A single life for Searle

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Wimbledon may have suffered with persistent rain throughout the tournament, but another British sporting institution, the Henley Royal Regatta, enjoyed perfect sunshine and produced some stirring racing and top quality contenders for today's finals.

In the Grand Challenge Cup, the British and Australian national eights met in the semi- final with the Australians having the psychological advantage of an easy victory in Paris two weeks ago.

Both crews had to make last-minute changes with the World Championship silver medalist Richard Wearne dropping out of the Australian crew to be replaced by Nick Macdonald Crowley. The British crew lost their stroke Pete Wilson to glandular fever and he was replaced by the lightweight silver medalist Niall Gardam.

Australia were quicker off the start and pulled away to a one length lead at Fawley and, despite some severe pressure in the middle stages of the race, they finished one and a quarter lengths clear in a fast time of 6min 5sec.

In the Ladies' Plate, the second event for eights, Nottinghamshire County and Oxford Brookes University had combined to enter two crews, one open and one lightweight. The Nottinghamshire coach, Len Robertson, was full of admiration for his lightweight crew before the race: "They are fresh air blowing through lightweight rowing. They are blind to fear, and don't care who they line up against."

The lightweights, hungry for international selection, started faster than the open crew and built up a three-quarter length lead by halfway on the less favoured Bucks side of the course. They withheld a sustained attack from their heavier club mates and held out to win by one and a quarter lengths in 6min 8sec.

In the other half of the draw, the University of Washington overpowered the Oxford Boat Race crew, who had two substitutes and were racing as Isis. Today's final will be a perfect contrast of guile and brawn.

The semi-finals of the Diamond Sculls produced two British winners, Greg Searle and Peter Haining. Searle was facing a man much like himself in the United States sculler Jamie Coven. Both men have had great careers as champion oarsmen in crews and have now been seduced by the glint of gladiatorial steel required for the single scull.

The race was certain to be close, with a small majority expecting Coven to shade it. But Searle grasped his chance by taking a small lead off the start which he had increased to one and a third lengths by Fawley. Thereafter, Coven raised his stroke rate and attacked repeatedly but Searle held enough in reserve to push away to win a fine race by one and a quarter lengths in a time 20 seconds faster than Haining in the other semi-final.

Haining has defied his critics and the virus which has devastated his summer to reach a final that seemed far out of reach only two weeks ago when he failed to finish in Paris. Yesterday, he used his vast experience to stay just out of reach of the Dutchman Matthijs van der Schoot.

In the Princess Elizabeth Cup for Schools, Canford, who have never competed in the final before, continued to surprise. They have progressively knocked out the ranked school crews and yesterday it was the turn of Westminster. Canford never allowed their opponents to take more than half a length in a vigorous fight which saw the surprise package of the schools competition win by a length. Today they will meet St Paul's who showed no mercy beating Shrewsbury by two lengths.