Whether GB Olympic rower Pete Reed was hungover or not on 4 September, the morning after the World Championship pairs final in Bled, the ache was a familiar one.
“My medal didn’t change colour overnight,” he said on Twitter. “I’ll work out how to turn silver into gold over the next few months.”
The debate has raged, arguably non-stop since GB made a similar move with Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell in 2004, over whether GB’s top two men have a better chance of Olympic gold in a pair or a four.
Having won in the four in Beijing, Reed and Andy Hodge – who stepped into Pinsent and Cracknell’s shoes as GB’s top duo upon their retirement after the Athens Olympics – have battled in vain to establish themselves in the pair.
The can lay claim to being the second-best crew – in any boat class – in the world. The problem is, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond of New Zealand are the best and they proved that again in Bled with their 14th successive win over the Brits (in a time just short of Pinsent and Cracknell’s world best).
GB men’s heavyweight head coach Jurgen Grobler has won gold at every Olympic Games he has attended since 1972 (he was missing when Redgrave won his first in ’84 because of the eastern bloc boycott) and he is unlikely to change his plan now, although for the first time he can be pretty sure of a medal of one colour or another in all three of the men’s sweep events – pair, four and eight.
With veteran Greg Searle on board, the GB eight took silver in Bled, frustrated at their continued inability to topple Germany. The four are world champions, after an emphatic victory. However, Reed and Hodge have already completed tests that show the four goes faster if they are in it.
In their interview with the BBC’s John Inverdale after that world final, the duo came as close as they ever have to admitting the pair project is over.
“It’s been a fantastic three years. What happens for the next year? Only Jurgen knows that but he’s going to look after his gold medal and I’m going to fight to be in that boat,” said Hodge.
Reed made the point that few will remember what crew Sir Steve Redgrave was in at each of his five Olympic Games, just that he won five gold medals.
“I want to win. I think we can win in this boat but, next year, being on the middle of the podium is the most important thing,” he said.
“I’m really happy in the pair. I’d be happy in the four, or an eight.”
Stick with the current line-ups and expect three Olympic medals, with the likelihood of one gold. Move pair into four and strengthen the eight – as GB did in Beijing – and you increase the likelihood of two golds but are unlikely to get a third medal from a pair featuring the 13th and 14th best men in the GB squad.
I like the theory that the fifth and sixth best men in the squad could win pairs silver, so it’s just a question of prioritising the four over the pair and leaving the eight as is. I expect Jurgen to play it safe, though. Final line-ups are likely to be announced in early May 2012.