Pinsent and Cracknell stay in control

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The Independent Online

Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell did a practice run for two World Championship finals yesterday, after making sure of a double appearance tomorrow afternoon. Following victory in the semi-finals of the coxless pair, the British duo took a precisely-timed two-hour rest, had a massage and bite to eat, and then went out for a paddle in the coxed pairs – their second event – with steersman Neil Chugani.

Their control of the coxless pairs semi-final had been absolute, moving steadily away from the first stroke, and leading by half a length after 500 metres. During Sunday's heat Italy had hounded the British duo down the course, and this time, despite being allowed to overlap the British shell, they were given no chance to spring a surprise.

Passing the boating rafts Pinsent had the rate pegged low at 33, and the pair cruised here for two minutes, watching the race between Italy and Yugoslavia unfold just behind them. This time they were ready for Italy's sprint finish, only waiting for the right moment to strike. As the gap narrowed to half a length with a hundred metres to go, Pinsent hoisted the rate over 40 for nine strokes to ensure a clean win.

Britain's chief coach, Jürgen Grobler, was satisfied with the result, if a little less sure about the strategy. "In the final they have to bring a little bit more to the race, but it was definitely a better row than on Sunday," he said. "Now we are more optimistic."

The second pairs semi-final was won by the South Africans Ralon Di Clemente and Donovan Cech, four seconds slower and with less in hand. On paper at least, the bigger threat to the British comes from Italy, but tomorrow's final will see Pinsent and Cracknell race flat out for the first time this week, and they will grab the chance to show their true speed, which could be rather a shock to the competing pairs.

The women's pair Cath Bishop and Katherine Grainger managed to secure a place in their own A-final, picking up third in their semi-final behind Canada and World Cup winners Belarus despite a poor row.

"We were pretty disappointed with the performance", the stroke Kath Grainger said. "We didn't hit a rhythm, and were left behind. We were never able to dictate the race and had to play catch-up all the way. It's all still there though, we can get it right tomorrow. The priority was to qualify, which we've done."

The result gives the two oarswomen added pressure in the final, since the outer lane they are likely to draw makes it difficult to accurately assess their race position. Grainger remains optimistic, however: "If anything being on the outside means you can concentrate on your own race, so we'll turn that to our advantage."

Pete Gardner and Ian Lawson, racing the heavyweight men's double sculls semi-final, were outclassed from the start, and finished fifth. This leaves them the consolation prize of a row in the B final, but it is not a bad result for the two, who are not yet quite in the top level.

Today sees the last two semi-final races for British crews, the lightweight men's and women's doubles, rowing for the chance to reach Sunday's grand finals. The six other British crews in the B group have already secured their places, which with yesterday's results gives a total of eleven crews able to challenge for medals.

This includes the men's sweep team, the coxed and coxless pairs and fours, plus the men's eight. A result of at least four medals from the five crews is not out of the question.