Rowing: Cracknell books showdown

The showdown between the Canadian and British coxless fours, which was frustrated three weeks ago when James Cracknell fell ill on the morning of the world cup race in Munich, looks as if it will come off today. In separate semi-finals on the Rotsee yesterday, both crews led from the start and finished in almost identical times, although neither had to reach for top gear to secure victory.

The showdown between the Canadian and British coxless fours, which was frustrated three weeks ago when James Cracknell fell ill on the morning of the world cup race in Munich, looks as if it will come off today. In separate semi-finals on the Rotsee yesterday, both crews led from the start and finished in almost identical times, although neither had to reach for top gear to secure victory.

The Canadians, world champions in 2003, have a long, laid-back style characteristic of the boats coached by the former British coach Mike Spracklen. They were the first Canadian boat to be named for the Olympics in Athens.

Cracknell and his crew-mates - Steve Williams, Alex Partridge and Matthew Pinsent - are the leading British Olympic contenders, formed after trials in April but dogged until recently by a series of minor illnesses. Yesterday was their fourth race with the correct line-up, and everything points to a ravishing final.

The losers yesterday were the Germans, world bronze medallists last year, who had to scratch from the Canadian semi-final when Sebastian Thormann was ill.

Katherine Grainger and Cath Bishop qualified for the pairs final in second place behind the Romanians Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu. There is no sign yet of the sprint finish which the British engaged to win their world title last year, and after the pair spent an hour talking to their coach Paul Thompson after the race, Bishop admitted that they are not currently sparking. "We're being a little bit tested here," she said.

There are signs that Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn, who replaced Cracknell and Pinsent as the potential pair, are becoming a force to be reckoned with, but the British eight are unfortunately going backwards. They finished sixth in yesterday's repêchage, having made a substitution when Dan Ouseley became the second man to be taken poorly this week.

Six British boats reached the finals in all, including the women's quad, double scullers Elise Laverick and Sarah Winckless, and the lightweight double scullers Helen Casey and Tracy Langridge.

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