Rowing: All aboard the Bateman 'Red Express'

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The Independent Online

Anywhere but Henley... The chap sashaying over the Thames bridge in the light pink blazer and white slacks may just have received a double-take.

Here, for five days, where tradition stretches back 171 years, he is a model of convention in a surreal world where sporting excellence meets extraordinary fashion statements. Elitist, some snipe, but in truth only on the water. Many members of the Great Britain squad are participating in an event which this year has attracted no fewer than 116 international crews, in preparation for November's World Championships in New Zealand.

Sir Steve Redgrave once described Henley as rowers' equivalent of performing in a football ground. GB sculler Marcus Bateman, who has won the double sculls with Matt Wells at two World Cups already this year and is bidding for a hat-trick in Lucerne this month, agrees. "The crowd is so close, you're worried you'll hit someone with your oar. But it's electrifying, a great feeling when you're rowing flat out."

Bermuda-born – though Torquay-raised – Bateman, 27, and Bradford-born Wells, 31, winner of a bronze in the double at Beijing, are both ginger-haired and duly acquired the epithet "The Red Express". Their progress has acquired remarkable velocity in just two months together. This week they have been contesting the Double Sculls Challenge Cup.

Originally Bateman's forte was 800m running. Then in 2004, on a placement at Lehigh University in the US, he did a fun run at Thanksgiving. "By chance, the rowing coach had organised it and he asked me to give his sport a try," he says. "We went to a training camp in Miami. There were dolphins out in the bay, we'd be rowing along and sometimes they'd pick us up. It was a great experience, and I was hooked."

His potential was again recognised back home, when he came to prominence under GB rowing's Start talent- spotting scheme.He just missed out on Beijing but says: "I always knew I had the right build, and the engine. I just had to unlock that on the water.

"That's been helped by the hotbed of competition between the scullers in-house [the single, double and quad all train together]. Every session, every race, we're looking to beat the guy beside us." And with 2012 in mind, he promises: "There's a lot more to come."