Rowing: Pinsent and Cracknell brassed off with bronze

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The Independent Online

James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent mounted the medal podium as usual at the end of their first regatta of the season. Unusually, however, the metal was bronze after a pairs final which slipped away from them. They were beaten by two of the crews whom they defeated in the semi-final, the Croatian brothers Niksa and Sinisa Skelin and Italy's Giuseppe de Vita and Dario Lari.

"Not a particularly good day at the office," Pinsent said. "We have to tease out the good news. The heat and semi-final were positive, but in the final we got horribly exposed."

Their result was disappointing after they finished last season on a high of winning the world championships in Seville in a record time. "We had a decent row," was all that Cracknell said yesterday. All the medallists from Seville were present in Milan, and the British may have lost the plot slightly by worrying about the silver medallists, Ramon di Clemente and Donovan Cech of South Africa, who were on one side of them and whom they had not raced in the preliminary stages.

If for nothing else, this regatta is important because the Idroscalo course is the venue for the world championships in August, which count as a qualifying regatta for next year's Olympic Games. So all these pairs will be back, plus the Australians Drew Ginn and Jimmy Tomkins, who upset the applecart in the final round of last year's world cup series when they toppled Cracknell and Pinsent for the first time. The British turned the tables seven weeks later in Seville, but this struggle will not be settled until the Olympic regatta in August 2004.

The British team's overall achievement here was modest among entries from 46 countries. Eight crews took part in finals of Olympic events and 28 points were amassed in the cup. The best World Cup result was silver to Cath Bishop, who returned to the squad three weeks ago, and Kath Grainger in the women's pairs. They last competed together two years ago and "came back to finish off what we didn't achieve in 2001", Grainger said. They were second to the seasoned Romanians Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu.

The men's coxless four moved like an express over the second half of the course to put themselves in second position, only to stop rowing two strokes before the line and allow the Italians through to raise the home crowd to its feet. Germany were first, the same crew who have diced with the British for two years already, each of them earning world gold and silver medals. Rick Dunn, the stroke, said: "We haven't hit our rhythm and form here."

Ian Lawson was a late entry in the single sculls after his doubles partner, Matt Wells, pulled out with a cold. He found himself in an all-star final and finished fourth. The world champion, Marcel Hacker of Germany, came through the Slovenian Iztok Cop to take the gold, with the other Slovenian, Luka Spik, third.

The find of the regatta from a British perspective was Jo Hammond, winner of the women's lightweight single sculls, an event outside the World Cup. A veterinary student at Cambridge, she has only been rowing for two years and received six weeks' fast-track sculling coaching after she pulled a huge score on the ergometer and finished third in trials. "This was my first time in the single scull, so I was really surprised to be ahead at 500 metres. Normally I'm not very fast off the start, but I got a better start than usual here. Then it was just a case of hanging on at the finish," she said.