Rowing: Regatta embraces new talent

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The Independent Online

The National Schools Regatta in Nottingham is a showcase of where British rowing came from and where it is going. The north bank of the National Water Sports Centre was Camelot, a roll call of tents bedecked in the colours of the prominent independent schools of the land, which was bursting with partisan parents and chilled refreshments.

The roots of rowing are written large in the results of the championship eights, the men's medal winners being Pangboure, Radley and St Edward's and the women's King's School Worcester, Kingston Grammar and Headington School Oxford. All the finalists in the championship eights had a similar pedigree. And prominent on the bank was the national junior coach, Pete Sheppard, talent spotting for his junior world championship team.

No longer, however, is the future entirely in the hands of big schools. A small group of athletes in Nottingham this weekend, who had never stepped into a boat eight months ago - among them Sophie McLauchlan and Sarah Cobbold of Reading RC, won the bronze medal in the women's Junior 15 double sculls. McLauchlan also won the J15 singles yesterday. They are the first products of the Amateur Rowing Association's programme to identify talent for the 2112 Olympics.

The lottery-funded programme exists to find strong long-limbed teenagers and give them a rowing pathway to adulthood, and is now running in the Reading, Cambridge and Durham areas. Nine more centres are due to open in the next 18 months. There were athletes from all three areas competing in Nottingham, including Tom Wilkinson who won the championship quads in Henley College's crew. "They've been sent here to get experience," said Peter Shakespear, director of the scheme. "Next year will be far more exciting." The men's championships sculls was won by Zac Purchase of King's Worcester, with the women's event going to Natasha Page of Gloucester RC.

Another debut appearance was from Dan O'Connell, a sculler in the J15 event, who is the first to emerge from the Royal Docks and University of East London's talent identification programme. But new talent springs from old institutions too. Matthew Evans, who starred in Eton's J16 coxless four victory yesterday, is son of 1984 Olympic gold medallist Mark Evans.

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