British prospects on the water are riding high

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The Independent Online

One shouldn't count chickens before they hatch, but the British team — the first since 1984 without a Redgrave or a Pinsent in a boat — is poised to post more medals at the weekend than the four golds achieved in London a century ago.

As the rowing enters two days of semi-finals, four crews are already qualified for finals and six more are in semi-finals, all with a good chance of a final place. The women's eight should also reach its final through a delayed repechage today [WED], where they are at the quicker end of the five crews that race for four places.

There are crucial races today for the sculler Alan Campbell, the men's four and the 2008 version of "Matt ‘n' Steve", Matthew Wells and Stephen Rowbotham, in the double sculls.

Campbell has nursed his recovery from knee injury through two rounds with cheer, both in what he says and how he feels. Moreover, his luck is holding in the semi-final draw. Three from six scullers will go through, and Campbell's time in his cautious quarterfinal was faster than Ken Jurkowski (USA), Mindaugus Griskonis (Lithuania) and Ioannis Christou (Greece). Third place will do, behind Mahe Drysdale, the world champion from New Zealand with whom Campbell trains at Tideway Scullers during the autumn, and the strongest challenger of the year, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic. If he can achieve that, anything can happen in the final.

Wells and Rowbotham have their heads up and should have no difficulty. The favourites for their event are the new Zealanders Rob Waddell and Nathan Cohen, as long as Waddell, the 100-kilo single sculling champion of Sydney 2000, has not taken umbrage at his little partner who told reporters: "When you're as good as we are, you don't want to put any pressure on yourself." Arrogance isn't Waddell's style at all.

The four of Tom James, Steve Williams, Pete Reed, and Andy Hodge should likewise qualify, where their form so far has shown that they are in the running for gold — but the event is extremely tight.

Thursday's semi-finals include the unbeaten Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter in the lightweight double sculls, the lightweight four, and the women's double, Hester Goodsell and Helen Casey who won their repechage yesterday.

The repechage for the men's eights yesterday made the outlook for the British crew — who qualified for Sunday's final by winning Monday's heat in the fastest time — look even brighter. Australia, who suffered catastrophe in their heat when their rudder jammed, found great stride yesterday and took the lead from the Americans whom the British had beaten in the heat. The Americans then took it back again, while in a mighty struggle for the third and fourth qualifying slots, the Netherlands and Poland pipped China. Germany brought up the rear. Britain and Canada, the other heat winners, are thus closest to the centre place on the podium.

The women's quad, aiming to step up from the silver medal of four years ago, is in Sunday's final and in the frame, but so are the Chinese. The double scullers Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington are in a final where three other crews have prospects of medals. The women's pair Louisa Reeve and Olivia Whitlam became the fourth British crew to reach the top layer when they finished second in a repechage yesterday, unexpectedly and with panache. The New Zealanders Juliette Haigh and Nicola Coles powered from last to first while the Brits sank the Australians Kim Crow and Sarah Cook for the second final place. Crow and Cork can at least concentrate on the eight in which they also sit.

Weekend prospects are riding high for the British team.