Rowing: Brits storm back to qualify for Beijing

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Olivia Whitlam and Louisa Reeve brought the total of Britain’s boats for the Beijing Olympics to twelve in a finely judged race on the Malta rowing course in Poznan. In a four boat race in which the first two qualified, this recently-formed combination left their decisive move to the last 500 metres when, lying third, they stepped up their rating and speed to deliver the fastest finish and send the Russians into history.

The French crew led the British throughout, but Whitlam and Reeve proved that they could raise their performance where it mattered. It was a big step up from their wobbly performance at the world cup regatta in Lucerne a fortnight ago.

The quadruple scullers Sam Townsend, Charlie Cousins, Bill Lucas and Simon Fieldhouse put up a good fight for a place in Beijing that turned out to elude them. They covered the last 500 metres in the shortest time of the field, but their dash was not quite enough to catch the Slovenians who, having led all the way, were pipped on the line by the Belarussians who had clung to the Slovenian tail throughout. This was a brave performance by the British crew who were not fazed by the pressure of the occasion. Having been disrupted by injury to Alex Gregory, they were perhaps not at their best — Cousins had not raced in a quad in his life until the heat last Monday. Although Beijing is not for them, London 2012 might well be. Meanwhile, Lucas and Cousins have put down a marker for the under-23 championships next month in Brandenburg.

Eleven British boats qualified for Beijing at last year’s world championships, but the athletes who man them will not be announced until next week. Many of these compete in the final round of the world cup that begins in Poznan tomorrow.

Conspicuous by their absence, though, are the world champion women’s quad whose event was cancelled here because of insufficient entries. They are going to Marlow instead this weekend, where they will race in the men’s event where aspirants for Henley may give them the tough competition they need after finishing only third in the previous round of the cup.