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British scullers keep heads to earn victories

Five British scullers and a four launched themselves into the Olympic regatta with success at Sunyi rowing park yesterday.

Alan Campbell sculled a superb race in the single, testing every element of his ability to cover 2,000 metres after an operation on his knee two months ago. Matt Wells and Stephen Rowbotham came first in the double sculls, and Elise Laverick and Anna Bebington finished third in the women's doubles.

The men's coxless four dispelled nerves about their performance after injury disrupted their regatta season. The last time a British four lost a race at the Olympics was 12 years ago so it bodes well.

Steve Williams, the No 3 man who won gold in the Athens crew four years ago, said: "We came here to win three races, and winning the heat is important for us as a four that hasn't raced much internationally. We need to get more harmony. We did really good stuff in training, and now we need to do it for 200 strokes."

The four led all the way. They were pressed hard by the Italians, allowing them to stay close but keeping in front to earn a favoured lane in the semi-final. The American team took third.

The other two heats were completed in the same time – six minutes – and resulted in close finishes for the three qualifying places. In one, Australia beat Germany and Ireland, while the other victory went to the Netherlands, who crossed the line ahead of New Zealand and Slovenia. In similar conditions, nine crews covered the course within half a second of each other, the fastest being 6:00.40 the slowest 6:03.96.

You would expect Campbell's knee problem to lead to an economical race, and that is what he executed. He had a feisty start, was second to the American Ken Jurkowski after 500 metres but was leading by halfway. Now his challenger was Mexican Patrick Loliger and after another 500m Australia's Peter Hardcastle got his bow ball in front.

Campbell answered with a burst and, looking across a couple of times to check progress, headed the field home by a length. "This is the first complete race I've done since June," he said. "I was pushed by the others and felt no pain except the usual sculling pains in legs and arms. I'm looking forward to the quarter final."

Wells and Rowbotham overhauled the Estonians Tonu Endrekson and Jüri Jaanson to win their heat for a semi-final place. They are in the medal zone for the double sculls, but there is much tasty opposition including "little and large", Kiwis Rob Waddell, Olympic single sculling champion in 2000 who weighs in at 100 kilograms, and the much daintier Nathan Cohen.

Laverick and Bebington have been late starters this year due to illness, and their result was less happy. While Qin Li and Liang Tian sculled like the favourites they are, the British duo had a tussle with the Czechs Jitka Antosova and Gabriela Varekova but they faded away to third place as the Czechs had a real go at the Chinese for the one qualifying place in the final.

The two British pairs, Louisa Reeve and Olivia Whitlam and Robin Bourne-Taylor and Tom Solesbury, go to the repéchâge round on Tuesday.

Today is the turn of the lightweight men's double scullers, Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, and the women's quad, both looking at gold medals. The men's eight and lightweight four, both with medal potential, also start, as do the women's eight and the lightweight women's double scullers.