Rowing: Oxbridge pairs strengthen claim for Olympic team place

The coxless pairs provided the best result for Britain at the first international meeting of the season here yesterday with second and third place from Cambridge and Oxford respectively.

The coxless pairs provided the best result for Britain at the first international meeting of the season here yesterday with second and third place from Cambridge and Oxford respectively.

The light blues Tom James and James Livingston and the dark blues Robin Bourne-Taylor and Basil Dixon, all veterans of last month's close Boat Race, are exactly the kind of young oarsmen that chief coach Jürgen Grobler is keen to recruit to underpin the experienced talent that spearheads his Olympic squad.

Grobler made it clear recently that selection for the Olympic team does not close until a few weeks before the Games in 2004, despite the no-go area presently occupied by James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent in the pair and the four of Josh West, Toby Garbett, Steve Williams and Rick Dunn.

The Cambridge and Oxford pairs' result was an improvement by two places on Saturday's regatta. They are among 14 from whom an eight and a four will be selected for the world cup regatta at Munich in five weeks' time, the first step in building an eight to defend the Olympic title next year.

Also among the 14 is Ed Coode, world champion in fours in 1999 and finalist in the pair at Sydney 2000. With Jonno Devlin, Dan Ouseley and Andrew Hodge he finished fourth on both days, a welcome return to competition for Coode who has spent a year out with injury. The result, however, is nothing to boast about. Not only were the famous Danish lightweights ahead of them, but they were off the winning Germans' pace by 10 seconds on Saturday and six seconds yesterday. If an eight is to achieve lift-off, it will need more life in the engine room.

That result virtually ensures this four's inclusion in the eight's maiden voyage of the season at the Munich world cup. Phil Simmons and Alex Partridge, two members of the second four which failed to reach the finals here, are also assured of places in the eight.

The others in contention for the remaining two seats are Henry Adams and Joe von Maltzahn from the second four and the Olympic champions Steve Trapmore and Kieran West who did not start in Essen because Trapmore has a back injury. Those who do not get into the eight or the four in this week's trials have a chance going to the world cup in a pair.

Grobler's also harbours a long-term aim to improve Britain's sculling performance – the rowers who use two oars each. The toe in the water for a long shot at Olympic qualification for a quadruple made a significant ripple yesterday when the newly-formed Richard Ockendon, Matt Langridge, Peter Wells and Simon Fieldhouse were third in the final after a close finish with the Dutch runners-up.

Simon Cottle did well to finish third in the single sculls behind the world champion Marcel Hacker and the Frenchman Frédéric Kowal.

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