Australians pose only threat

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The Independent Online
There is some argument about exactly how many races Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent have won in their coxless pair, but if the most successful duet in world rowing history should crumble today the records will be worth nothing.

The pair and their coach, the former East German Jurgen Grobler, have prepared as thoroughly as possible. For four years they have let not one crew beat them. As Pinsent said shortly after they had won in Barcelona: "We want to whop them in every race so that there's no one in the next Olympic final who thinks he can do it."

The only gap in this armour is the Australian pair of David Weightman and Rob Scott, who have the inestimable advantage of never having raced the British. Australia, uniquely among the other strong rowing nations, made its pair the first choice boat from the trials. Weightman and Scott fear no one and have had to overcome the 1995 silver medallists to get here.

In today's race there will be several hares and Redgrave and Pinsent may not reach the front until the last quarter, when the Australians will also expect to produce a fierce sprint.

Such is their concentration that the British pair have fallen almost completely silent in the past two days, with little to say even to their families or team colleagues.

The British men's coxless four, in contrast, remain outwardly relaxed, with no clear favourite in their event and everything to race for. They carry no excess baggage of expectations, having finished last in the final in Lucerne. But they have the secret, if unreliable, weapon in the No 3 seat of Greg Searle, who has the reputation as the strongest oarsmen in the world. That allied to the near genius of Tim Foster at stroke makes the British the four most likely to put together the record-breaking performance that will be needed to win a second Olympic gold for the Searles.

Guin Batten, in her first singles sculls final, has made the top group in only her fourth season as a sculler and may well be left out of the medals chase.

In yesterday's two semi-finals both of Britain's lightweght men's crews went out. The double scull of Nick Strange and Andy Sinton had looked good qualifying for the Olympics in Lucerne, but were never in medal contention here.

The light four have never looked right, and finished seven seconds off the pace. Once the only natural stroke man in the group, Toby Hessian, injured his back in heavyweight training, there was no one to lift them out of the ordinary.