Banovic displays power for the hot seat

BOAT RACE COUNTDOWN: Cambridge are looking to a Croat to guide them to victory.
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The Independent Online
When Marko Banovic first thought of continuing his education as an architect in England after four years at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, Cambridge were stuck in an all-time losing streak in the Boat Race. Now he is rowing in the No 7 seat in the Light Blue crew who are favoured to win again on Saturday after two years of success.

"In 1993 I didn't know Cambridge had won or that Matt Pinsent had been in the Oxford crew,'' Banovic said. The Pinsent link is important because, in his career as an international racer for Croatia, Banovic has started knocking on the door of the famous British pair of Pinsent and Steven Redgrave. In the last World Championships he, and his partner Ninoslav Saraga, finished fifth only five and a half seconds down on the world and Olympic champions. He sees himself as belonging in the same bracket.

The Cambridge coach, Robin Williams, said: "He has an unswerving belief in himself as an athlete, and looks constantly for excellence." This praise is qualified by a slight nervous twitch as Williams goes on to explain that Banovic has a fiery temperament.

"He was not used to training in a group when he first came and that independent streak showed," he said. "But he has relaxed into the situation extremely well and those attributes are now working in our favour.''

In Croatia rowers trained in small boats in their own time with the emphasis on carefully controlled training. "When he is rowing at a low rate of strokes to the minute, at full power, the output is awesome," Williams said.

From his point of view Banovic finds that, instead of being a "man of change" as he had envisaged, he is being more intensively coached than ever before.

But, he is playing a vital role. At No 7 he has to interpret the rhythm set by the young stroke, Miles Barnett, and transfer it to rest of the the crew. Many coaches think that the seven seat is the most important in the crew for the establishment of a platform of balance and rhythm for the maximum amount of work to be applied.

Banovic has inherited an awesome role. Rhythm, which makes more speed from less work, has been the most blinding characteristic of the past two Light Blue crews. Not only were they winners but they were also two of the fastest in history.

For 1995 there have clearly been problems with finding the right blend for the considerable talent available. The international calibre quartet of Richard Phelps, Matthew Parish, Scott Brownlee and Banovic have been split up with Dirk Bangert, the German who won Blues in 1992 and 1993 before being dropped in 1994, sitting between them in the No 5 seat. Yesterday the order was still undecided with Parish moving to No 6, swapping with Brownlee who has gone back to four. It looks as if the crew is more, not less, dependent on the power of Banovic than should have been necessary.

"I find that Cambridge has an excellent programme, so I am finding that I came here not just to prove myself but I am learning to improve my rowing on the way to Atlanta." He has had little time to learn about Cambridge away from the School of Architecture and the Goldie Boathouse. "You can do three things in Cambridge: row, study and socialise, but only two at one time. So far I only looked at King's Chapel and other things when my girlfriend came for a week." She is Mariona Salvatella, a law student at Barcelona whom he met during the 1992 Olympics.

She was left to hang around college while he was training with the squad. One day when he returned she asked him what the term "Blue Tack" meant when it was not sticking paper to the wall. He explained that Blue Tack is a mildly abusive term for girls who hang around Cambridge hoping to snag a Blue for a boyfriend. She did not see the joke.

He looks forward to taking her to some May Balls - "I heard they were great" - but by then he will be in training for the World Championships against Pinsent and Redgrave again in the pairs, and working for his M Phil in environmental design.

After the Olympics, and the medal he craves, he says, "I want to live in Croatia and put back some of what I have learned while rowing in different parts of the world.'' He has plans for a tourist village on the coast which would be powered by solar cells and other forms of renewable energy and include some year-round low cost housing for the local population.

Whether his energy is renewable or comes from the sun it is palpable and at 2.30 pm on Saturday when it is unleashed over four and a half miles Oxford will need something formidable to prevent another nation being added to the sources of winning blues.

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