Rowing: Hammond pulls ahead for gold in single sculls

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The Independent Online

When the first final of the first round of the World Cup got under way on Saturday, the single sculler Jo Hammond put a smile on the face of David Tanner, Britain's international rowing manager, as the newest member of the lightweight women's squad became a discovery after barely two minutes when she took the lead in her race.

Hammond had never competed in this event before, but went on to hold off a strong challenge from Sinead Jennings of Ireland for the gold medal. A pity, then, that she earned no World Cup points for Great Britain because her event is not an Olympic one. But the veterinary student put down a marker for the lightweight double scull, which is.

Later, Tanner's smile evaporated after the relatively poor performance of James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent in the pairs. These two always like to start a new season where they left off, at the front. They ended last year with a world's best time win at the world championships, and started in Milan by winning their heat and semi-final.

But they were beaten in the final by two crews whom they had beaten in the semi, the 2002 world bronze medallists Niksa and Sinisa Skelin, of Croatia, and the Italian pair Giussepe de Vita and Dario Lari. Last year's world silver medallists, Ramon di Clemente and Donovan Cech of South Africa, came fourth. Pinsent's assessment of "not a particularly good day at the office" said it all, and he did not reach for excuses, such as a new boat only recently launched or new oars acquired after the old ones had been damaged.

It was the Australians Drew Ginn and James Tomkins who first undid Cracknell and Pinsent when they crushed them in the final round of last year's World Cup. They have yet to emerge on the international scene this year, and have been beaten at least once back home in Melbourne. Winning pairs races is no longer a foregone conclusion for the British Olympians.

The British coxless four's third place was also a disappointment, and gives their main rivals, the Germans, a 2-0 advantage after the first regatta of the season. But from the start of the 2001 campaign this event has been hair-splittingly close, and again excuses were not being sought.

The British four are in a new seating order and they will clearly have to do something about the first 500 metres of their race strategy. What they will never do again is carelessly stop rowing two strokes before the line, as they did in this final, giving the Italians second place.

More than 40 countries took part in this regatta, an unprecedented number in the first round of the cup and a contributory factor in giving Great Britain food for thought. The best British performance was by Cath Bishop and Kath Grainger, who were second in the pairs, three weeks after Bishop went part-time at the Foreign Office to come out of retirement. The other British pair, Bev Gough and Ros Carslake, finished fifth.

Ian Lawson surpassed himself by finished fourth in the single sculls in a world-class event, won by the world champion Marcel Hacker.

The double scullers Rebecca Romero and Debbie Flood were fifth in a tight field, Elise Laverick was fifth in the women's singles, and the lightweight double scullers Helen Casey and Tracy Langlands finished sixth.

Neither of the men's lightweight crews in Olympic boats reached the top six, but both entries in the non-Olympic events did. The single sculler Nick Wakefield did well to beat the world record holder Martin Nielsen of Denmark, even though he finished outside the medals, while the new combination of Mike Hennessy and John Warnock were fourth in the pairs.

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