Cracknell and Pinsent crank up the effort

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The Independent Online

Eleven months after Sydney Britain's rowing team will compete at the annual World Championships, in Switzerland next week, determined to defend national honour. For those unused to following "marginal" sports, rowing is one of the British success stories – we can even beat the Australians, Americans, Germans and French (more often than not, in fact). Three crews won medals in Sydney, and nine of those medallists are back, while plenty of new faces make their debut. The squad putting the finishing touches to their preparations on Lake Rotsee in Lucerne contains several excellent medal prospects despite strong competition.

Eleven months after Sydney Britain's rowing team will compete at the annual World Championships, in Switzerland next week, determined to defend national honour. For those unused to following "marginal" sports, rowing is one of the British success stories – we can even beat the Australians, Americans, Germans and French (more often than not, in fact). Three crews won medals in Sydney, and nine of those medallists are back, while plenty of new faces make their debut. The squad putting the finishing touches to their preparations on Lake Rotsee in Lucerne contains several excellent medal prospects despite strong competition.

Starting tomorrow, 17 British crews race, in two groups of events. Group A row preliminary heats on Sunday, with repêchages on Tuesday, semi-finals on Thursday and finals on the following Saturday. Group B events follow the same pattern on alternate days. The first rounds can be crucial: a win on day one gives crews an easier route to the podium by earning a reprieve from the extra repêchage race and another useful day off from racing.

The flagship British crew is, to nobody's surprise, the men's pair of James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent, who have been dominant all season since their victory at the British trials in April. Scenting a lack of competitive challenge at earlier international regattas, they recently decided to raise the stakes, entering the coxed as well as coxless pair. This more than doubles the effort, since both events take place in Group A, just a couple of hours apart. If the oarsmen, or the coxswain, Neil Chugani, slip up, their customary aura of effortless superiority could be damaged, but the duo are highly confident.

Also doubling up are four oarswomen. Katherine Grainger and Cath Bishop in the women's coxless pair are also confident of their medal prospects, while Debbie Flood and Frances Houghton have been steadily successful in the double scull all season, although the competition is tighter here. Both crews emerged as World Cup champions after the four-regatta series earlier in the summer, and the quartet will be busy at the championships, joining five other members of the squad including Guin Batten to race in the women's eight on alternate days.

The men's eight are officially defending champions, following their superb Sydney win. Despite a rocky season, ending with injury taking the Olympian Kieran West out of the crew a fortnight ago, they have medal potential, and will be seen as a serious threat. As with some of the less experienced crews, racing the repêchage could be their preferred route to the finals, giving more practice under pressure, especially against an in-form Croatia.

The new men's coxless four has evolved and now settled into a quick, confident combination. Anchored by the rock-solid Ed Coode, their new strokeman Ric Dunn lays down a useful rhythm, and crewmates Steve Williams and Toby Garbett from last year's champion coxed four complete the line-up. A win here would give Britain five in a row, but it is a competitive category with several new crews. The sculling squads are less likely to dominate the headlines: Matthew Wells is a strong single sculler, but a medal is probably out of his reach in a top-class field, while the women's quad might fare better.

The lightweight squads have several crews in the hunt, including the men's lightweight eight and coxless pair, who were both runners-up last year. Tim Male and Tom Middleton in the light men's double scull face the Olympic and world champions, Poland in a very strong field. The women's, lightweight pair, Sarah Birch and Jo Nitsch, race a straight final, but should come away with metalware.

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