Schinias, Greece It was so close, even one of the world's most experienced and decorated rowers couldn't figure out who had won.
In a thrilling race that is likely to be talked about for years to come, Matthew Pinsent and his veteran British crew came away with the gold medal in the men's four at the Summer Olympics on Saturday, edging world champion Canada by just 8-100ths of a second.
After both crews took their final strokes across the finish line, it was only the rowdy British fans that finally tipped them off to the winner.
"To be honest, I didn't think we'd won," said Pinsent, who captured his fourth Olympic gold medal. "They shouted across 'Who won? Who won?' And then the only thing that gave it away was when all the Union Jacks suddenly went up on the left."
With that, the Pinsent and his mates sailed along the course for a victory lap, their fans madly waving flags and singing songs.
Canadians Cam Baerg, Tom Herschmiller, Jake Wetzel and Barney Williams could only sit and watch, exhausted from their effort, stunned by the final result.
"There was no sense of disappointment," said Williams. "It was a little bit of amazement that we were that close to a gold medal but at that point, we were completely soaking in that we put in 100 per cent of our effort for it."
Baerg, 31, from Saskatoon, Herschmiller, 26, from Comox, B.C., Wetzel, 27, from Saskatoon, and Williams, 27, from Salt Spring Island, B.C., led by a half-second with 500 metres to go on the glass-like 2,000-metre course at the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre. Then the British edged ahead. But the Canadians somehow summoned the energy to dig deep for a final sprint.
Williams likened that final push for the finish line to being exhausted in the desert.
"Then, all of the sudden, 100 metres away, there's a tiger and he's going to kill you and you start running like the wind," said Williams, who dyed his blond mohawk bright red Saturday morning. "That's what basically happens in the last bit of the race. You dig within and you find something extra."
The only previous medal-winning rows by a Canadian heavyweight four were in 1956 (gold) and 1924 (bronze).
Britain Pinsent, Steve Williams, James Cracknell and Ed Coode was timed in 6:06.98 and Canada in 6:07.06. Italy was third.
The regatta ends Sunday and the world-champion Canadian men's eight will be on the water along with the men's lightweight four.
Williams's wife, Buffy, finished fourth in women's pairs with Darcy Marquardt of Richmond, B.C. They led after 500 metres and were second with 500 remaining but faded in the late going.
"We rowed the best race that we could and that's all we can ask for," said Buffy Williams. "When we get on that start line, all we can say is let's have the best race we can."
Georgeta Damian and Viorica Susanu of Romania won gold, and world champions Katherine Grainger and Cath Bishop of Britain were two seconds behind to take silver. Yuliya Bichyk and Natallia Helakh of Belarus were left with bronze after being overtaken by the Brits in the dash to the finish.
In the women's lightweight double consolation final, Mara Jones of Aurora, Ont., and Fiona Milne of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., finished second to complete a disappointing regatta in which they had been touted as medal contenders after winning World Cup gold in June.
The Canadian four also came in to the Olympics with high expectations after winning the world championship a year ago in Milan. And they were hungry after a humbling loss to the Americans at the final World Cup of the season in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The British had made it clear winning the four was their only priority, sacrificing their pair and eight teams to assemble the crew at the last minute. But Canada wasn't intimidated by the veteran oarsmen.
"I think when you're in that type of situation, you don't look at them as anything else but peers," said Wetzel. "If you build your opponents up to be the greats then you're not going to stand a chance of beating them. I think they beat us but we brought them down to earth."
The photo finish is just the way an Olympic gold medal should be decided, said Wetzel.
"It's about the smallest of margins, it's about the best performances. I think that's what really makes the Olympics special is there's four years of preparation for each country. They put their best out there. And Britain put their best out there ... they put all their eggs into this. They're one of the great rowing nations and to be able to be in a race like that is special."
Pinsent was obviously moved by the entire experience, breaking down in tears on the podium to God Save the Queen. The 33-year-old also took gold with the legendary Steven Redgrave in the pairs at the 1992 in Barcelona and 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and in the fours in Sydney four years ago.
"It doesn't get any easier and I've been asking myself why not," Pinsent said. "I said to the crew 'Don't be surprised if I go quiet or I throw up in the morning paddles.' For some reason, it's still as difficult."
In other events, Drew Ginn and James Tomkins of Australia won the men's pairs final while Donovan Cech and Ramon Di Clemente of South Africa won bronze. It was the South Africans' lane that Dave Calder of Victoria and Chris Jarvis of St. Catharines, Ont., encroached on in the semifinals, causing the disqualification of the Canadian crew.
Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski of Germany remained undefeated this year in winning women's single sculls gold; Olaf Tufte of Norway overtook Jueri Jaanson of Estonia with 300 metres remaining to win men's single sculls gold; twin sisters Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell of New Zealand led all the way in women's double sculls and world champions Sebastien Vieilledent and Adrien Hardy of France won men's double sculls gold.