British crews excelled themselves today, on the first day that the start of the 2000 metre Shunyi rowing course has been visible from the other end.
There was a cracking performance by the men's eight to land themselves in Sunday's final. Alan Campbell sculled a clever, strategic quarter-final to ensure his place in Wednesday's semi-finals. The double scullers Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington won their repechage and a lane in Sunday's final. The women's eight rowed with fighting spirit to finish two seconds behind the favourites, USA, and should come through Wednesday's repechage.
The only crew on the dark side is Robin Bourne-Taylor and Tom Solesbury, doomed to an uncomfortable pairing once they lost their seats in the eight during summer's seat shuffling. They failed in the repechage and go to the C final for places 13-18.
The men's eight were pitched against the Germans, the Chinese and the Americans who are defending Olympic champions. They did a fabulous job, dropping the Germans off the start, squeezing into the lead in the second quarter of the race and continuing to step it up. Cox Acer Nethercott said: “The guys rowed a really disciplined race and stayed focussed in our boat.” Canada, current world champions, won the other heat in a dramatic race when the Australian boat, lying second after 500 metres, jammed its rudder and veered into the Dutch lane. They had to stop and paddle the boat home, but qualified for a repechage by finishing the course.
Nethercott and his crewmates are under no illusions about the final. “This is the first time the Americans have raced, so it would be very foolish to think that this is all they've got. They are not Olympic champions for nothing,” he said. “The Canadians will be the challenge on Sunday without a shadow of a doubt.”
The women's eight gave the Americans, who are favourites, a run for their money. Just as the men's eight has been sharpened and hardened in the last six weeks, so this crew has been re-seated, with Sarah Winckless brought into the engine room and Katie Greves moved to stroke the boat on bow side. You can sure see the difference as they hoofed along, clear of Germany and Canada by half way and closing on the US in the last 500 metres, where they were faster than anyone in the race. Romania won the other final place
Campbell is taking his sculling gingerly because he has been out of his boat for several weeks after a knee operation two months ago. He played a safe quarter-final, starting sharply and soon showing in front, with the Swiss Andre Vonarburg on one side and the German maestro Marcel Hacker on the other. After 500 metres Vonarburg moved ahead, and at halfway Hacker had passed Campbell who settled quite early at a low rate to cover the middle of the race, “trying to stay long and strong”in his own words.
He reported no problem with his knee after going past the flagging Swiss and given Hacker a reminder that he's a fast finisher. “I'd love to have won today, but I'd have got it in the neck if I'd have gone harder through the middle,” he said. Economy was his coach Bill Barry's plan.
There's no question that he'll have to unleash everything in the semi-final.
Laverick and Bebington disappointed themselves at the start of the competition, but did royally yesterday to earn a final place. “We found a better and more efficient rhythm so that we could sprint the last 250 metres,” Bebington said, which is how they sent the Germans to second place. In the final they will be up against the formidable Evers-Swindell twins of New Zealand, a fast Chinese crew and Czechs whom the British have beaten this season and who came close to the Chinese in the heats.
Laverick, who is an accomplished double base player, has chosen Vivaldi's St Martin in the Fields to play in the car between hotel and course.