Rowing: Stomach bugs and grazed ribs hinder Olympic hopefuls

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The Independent Online

Hope springs eternal at Henley until this morning when the fantasy of winning becomes the reality of losing for half of the participants in the 80 races of the first day.

Hope springs eternal at Henley until this morning when the fantasy of winning becomes the reality of losing for half of the participants in the 80 races of the first day.

Yesterday there was warmth and sunshine and sparkle on the water and a fleeting breeze to scurry the clouds as an army of workers groomed the lawns and polished the glasses, and Aegir, of Groningen, took first prize for the largest boat trailer, a monstrous "artic" that all but failed to negotiate the tight bends to the trailer park.

It will be the first time for many years that the Great Britain squad have competed at Henley in an Olympic year. The team, hoping to showcase their Athens crews this week, have suffered further blows.

The strengthening, following trials, of the quadruple scullers - yet to be confirmed for the Olympic team - by substituting Peter Wells for Stephen Rowbotham this week means that Wells' under-23 crew in the same event has been scratched, giving the senior crew a bye to the final of the Queen Mother on Sunday.

Wells' brother, Matt, and his partner, Matt Langridge, have been withdrawn from the double sculls because they are still suffering the illness which kept them out of the World Cup in Lucerne 10 days ago.

The British coxless four have not been in one piece since they came third in Lucerne in a cagey race with the Canadians and Americans. Steve Williams has had a stomach upset and Alex Partridge is suffering from grazed ribs. Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell are still standing and all have been hard at work individually in Leander Club's heavy metal gym. They hope to be out in a boat again sometime today.

Fortunately, they do not have to race until Sunday when they are in a straight final against the winners of a Cambridge University versus Melbourne and Queensland heat. The Australians are taken from last year's national eight who finished fifth in the World Championships, and are en route for this year's championships where they will take a cox on board.

The continuing saga of minor illness and injury to the British four is getting more and more frustrating. There are now less than 40 days to the Olympic regatta and they do not yet really know how fast they are.

Cracknell said yesterday that he does not even know which seat he will be rowing in on Sunday, having moved from two to bow in Lucerne as an experiment.

The rest of the British Olympic crews in the regatta are so far unaffected by illness or injury, notably the women's quadruple scullers in the Princess Grace, the pair of Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn in the Goblets, and the sculler Ian Lawson in the Diamonds.

The revised British quad, comprising Pete Gardner, Simon Cottle and Alan Cambell with the newcomer Peter Wells, are likely to meet the 2003 World Championships finalists from Ukraine in the final.

Ukraine have to survive a heat against Bantam, a club from Cincinnati who neatly illustrate the unique qualities and opportunities of Henley Royal Regatta.

Bantam comprise Harry Graves, the winner and record holder of the Ladies' Plate in 1976 with Trinity Hartford, and his sons, Peter (21), Thomas (22) and John (16).

Tom and Peter are also competing in the double sculls, having been silver medallists at the US National Championships last year, so the performance of the quad takes second place to the Hartford students' attempt for glory.

Harry was a masters champion in 2001 and looks lean and mean at 16 stone, three stone heavier than his nearest boy.

"I have always been touched by the sport," he says. "I am looking forward to shaking hands with the Ukrainians. I think we'll have to do it before the race. We are counting on the fact that the result can't be worse than a five-length defeat."