Instant fame for Cracknell and Foster

the public unveiling of the new foursome formed by Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent to take them into the next Olympics
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The Independent Online
Four men in a boat provoked a frenzied flickering of camera shutters here yesterday as they took to the water for the first time.

Two of the occupants, Steven Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, were used to the media glare, having put together a four-year unbeaten run in the coxless pairs event which earned them three world and two Olympic titles, culminating in Atlanta last summer.

For the two men sitting between them, however, Tim Foster and James Cracknell this was an introduction to a new way of life as component parts of a high-profile coxless four which will be expected to bring further world and Olympic glory to Britain in the coming years.

"I didn't really know what to expect today," said Cracknell, a 24-year- old from Sutton who is qualified as a geography teacher. "I was pretty surprised at how many people came. I think I have suddenly realised what I have got myself into."

Cracknell, it transpired yesterday, was the real reason Britain's leading rowers made a hasty exit from the Olympic village before competition got under way last summer. When he was discovered to be suffering from a debilitating virus, those with whom he was sharing accommodation - including Redgrave and Pinsent - were shipped out at short notice, a move which was said at the time to have been prompted by the chaotic Olympic transport arrangements.

"I knew I wasn't fit to compete," Cracknell said. "Walking to have lunch in the village put my pulse rate over 120. By the time I got back, all the other guys in my apartment had gone. It was like the Marie Celeste."

Now he is back in the fold - although things might have been different had he not escaped injury when writing off his be- loved ZR 1000 motorbike in Putney two months ago.

"It's not a dream come true for me yet, but hopefully it will be later on. Steve and Matthew always get it right on the big occasions, and that is where Tim and I can learn. That makes them unique in the sport, and probably British sport, because they get it right all the time. I think I will learn a lot more about them when we race. That's when I will see the psychology they have of racing under pressure."

Although both have ear-rings, Foster and Cracknell present very different appearances. Cracknell is more reserved, Foster - with a Kurt Cobain hairstyle, multi-colour laced Doc Martens and tartan trousers - is a more obviously flamboyant character.

Last month he stroked the Oxford crew which narrowly lost the Boat Race. He has completed a one-year special diploma in social studies. Cracknell, sitting beside him, smiles at this point, and suggests that socialising rather than social studies was the core component.

Foster acknowledged that there were some potential difficulties in working with household names. "It's always going to be Steve and Matthew in a four," he said. "That's part of the deal. It's something that could become a contentious issue if you let it. But if you get on top of it and understand it, we all know we have an equal part to play."

After trials in the winter, this final group of four should have got into racing mode within the last fortnight at a training camp in Belgium - but Redgrave could not go because he required an emergency appendix operation two weeks ago. Thus it was that yesterday's outing on the Thames for the benefit of the trailing press launch and photographers gathered like expectant ducks on the bank was the first for Britain's fab foursome.

The four-times Olympic champion did admit that he had found it hard to return to training after taking a four-month post-Olympic break. "Half- way through my first endurance circuit, I thought to myself, 'What the hell am I doing here?' " But overall, I think the break has given me new vigour."

It may come as a surprise to those who have followed Redgrave's prodigious career that he did not perform the operation himself with the aid of a mirror, knife and medical textbook. "The consultant said I was not supposed to do anything for three weeks," he said.

Advice which, by and large, he has followed - if you discount the cycling he did earlier this week, and the weight training session he had undertaken early yesterday morning. And of course, going out in a boat. And of course, the previous day's golf game against Pinsent.

"I gave him a thrashing yesterday," Pinsent announced, his cherubic face breaking into another broad grin. The thought occurred that he was speaking of a man who had undergone surgery only a fortnight earlier. Then again, this is no ordinary man.

The joshing, the camaraderie is building already. It is underpinned by the knowledge that each of these men would spit blood for the common cause. Even though Redgrave is unlikely to be fully fit, their first race - at the World Cup event in Munich on 31 May to1 June - will be something to see.