Rowing: Pinsent set to pass up chance of a fifth gold

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The Independent Online

Matthew Pinsent is set to hang up his oar this week as the deadline approaches for members of the 2004 Athens Olympics rowing team to announce their intentions.

Assuming that he does so - and it is still an assumption based on signals from the four-time Olympic champion and on the attractions of a career which will not require four years hard physical graft to equal his former partner, Sir Steve Redgrave's, record of five consecutive golds - then the squad will set out on the road to Beijing without superstars for the first time in Jürgen Grobler's career, as the chief coach of either Great Britain or his previous employers, East Germany.

Only Steve Williams is likely to announce his return to the squad tomorrow from the gold medal coxless four in Athens. James Cracknell announces his year-long sabbatical today, and Ed Coode is now working at a City law firm.

Pinsent announced that he was to take his time to make up his mind immediately after he crossed the Olympic final finish line for the fourth time in his career, a hand's width in front of the Canadian pursuers. This was undoubtedly the race of his life and, mindful of the pitfall of offering himself up, as Sir Steve had done in Atlanta by inviting death by shooting if he was caught in a boat again, Pinsent has rigorously delayed his announcement through celebrity appearances and Desert Island Discs.

But the Etonian with an Oxford degree, not to mention 10 world titles to add to his four Olympic ones, is not stuck for other things to do as Redgrave was in 1996. He has written his own autobiography, is a broadcaster and newspaper columnist, a personable public speaker and panellist, a steward of the Henley Regatta, a member of the International Olympic Committee through the organisation's athletes' commission, and a candidate for the chairmanship of the British Olympic Association. He is also enjoying the company of his wife, Dee, a former rower who is a management consultant.

Cracknell is also a graduate with plenty of media and public appearance opportunities ahead of him, and he is now a family man. For him, however, rowing is obsessive and his option to sleep in of a morning is only for a year. The added attraction of the Beijing Olympiad, for most of the Athens squad, is appearing before the home crowd - something they almost never do - when the World Championships come to Eton rowing lake in 2006. A possible scenario in a year's time, therefore, is a press conference announcing a Cracknell-Pinsent pairing to try for selection in 2006. But that would depend on neither superstar allowing himself to become a lump of lard over the course of the intervening 12 months.

Four weeks ago Grobler's notebook was devoid of names, partly because he is aware of the wounds which he inflicted on psyches with his radical, but as it turned out, necessary selection changes leading up to Athens; the four was the only men's crew to reach a final. To date, however, six out of seven scullers and five members of the eight are presenting themselves at trials on 18 December.

They are expected to be joined by Alex Partridge, the man who pulled out injured from the Athens four and who is gung-ho to win in Beijing, Rick Dunn from the pair and Steve Williams from the four who have intimated that they will continue, plus spare man Kieran West, a 2000 gold medallist.

In addition, Josh West, of the eight, returns to the squad in March after completing his PhD, Tom James, of the eight, is returning to Cambridge for a year, and newly-married Toby Garbett of the pair is taking a year out.

Those who have definitely retired, apart from Coode, are Pete Gardner, of the quadruple scull, and Dan Ouseley, of the eight. So Grobler has some bricks with which to build.

The women's team, all of whom won medals in Athens, return complete, with the exception of Cath Bishop and Alison Mowbray.