Blistered Redgrave aims for Henley target

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Henley Royal Regatta will start in style today as the Olympic hero James Cracknell joins the television presenter Sharron Davies on the riverbank at the Leander Club to help launch a new kit deal between the British swimming team and an Italian swimwear manufacturer.

Cracknell's muscular body has been rather in demand of late, with a recent photo feature with his crewmate Tim Foster in a women's magazine leaving readers in no doubt that he has been training hard.

Meanwhile, the riverbank gossips are chattering over the news that Sir Steven Redgrave has been recruited into the Leander quadruple scull for the Queen Mother Challenge Cup. The invitation came after he decided to row in the GB v Italy Masters Supersprint two weeks ago in Florence. Despite minimal preparation, Redgrave won his races against Italy's Agostino Abbagnale.

"I thought I'd just turn up on the day and see what happened", he recalled, displaying hands covered in blisters. "I didn't think I stood a chance, but I beat him and he wasn't at all happy about that. From there I got an offer to race at Henley in the quad."

A tempting offer too, since Redgrave's record at Henley currently stands at a mere 19 wins. Victory this weekend would give him a nice round 20.

Like the Queen Mother event, most of the small-boat categories start late in the week, so the likes of Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, favourites in the Silver Goblets coxless pairs, will not be on display until tomorrow. Also beginning their Henley challenge then are Matthew Wells, Tim Foster and Guin Batten in the single sculls. Wells is selected for the men's Diamonds event and should be an act to watch, while Foster, knee injury clearly well on the mend, displayed a dazzling turn of speed on Monday at the Hampton Court Supersprint.

Batten faces a tougher challenge in the Princess Royal Challenge Cup with the entry of the Olympic medallists Ekaterina Karsten and Katrin Rutchow, who both have beaten her comfortably this year.

The British men's eight is staying away from Henley, leaving the premier Grand Challenge Cup open to Croatia or Australia.

Britain's women defend national honour in the Henley Prize, the Nautilus eight comprising the women's double, coxless pair and half of the eight who raced in Seville.