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The pain and sacrifice behind Britain's dominance of rowing in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Britain may rule the waves on Rio's choppy rowing course, but the nation's dominance of yet another Olympic regatta has been built on tales of sacrifice and the power of mental strength over physical pain.

Following Friday's pair of golds, Great Britain would claim another brace of medals in the space of half an hour on the final day of racing at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.

First the women's eight won silver -- their first ever medal in that class -- before their male counterparts led from start to finish to win their first gold since 2000. It was a ruthless display of British power with those two medals sitting alongside the other three GB have won on these Brazilian waves.

For four of the women's eight, plus cox Zoe de Toledo, it was their first Olympics. At the other end of the experience scale was Frances Houghton, appearing in her fifth Games. She will be the self-appointed steward for celebrations Saturday night, and her medal -- which sits alongside silvers in 2004 and 2008 -- capped a remarkable sporting journey.

"I've got so many memories I am really proud of," Houghton said. "This time I am so proud of my crew. I'm really proud of what we put together as nine girls.

"I'm so proud of all the girls since 1997. Our first medal in the world championships in the eight was 1997 and so many girls have put into what you saw today. I am really proud. I am so lucky and privileged to have this experience in a sport I love."

Standing in the crowd and willing her on were her mother and fiancee, carrying the flag her late father Robin took to Frances' races.

"With my dad passing away during the racing season in May, it was really hard," Houghton said. "But it was also something that gave me great strength. He really helped me get through the hard times in rowing. And we were really under pressure, and there were lots of trials going on at the time.

"But it made me know for sure that I wanted to be rowing. I could have walked away from it and said, 'No, this is more important'. But he really wanted me to be rowing.

"He passed away maybe six days before I was selected for the fifth Games. I think he knew that I had done enough. The girls have just been incredible. When I was rowing, it was just all about rowing and I was so lucky to have the rowing to get me through that, and my dad to get me through the rowing."

As the women went about their post-race media duties, some cried, some let out their emotion through screams and shouts of celebrations, and all embraced. Then the men's eight stormed to victory behind them on the Lagoa.

Cue an immediate return to scenes of British pride and celebration, rivaling the patriotic outpourings of the Last Night of the Proms.

But there was no pomp and circumstance about the way the men executed their race. They ignored the opposition and focused on the job in hand, their collective thousand-mile stare married with the agonizing pain engulfing their bodies.

Afterwards the rowers struggled to relay their emotions. It was too fresh, but there was a clarity behind their message: This was an effort built on sacrifice, focus and teamwork.

"The fact that we've done it three years on the trot in the world championships meant we were there to be shot down," Will Satch said. "And having the confidence to go out there and do it over and over again -- we haven't had the best year, but that was the strongest eight we could have put out.

"It's awesome, heroic."

Rio was Pete Reed's third Olympic gold, following on from triumphs in the coxswainless four at 2008 and 2012. He was reluctant to compare one to another -- unsure whether he will continue to Tokyo 2020 -- but as he weighed up the sacrifices made, it felt like a stream of consciousness as his achievement sunk in.

"I've been sacrificing things for a very long time," he said "I've sacrificed my career in the navy, I've sacrificed relationships, time with family, my dogs and seeing my friends. I'm so sorry to my friends for not seeing them enough and I'm so sorry to my family to for not seeing them enough. But you ask yourself -- is it worth it?

"That's what I had to go through in the middle of this Olympiad. I won in London ... What did I have to prove? Who did I have to prove it to? But you go through these tough times and with the help of [coach] Jurgen [Grobler], Hodgey [Andrew Triggs Hodge] and the crew's support."

"This is the greatest sport, it's the greatest feeling. Even the sacrifices are worth it." Pete Reed

But above all the personal stories, incredible tales of bravery, sacrifice and determination, there was a clear message to the watching public. Britain's incredible power in the rowing, despite some disappointments on the water earlier in the week, is still there.

And the general hope is that others will have seen this and will want to become the next Grainger, Thornley, Stanning, Glover, Sbihi, Louloudis, Gregory, Nash, Greves, Wilson, Houghton, Swann, Eddie, Carnegie-Brown, Bennett, Lee, De Toledo, Bennett, Durant, Gotrel, Triggs Hodge, Langridge, Ransley, Reed, Satch and Hill.

"It's times like these that you just think you could do this forever," Reed said. "This is the greatest sport, it's the greatest feeling. Even the sacrifices are worth it. When you think it's too much, when you think you can't do anymore.

"Those youngsters out there today watching Hodgey, watching me, watching Katherine two days ago, Helen and Heather, and whoever they look up to in the British team -- they will be going through as well.

"[They'll think] Blisters hurt, I can't do this for studying, I can't do this because of a job --but just find your inner strength, find time to balance everything because it's the greatest sport in the world."