'I'd say it to his face': James Cracknell hits back as 'smug' dispute with Team GB rowers escalates

The civil war engulfing Great Britain's coxless four escalated further on Wednesday when rowing great James Cracknell retaliated at claims levelled against previous golden stars of the fabled boat who would be "smug" at the Tokyo quartet's failure to win gold.

Team GB failed to win Olympic coxless four gold for the first time since 1996 in a dramatic race after Oliver Cook, Matthew Rossiter, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie, who were all Olympic debutants, nearly crashed into the Italian boat after veering wildly off course during the medal denouement. 

They eventually finished fourth, thus bringing to an end Britain's domination of the event over five Olympics.

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 28:  Oliver Cook, Matthew Rossiter, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie of Team Great Britain react after coming in fourth during the Men's Four Final A on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Sea Forest Waterway on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Oliver Cook, Matthew Rossiter, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie of Team Great Britain react after coming in fourth during the Men's Four Final A. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

In post-race comments, Rossiter, 31, then took aim at what appeared to be against some predecessors of the coxless boat.

Rossiter said: "It's just disappointing that those people will probably be really smug now that they are part of the legacy that won.

"That was a motivation to do well. I hope those people are happy we have not continued the gold run. It did not affect our performance. We managed to shut out the pressure from everything else really well."

However, Cracknell hit back, telling The Daily Telegraph: "That is rubbish. If that was true, that would have been my sentiments in 2008, 2012 and 2016, and none of the athletes in those boats would have said that about me. 

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"The idea that I would be concerned about protecting my 'legacy' 17 years after I last raced at an Olympics is nonsense. I would be a pretty bitter person if, almost two decades after last competing, I didn't want the British boat to win.

"I was gutted for the guys that their race ended that way, but I have always abided by the principle that anything I say on commentary, I would be happy to say to that person's face, and that is true for Matt in this instance."

Tipped to fight Australia for gold, Britain finished outside of the medal, while Italy were aggrieved at finishing with bronze, according to Rossiter.

"We fully biffed into the Italians," Rossiter said.

"They are pretty p****d off because maybe we cost them the silver. Sorry to those guys. It's an outdoor sport and this stuff happens."

"It's just heartbreaking when it's you and not something on YouTube."

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 07:   James Cracknell of Cambridge University Boat Club celebrates on the victory podium after his team win during The Boat Race 2019 on April 07, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: James Cracknell of Cambridge University Boat Club celebrates on the victory podium after his team win during The Boat Race 2019 on April 07, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, a tearful Cook explained afterwards that he was at fault for the steering issues which had blighted their Olympic dream. 

Cook was the man charged with steering with his foot in the coxless boat but, with GB in second place, admitted he had taken his foot off the pedal as the Romanian and Italian boats ramped up the pressure in the final stages.

This saw the GB boat lose control and veer into Italy's adjacent line as the British quartet nearly crashed into their rivals. 

He said: "I need to diagnose it but I feel I screwed up a bit and as I was closing in at the end and taking big strokes at the end going for the line I forgot the steering and that's what cost us to be honest." 

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 24:  (R-L) Oliver Cook, Matthew Rossiter, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie of Team Great Britain compete during the Men's Four Heat 2 on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Sea Forest Waterway on July 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
The coxless four had experienced steering issues in the men's final in Tokyo. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Click here for the complete medal table of the Tokyo Olympic Games

The coxless four boat has been peerless at the last five Olympics. 

But the boat's Olympic tilt may well have been hampered by the decision of former coach Jurgen Grobler to leave his past last August. 

In another storyline from an eventful race in Tokyo, it emerged that Italian stalwart Bruno Rosetti had missed the chance of a medal after testing positive for COVID-19 just hours before the final.

World Rowing confirmed that Rosetti is not eligible to receive Italy's Olympic bronze, despite having featured in earlier rounds.

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