British pair's silver lining

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The Independent Online
STEVE REDGRAVE appears at Henley for the last time today, guaranteed another special place in the history of both the oldest regatta and the sport itself. Yesterday he and Matthew Pinsent, the world and Olympic pairs champions, demolished the course record in the Silver Goblets and Nickalls' Challenge Cup, leaving Redgrave to say: "I've just given myself another reason to retire."

Should the pair win today's final - and there is no possible reason to doubt them - Redgrave will have taken the trophy seven times, three with Pinsent. He promises no more records, but said: "We felt we could go under seven minutes, but we weren't going to go for it today.

"We thought we might have a go on the first or second days, but after that there were too many races too close together. We were settled on that, but then we sat down with our coach, Jurgen Grobler, this morning after it got cooler and the wind came up and we said: 'Let's go for it'."

Their time, on a day full of records, was an astonishing 6min 56sec, taking 13 seconds off the previous best time, set by Redgrave and Simon Beresford in 1989.

The record came against the experienced Dave Gillard and Martin Kettle, of the Queen's Tower Boat Club. Gillard is a Cambridge Blue and former winner of the Silver Goblets, and Kettle a Commonwealth Games medallist, but after only a quarter of a mile they knew the worst - Redgrave and Pinsent had already taken a one-length lead. They held on until the Barrier, but at Fawley they were three lengths beyond redemption.

But the multi-champions decided that this was the time for something special, and increased their stroke from an already impressive 36 to a fierce 41 per minute to win by a margin that by tradition had to be called "easily" but in reality was nearer a horizon.

Later, and almost as comfortably, they reached the Prince Philip Challenge Cup final as members of the Leander Club A coxed four, beating the Belfast Rowing Club by 13/4 lengths with records at the Barrier (1min 57sec) and Fawley (3min 18sec). Then, for Redgrave, it was back to the hotel, where he has been living in isolation because his whole family has mumps.

Difficult to believe, but Redgrave - three times Olympic gold medal winner, five times world champion and three times Commonwealth champion - would forfeit all of these rowing achievements for one appearance at Wembley.

Today, as he says farewell to Henley, the atmosphere will be wonderful. Wonderful, but all delicately tinged with Pimm's and pretension, when what he would love to have experienced was a Wembley football crowd's pithiness and even its profanity.

Well each to their own, and Redgrave is not complaining about Henley, which he says is as near as he will ever get to experiencing Wembley's atmosphere. If he wins the Silver Goblets final today, he might even be forgiven for breaking Henley's rigid protocol and doing a lap of honour - provided he has taken his total of Henley victories to 15.

Even Henley's unchanging audience, for whom events on the river are always only a diversion from the really important business of commitment to the social calendar, briefly and cheeringly took stock of a sporting performance that by any standards was exceptional.

Another highlight was Princeton University's tight victory over a combined London and Nottingham crew. Princeton won by three feet to become the second American crew through to the final day.