BRITAIN'S lightweight fours crew admitted they experienced pain like never before as they claimed a silver medal in a last-gasp thriller.

Just 32 hundredths of a second separated the first three crews as the British quartet of Peter and Richard Chambers, Rob Williams and Chris Bartley secured the hosts' third rowing medal of the Games.

After finding themselves in third position at the halfway stage, the British team dug deep to overhaul Australia and Denmark ahead of the final 200m.

But they were unable to hold off a stirring finish from the South African crew, who claimed their nation's first rowing gold by 25 hundredths of a second.

“I don't remember that much about the final 250m to be honest,” said Bartley. “We were so determined to come away with a medal and when you are in that position, you will literally do anything to get there.

“The pain is so extreme. It took me a little while to compose myself after the race and I was sick quite a few times. There's nothing really to compare it with until you've actually experienced it, but looking back now it was certainly worthwhile.”

There was a period at around the 300m mark when it looked like Britain would claim gold, but even though they were unable to hold on in a desperately close finish, the foursome were determined to view the race as a silver medal gained rather than a gold medal spurned.

“It's definitely something that has to be celebrated,” said Richard Chambers. “A British lightweight four just came away with an Olympic silver medal, so that's definitely something to celebrate.

“We were beaten by some outstanding athletes and, for us, to be coming away with a silver medal is a great honour.”

Immediately after the race, Peter Chambers questioned whether Britain's lane draw should have been switched. The prevailing wind meant it was an advantage to be in a high lane, but even though they were the fastest qualifiers, Britain were forced to race in lane three. However, once the dust had settled, he was much more phlegmatic.

“Rowing is an outdoor sport and there's nothing we could have done about something like that,” he said. “We're delighted with the result.”

The final of the lightweight four was not the only close finish of the day, as Britain's coxed four edged a thrilling semi-final battle with Australia that is likely to be a precursor to tomorrow's final.

The four is the flagship event of the regatta, and the British team of Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James and Andrew Triggs-Hodge laid down a powerful marker by rowing through Australia to win by a little over a second.

“It's always nice to win, but it's only a semi-final,” said Triggs-Hodge. “I've seen plenty of people overturn semi-final results. We have to back it up in the final now. We've got a day to recover from that last race and make that final step.”

Beijing gold medallists Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter also qualified for their final in the lightweight men's double sculls, and their victory meant that Britain secured a remarkable clean sweep of qualifying for the 13 finals in which they entered boats.

In an event as competitive as the Olympics, not to have a single boat exiting at the heat or semi-final stage is quite some achievement.

Sadly, there was disappointment in the opening final of the day as Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend could only finish fifth in the double sculls despite being placed second at the opening time check.