Rowing: British hopefuls launch race for Athens

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Crunch time for rowers hopeful of a place in the Great Britain Olympic team arrived on a dour, cold, Flemish waterscape here yesterday.

Crunch time for rowers hopeful of a place in the Great Britain Olympic team arrived on a dour, cold, Flemish waterscape here yesterday.

Ninety scullers and pairs drawn from the men's, women's, lightweight and under-23 squads were put through a 1,900m time trial plus a 2,000m programme of semi-finals to qualify for today's finals. Some, inevitably, finished up where they didn't want to be.

With 14 Athens seats in men's open rowing events, in theory the top-seven pairs have the best chance. Only six get to the final, and the theoretical top pair of Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell were missing after Pinsent had to pull out of the event with a bout of tonsillitis. Pairs from last year's bronze-medal eight - Alex Partridge with Andy Hodge and Tom James with Jonno Devlin - won two of the three semi-finals, from each of which two qualified for the final. Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn from last year's silver medal four won the third.

Oxford's Peter Reed and Dave Livingston stole into the final by beating Robin Bourne-Taylor and Phil Simmons, also from the eight. Ed Coode and Olympic gold medallist Kieran West were relegated to the B final by Tom Stallard and Dan Ousely. Steve Williams and Josh West, currently in a four with Pinsent and Cracknell, qualified in second place behind James and Devlin.

Cracknell was put in the single sculls and finished second in the time trial before being denied a place in the final today when he was beaten into third place by Matt Langridge and Alan Campbell in the second semi-final.

Matthew Wells and Ian Lawson, fifth in the double sculls at the World Championships in Milan last year, finished first and 11th respectively in the time trial. Wells went on to win the first of three semi-finals, but Lawson was well beaten for the second time in the third semi, having led at halfway. Molesey's Stephen Rowbotham stormed through to win the race, with Pete Gardner in second place.

The women's single sculls also produced testing times for those looking to select crews. Last year the double scullers Rebecca Romero and Debbie Flood and quadruple scullers Alison Mowbray, Elise Laverick, Sarah Winckless and Frances Houghton both finished fourth at the World Championships.

Houghton emerged yesterday as the runaway best single sculler, winning the time trial by three seconds over Romero, with the others holding the next four places. Houghton then won her semi-final comfortably with Mowbray and Laverick behind her, and Flood, after being sixth in the time trial, won the other in the fastest time ahead of Romero and Winckless.

These two boats have qualified for the Olympics, so the question, even after today's final, is which combination can make at least one of them go faster? Alex Beever, last year's single sculler in the team, missed the final.

Meanwhile, Kath Grainger and Cath Bishop, world champions in pairs, completely dominated their event.

There was food for thought among the lightweights pair when Nick English's illness caused his pairs partner Tim Male to race in the single. Male's time was quicker than everyone in the official time trial for singles.

GREAT BRITAIN TEAM TRIALS (Hazewinkel, Bel) Qualifiers for today's finals: MEN: Single sculls: Semi-final 1: 1 M Wells (UL) 7min 15.64sec; 2 S Cottle (Leander) 7:18.14. Semi-final 2: 1 M Langridge (Leander) 7:10.63; 2 A Cambell (Tideway Scullers) 7:11.72. Semi-final 3: 1 S Rowbotham (Molesey) 7:17.60; 2 P Gerdner (Leander) 7:21.88. Pairs: Semi-final 1: 1 A Partridge and A Hodge (Molesey) 6min 51.53sec; 2 P Reed and D Livingston (Oxford University) 6:54.12. Semi-final 2: 1 T Garbett and R Dunn (Leander) 6:53.31; 2 T Stallard (Broxbourne) and D Ouseley (Imperial College) 6:55.73. Semi-final 3: 1 T James (Cambridge University) and J Devlin (Oxford Brookes University) 6:54.64; 2 S Williams and J West (Leander) 6:48.75. Lightweight single sculls: Semi-final 1: 1 H Mackwsorth-Praed (Leander) 7min 26.02sec; 2 R Chisholm (Tideway Scullers) 7:28.09. Semi-final 2: 1 R Hunter (Leander) 7:27.03; 2 N Wakefield (Leander) 7:27.64. Semi-final 3: 1 J Stephenson (Molesey) 7:23.38; 2 R Hoskins (Tideway Scullers) 7:24.93. WOMEN: Single sculls: Semi-final 1: 1 F Houghton (University of London) 7min 59.50sec; 2 A Mowbray (Leander) 7:59.50; 3 E Laverick (Thames) 8:08.90. Semi-final 2: 1 D Flood (Leander) 7:52.12; 2 R Romero (Leander) 7:53.98; 3 S Winckless (Walbrook and Royal Canoe) 7:54.01. Pairs: Semi-final 1: 1 B Gough (Notts County) and R Carslake (Leander) 7min 35.08sec; 2 A Knowles and B Rodford (Thames) 7:39.56; 3 N Howard and K Stewart (University of London) 7:42.30. Semi-final 2: 1 K Grainger (St Andrew) and C Bishop (Marlow) 7:28.88; 2 L Crichton and J Eddie (University of London) 7:35.30; 3 L Rowbotham and K Hewitt (Kingston) 7:38.23. Lightweight single sculls: Semi-final 1: 1 T Langlands (Leander) 8min 17.96sec; 2 L Norris (Mortlake and Anglian) 8:20.11; 3 L Ralston (University of London) 8:22.24. Semi-final 2: 1 J Hammond (Kingston) 8:18.17; 2 H Casey (Wallingford) 8:18.96; 3 L Greenhalgh (Wallingford) 8:20.06.