Rowing: New heir to the throne of an Olympic legend

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It could be regarded as the ultimate in sporting hand-me-downs; a seat in the boat once occupied by Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. Many contenders would aspire to occupy a place in the flagship of British rowing; very few would justify that claim, and few in the manner of the Navy sub-lieutenant Peter Reed, who has enjoyed what may be described as a remarkably swift promotion through the ranks.

It could be regarded as the ultimate in sporting hand-me-downs; a seat in the boat once occupied by Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. Many contenders would aspire to occupy a place in the flagship of British rowing; very few would justify that claim, and few in the manner of the Navy sub-lieutenant Peter Reed, who has enjoyed what may be described as a remarkably swift promotion through the ranks.

It was less than a year ago that the former Oxford Blue was asked, by Britain's head coach, Jürgen Grobler, if he would deputise for Alex Partridge, who was ill, for just one training session in Matthew Pinsent's Athens four. For Reed, it was the ultimate experience. But nothing more. True, he had rowed for Britain's Under-23s and narrowly missed out on Olympic selection, but with a Navy career to pursue he assumed that those few hours' proximity to such a colossus in world rowing was as close as he would approach to senior international recognition.

Grobler, a renowned judge of raw potential, knew differently. He discerned a rare talent in the 6ft 5in oarsman. That feeling was confirmed when Reed ensured his place by winning the men's pairs event at the Great Britain senior trials with Andy Triggs-Hodge. Both had just been members of a triumphant Oxford boat in the Boat Race.

Next week, Reed, a mechanical engineer who has served on the 4,700-ton frigates HMS Sheffield and Cumberland as part of his officer training, undergoes his first serious public examination as a member of the coxless four - together with Triggs-Hodge, Steve Williams, the one surviving member of the Athens four, and Partridge, who would have been there but for a punctured lung - being prepared for Bejing 2008.

"One day after Henley last year, Alex was unavailable, and rather than Jürgen mess up the other boats he just gave me a call," recalls Reed, 23, who bears the epithet "The Commander" within the rowing fraternity. "I knew it wasn't my opportunity to stake a place, that's not what it was about; I was just filling a seat so the guys could go training, but it was nice to be considered as a sub and it was an opportunity for Jürgen to see me row.

"I was kind of nervous, I suppose, but then that's natural when you're suddenly asked to get into a boat with the best oarsman in the world."

He adds: "I was just overwhelmed with the experience. It's something to write about in your diary and to treasure. Now, a year later, I've rowed my way into the same seat. It's amazing how things work out."

For this, the first international regatta post-Athens - and the first to be held on home water for two decades - Britain does not so much boast an entry as a fleet in what is the opening World Cup event of the season. The home nation's squad at Dorney Lake, near Eton, will include 62 oarsmen and women in 25 boat categories, but there is no doubt who will be under most scrutiny in Saturday's final.

With such a distinguished legacy provided by Redgrave, who won his fifth Olympic gold in Sydney 2000 in the four, and Pinsent, who achieved his fourth in last year's renewal, that is inev-itable. It also means that there is an element of presumption about those who follow.

Such expectation could undermine those who do not possess the character to handle the experience, but Reed declares: "It's just unheard of to be top of your game in so many consecutive Olympics. But for me, what those guys achieved is massively inspirational; it's more that than pressure."

He adds: "I really hope we can deliver what everybody's hoping we can. The way the crew's worked together in the first few weeks, the potential that we have and Jürgen's feedback, has all been very encouraging. What I hope is that we can stay together, and by the time the Olympics come round be the tightest unit in the squad and an unbreakable force in the world of rowing. Everyone will know our names and what we're capable of."

Reed, born in Seattle, where his father worked for Boeing, but raised in the Cotswold town of Nailsworth, where his mother, Sue, is about to become mayor, did his officer training at Dartmouth Naval College before studying for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of the West of England. It was there that he learnt to row, and he took that experience with him to Oxford. Though he is due to recommence his Navy service in September, Reed is optimistic that he will be allowed to postpone his return until after Bejing.

"I'm still waiting for an official call to come through, but things are looking positive," he says. "They [the Navy hierarchy] are being very supportive; particularly the First Sea Lord, who has told me he is looking forward to seeing me win an Olympic gold medal in 2008.

"I wouldn't give up rowing, whatever happens; but I'd very much like to come to an understanding with the Service. I wouldn't want to stop rowing until I'm satisfied that I'm good as I can be."

The character who will induce that from him is the East German-born Grobler. "He's a very inspiring character to be around and he seems to like me as the new guy who's come along, who's very strong and very motivated," says Reed. "I've got total faith in his training. It's a winning formula. Sure, it's tough. But Jürgen's a very smart guy. He can only make me stronger. He's not going to push us through our limits. I know I'm not going to die doing his programme."

No, but he and the new British four will, no doubt, feel like they have come close to it within the next four years if they are replicate the feats of Redgrave and Pinsent who, together with Tim Foster and James Cracknell, will re-enact the Sydney final against some of their rivals in the National Lottery Legends Sprint on Saturday.

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