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

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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 GB react after coming in fourth during the Men's Four Final A. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

The civil war engulfing Britain's rowing community following its failure to win a medal in the coxless four in Tokyo escalated further on Wednesday as rowing great James Cracknell weighed in.

Team GB finished fourth in a dramatic race that saw Matthew Rossiter, Oliver Cook, Rory Gibbs and Sholto Carnegie – all Olympic debutants – nearly crash into the Italian boat after veering wildly off course during the medal denouement. 

It's the first time Britain has failed to win Olympic gold in the event since 1996.

Afterwards, disappointed Rossiter, 31, said some of his illustrious predecessors would be "smug" at the defeat – a comment thought to be aimed at Cracknell.

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."

Now Cracknell, twice Olympic champion in the event, has 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. 

Watch: The biggest drug cheats in Olympics history

"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."

Australia took gold and Romania took silver, while Italy finished with bronze – and were aggrieved about it, 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)
James Cracknell in 2019 in London, England. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, a tearful Cook said afterwards that he was at fault for the steering issues that blighted the team's 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)
Britain's coxless four experienced steering issues. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

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

Team GB's performance may well have been hampered by the decision of former coach Jurgen Grobler to leave his post 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.

Watch: 'I watched my dad nearly die from a heart attack. 11 years later we won Olympic gold'

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