The world championships ended on a high note for the British here yesterday when the men's eight surpassed expectations by winning a bronze medal, after the team's flagship, the world's greatest pair of James Cracknell and Matthew Pinsent, had failed to reach the medal rostrum.
A year before the Olympic Games, the eight's performance and the coxless four's silver medal on Saturday are a better indicator of where the men's team are than the fourth place of Cracknell and Pinsent.
The women's pair of Katherine Grainger and Cath Bishop buoyed British fortunes when winning a sensational gold medal on Saturday, the first in this boat for a British crew.
Grainger and Bishop, united when Bishop obtained time off from the Foreign Office in May to return to rowing until the Olympics are over, left the fireworks for the second half of their race after looking to be going nowhere in the early stages. They lifted themselves from fourth to third by returning the fastest time for the third 500 metres, and capped that with a devastating last 500 metres in 1min 45sec, which took them through the Belarussians and the Romanians to the gold medal.
But in the next race Cracknell and Pinsent performed in exactly contrasting fashion when failing to pick up from the same position at halfway.
The quadruple scullers (Alison Mowbray, Sarah Winckless, Frances Houghton and Elise Laverick) missed a medal by a third of a second yesterday while the double scullers (Debbie Flood and Rebecca Romero) finished fourth. The lightweight double of Helen Casey and Tracy Langlands won the B final, giving them a ranking of seventh and putting their boat onto the Olympic start line.
For the men, the double scullers Matthew Wells and Ian Lawson performed well in finishing fifth, and the men's quadruple scullers (Simon Cottle, Pete Wells, Simon Fieldhouse and Matt Langridge), a development squad, secured an Olympic place with a ranking of ninth.
The coxless four, who have been chasing the world title-holders Germany all season, worked hard on getting their start right, and proved in their heat and semi-final that they could reach the first marker in front. In the final, though, they did not hit their rhythm until 700 metres had gone, after being left trying to get their boat straight when the "go" signal was given. When they hit their rhythm they moved like lightning to overhaul the Germans and got very close to the Canadian winners.
The lightweight sculler, Tom Kay, took silver to claim his fifth world medal after a gap of nine years while the men's coxed four narrowly missed gold in a race superbly judged by the Americans to grab the title.
BRITAIN'S ROLL OF HONOUR FROM MILAN
GOLD: Women's coxless pair: Katherine Grainger (St Andrew), Cath Bishop (Marlow).
SILVER: Men's coxless four: Steve Williams (Leander), Josh West (Cambridge University), Toby Garbett (Leander), Rick Dunn (Leander).
BRONZE: Men's eight: A Partridge (Oxford Brookes University), D Ouseley (Imperial College), J Devlin (Oxford Brookes University), A Hodge (Molesey), E Coode (Imperial College), P Simmons (Molesey), R Bourne-Taylor (Oxford University), T James (Cambridge University), cox C Cormack (Leander).
Silver: Lightweight single sculls: Tom Kay (Notts County). Coxed four: James Livingston (Cambridge University), Richard Egington (Leander), Kieran West (Kingston), Tom Stallard (University of London), cox Peter Rudge (Durham University). Women's lightweight pair: Julia Warren (Weybridge Ladies), Michelle Dollimore (Kingston).
BOATS QUALIFIED FOR OLYMPICS
Men: Pair, coxless four, eight, double scull, quadruple scull, lightweight four.
Women: Pair, double scull, quadruple scull, lightweight double scull.