Rowing: Searle inspires win to earn eights final place

Britain's good start to the world championships in New Zealand continued yesterday as both eights progressed straight through to Sunday's finals – taking Greg Searle one step closer to a remarkable second world title.

The 38-year-old, who won the Olympic and world titles in the coxed pairs with brother Jonny in successive years in 1992 and 1993, is back competing at his first world championships following a decade in retirement.

Searle has already stated that Britain should go into the final expecting to win, and a gold medal would be a dream end to a year back in the sport for the veteran. He said: "To become a world champion again would be phenomenal, it would be ahead of anything I expected this early on when I came back into the sport. I would be so proud if I'm able to do that and so happy to be able to do it with such a good bunch of people."

The eight, who won medals at all of the World Cups this season, knew only victory in yesterday's heat on Lake Karapiro would see them avoid the repechage, and they were relatively untroubled as they pulled away from rivals Australia over the last kilometre.

"It was a really good step for us to put together everything we've trained for, everything we've been working on," said Searle. "To go out and win your heat, you can't look for much more than that so I'm pretty happy."

Britain's women's eight needed a top-two finish to make the final and they managed that comfortably, coming home well down on reigning champions the United States but with a big lead over the Netherlands and China. Crew member Olivia Whitlam said: "It certainly woke the lungs up. For a first run down the track, it was pretty enjoyable, and I think we put a decent run down. In an eight, a length is a lot, that's a very comfortable lead."

The US will be the firm favourites for gold again while Britain should be in contention for a medal.