onto the medal podium I just burst into tears because there is no way I would be here if it wasn't for her," Relph said through tears.
"It felt amazing today because not only did we win a gold medal for ourselves and our families but for the whole of Great Britain and nothing can be better than that."
Riches won a bronze in Beijing four years ago but a gold medal on home waters was on a different scale altogether.
"I can't even compare the two. It has been four years of blood, sweat and tears and it has all been worth it," she said.
Roe was at a loss for words. "It is indescribable," he said after receiving his gold medal.
Aggar's emotions were very different. He knew he faced the biggest challenge of his dominant career after China's Huang Cheng had set a new world record on Friday.
But to slip out of the medals altogether, finishing behind Huang, Australia's Erik Hollie and Russian Aleksey Chuvashev was unexpected.
"I am absolutely devastated," said Aggar, who was paralysed from the waist down in a 2005 accident.
"It's hard for me to describe. I went out hard to lead from the front and get control.
"The two guys to the left of me were really fast. When I tried to dig deep there was nothing there."
Beighton and Scowen had set themselves no targets beyond reaching the A final - but missing out on bronze by just two tenths of a second left them with bittersweet emotions.
"Fourth is the worst place. I would rather have finished fifth," Scowen said.
"It was really hard to come that close to a medal. I hope we made everyone proud."
Beighton, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan less than three years ago, reflected on his "emotional" journey to the Paralympic final.
"I've wanted to seize life and this is the reward for that attitude. The sport has given me a lot, a real positive focus in my life," Beighton said.
"We said all along the result didn't matter. It was about being proud of what we have achieved. When I think where I was two and a half years ago, it has been a good journey."